The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Speed Dating, Real Estate Style

Everyone, it has been said, enjoys their 15 minutes of fame. But these days, that’s just about all the time homebuyers are allowed to give a house the once-over and make a decision.

Southern California realty agent Jeff Dowler calls it real estate’s version of speed dating, and says buyers in today’s inventory-depleted market must be decisive. Otherwise, someone in the horde of other house hunters will make the decision for them.

Gone are the days when a buyer could linger longer, agents report. In the old days, you could wander around to your heart’s content: Stroll through the house, measure some rooms for your furniture, discuss possible remodeling projects, meander around the grounds.

Back then, you could even come back for a second or third visit. But not anymore. Now, you’re lucky to get 15 minutes -- a whopping 900 seconds -- to look around. And when the pressure is on and other would-be buyers are waiting outside the front door, those precious seconds tick by awfully fast.

According to ShowingTime, a service agents use to manage buyer visits, an “unprecedented” 75 markets registered double-digit showings per listing in February. A year earlier, only four markets had at least 10 showings per listing. It’s a “powerful trend” of “more and more showings concentrated on dwindling inventory,” said Chief Analytics Officer Daniil Cherkasskiy.

But is a mere quarter of an hour really enough time to view a house and decide whether to make an offer? In a recent conversation on ActiveRain, some agents said it’s not, while others said it is. But most maintained that in today’s overheated market, this is often the way it has to be.

“Fifteen minutes definitely is not enough time,” said Arizona agent Brian England, who is affiliated with Vacasa. “But in this crazy market, I completely understand.”

Dorie Dillard of Coldwell Banker Realty said house hunters in her Austin, Texas, market get a whopping 20 minutes. “With such low inventory, when a house hits the market, you better have your track shoes,” she advised.

When Utah agent Wanda Kubat-Nerdin of Red Rock Real Estate lists a house, she allows at least 30 minutes for each showing -- “That way, no rushing” -- and she also “locks the front door so we are not interrupted by early agents and their buyers.”

North Carolina’s Nina Hollander, of Coldwell Banker Realty, goes one better: She gives buyers up to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the house. “At the end of the day, it still gets lots of people in,” Hollander said. “And those who really have had a chance to look thoroughly at a house are prospective buyers who will make offers -- and not suffer from buyer’s remorse.”

On the other hand, some agents believe buyers don’t even need 15 minutes. Connecticut agent Ed Silva of Mapleridge Realty said some buyers can decide in five minutes, spending the other 10 figuring out what to put in their offer.

Debb Janes of ViewHomes in Camas, Washington, agreed. “I’d say most people can get a feel for a home in 15 minutes,” Janes said, while adding that “it can take longer to really explore more of the home’s nuances.”

“Getting 15 minutes is like a lifetime in today’s seller’s market,” added Endre Barath of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Beverly Hills. We often make judgments about other people in 30 seconds or less, Barath noted, so why not a house?

Illinois agent Lyn Sims of RE/MAX Suburban thinks the short time frame is actually “a good thing” -- one that culls the perennially undecided from the pack. For some people, there’s never enough time to make up their minds. Sims points out that there are many buyers who take an hour and a half to look around, just to say “no thanks.”

Truth be told, only you can answer the question of whether 15 minutes is enough. You must be comfortable making the decision; you have to write the checks, and you have to be able to sleep at night.

Remember, though, that submitting an offer is not the end of the process: It’s just the beginning. The seller has to accept the offer. Then, assuming you’ve been preapproved for financing, you have to get your lender’s final say-so. The appraisal has to support the sales price, and the inspector needs a few days to do his or her thing.

That means you have time to change your mind if you have a change of heart. Even when your offer is accepted, there are plenty of ways to get out of the deal. “Our contracts have a million outs to kill the agreement and recover your earnest money deposit,” said Richard Foster of Nevada Perfect Homes in Henderson.

In the end, the key to the short window given buyers these days is being decisive. Know what you can spend, know what you want, and go for it. And for crying out loud, be on time for your visit, lest you lose your place in line.