This year has been a time of profound frustration for many households seeking larger living quarters. Especially rattled are young families who’ve passed months of the pandemic in crowded rental units.
“Untold numbers of people yearn to escape tenancy to buy a place of their own with a little land where they can stretch out ... Yet this year many lost out to rival bidders,” says Dorcas Helfant, the broker-owner of several Coldwell Banker Realty offices.
Despite such disappointments, Helfant says most wannabe owners are emotionally resilient and will try again to buy in 2022.
“(T)he quest for homeownership feels more compelling than ever, due to the renewed emphasis on close personal relationships and the limits on travel we’ve all faced,” says Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor).
Buyers are searching for as much square footage as they can afford, including sufficient room for one or two home offices, along with space for future family gatherings, says Amanda Pendleton, a housing trend specialist for Zillow, the national real estate company.
“The pandemic forced a lot of people to reevaluate what’s important in their lives and in their homes,” Pendleton says.
Take the case of a hairstylist married to a federal contractor. Until COVID, the couple, parents to two college students, lived comfortably in a rented one-bedroom apartment. But after the kids moved back home, the apartment proved way too small, so the couple recently bought a French country-style place with a rose garden in a close-in suburb.
“The pandemic was the push we needed to find a ‘forever home,’ with three bedrooms where we could all be happy. Our living costs are higher, but upsizing was totally worth the effort and extra expense,” the hairstylist says.
Until recently, home sellers have had the upper hand, and buyers have competed ferociously for what scarce properties are available. Housing economists say 2022 should be a slightly easier time for buyers.
“The market has cooled since the beginning of the year,” says George Ratiu, the manager of economic research at Realtor.com, the home listing company.
Here are a few pointers for 2022 buyers:
-- Think twice before committing to a distant suburb.
In recent months, many buyers seeking oversized homes have been willing to consider the trade-offs involved in choosing a place in an outlying suburb. This is especially likely for buyers who are working remotely for their employers.
But gas price volatility has caused many to question the viability of doing so, says James Hughes, a housing expert at Rutgers University.
“People realize they can no longer count on the availability of cheap gas. They know that at any time, a crisis in foreign or domestic supply can suddenly push prices up,” he says.
Even if you’re called back to the office, you may be willing to endure a long commute. Still, Hughes advises against purchasing a property that’s more than a 30-minute drive from an employment center where the economy is relatively steadfast. Those who choose a closer-in suburb stand a better chance of selling well when it’s their turn to move.
-- Seek a solidly built house.
Homebuilding in America, unlike numerous other industrialized nations, is dominated in many areas by small to mid-sized entrepreneurial companies. And these firms vary widely in the quality of their workmanship, says Abraham Tieh, a former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
How can you identify subdivisions where the builders took extra care? Tieh encourages you to closely examine the interior detailing in a house as one indication of its construction quality.
“You can’t see behind the walls of a house that’s already built. However, you can see if the cabinetry and wood trim were well finished. Also, you can judge whether the builder used long-lasting roofing materials or the cheapest available shingles,” Tieh says.
To further assess construction quality, he recommends you go door-to-door in any subdivision you’re considering to ask questions of residents.
“People already living in the neighborhood will tell you straight out if there have been lots of problems with the builder or if major construction flaws have surfaced,” Tieh says.
-- Clarify your priorities for a home purchase.
For the time being, as Hughes says, many people are so preoccupied with fallout from the pandemic that they’re not looking beyond the basics.
“For the short-term, most first-time buyers aren’t focused on getting a super house. They’re just trying to obtain as large a house as they can afford,” Hughes says.
If you’re the lucky exception to this rule and are financially secure enough to buy large, he encourages you to select a place that would suit your lifestyle for up to 10 years or longer.
Hughes says only a minority of buyers hanker for the formal rooms found in very large houses. But if you’re among them, he says you can probably count on the long-term market for your large property, so long as it’s well located.
“People in the future will continue to prefer big houses, just as they’ll prefer big cars if they can afford them. In America, bigger has always been better. And I don’t expect that underlying preference to change in coming years,” Hughes says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)