Housing prices in the United States hit an all-time high in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. There are signs high home prices are leveling off, but buying a house is still really expensive. In what might be the hottest of all seller's markets, what is a buyer to do?
How to deal with a hot housing market
Buyers face a lot of competition for a limited supply of homes. To beat out other home shoppers, they may have to waive financial contingencies that protect them in case the sale doesn't go as planned, said Rachel Musiker, a spokeswoman for Redfin, a real estate brokerage. This includes conducting an inspection before making the offer so you can waive the inspection contingency, offering to make a non-refundable deposit with the sellers for them to keep the money if the deal doesn't close or waiving the appraisal contingency entirely.
While this might put you at greater financial risk if the sale falls through, it shows the sellers you're committed to the house. Buyers often have to take these risks because of competition with all-cash buyers, who have a speed advantage over people taking out mortgages. Make sure to get your home loan from a reputable lender that your listing agent knows will close the deal on time, Musiker said.
If you can, get a fully underwritten pre-approval from your lender. This is several steps beyond a standard pre-approval letter, and provides more assurance to the seller that your mortgage will be approved.
Sending a touching offer letter also helps, Musiker said. Tell the seller you'll love and care for the home just as they did. This works surprisingly well, she said.
"People are really attached to their homes and it's an emotional thing for people more than a financial thing," Musiker said.
David Wluka, principal at Wluka Real Estate in Massachusetts, said not to worry so much about the ups and downs of the market, but make sure you're paying a fair market price.
"You're buying a house to live in," he said. "Don't look at the house as a piggy bank for investment."
If prices are too high in a certain area, you may have to adjust your expectations and live farther out from your job, where prices might be cheaper, Wluka said.
Why are prices so high?
People want to buy houses, but there aren't that many available. That makes the few houses that are up for sale more valuable. Cash buyers scooping up houses for use as investment properties are also making it tough for buyers, Musiker said.
"It's just that there are not a lot of homes being built compared to historical rates and people aren't listing their homes," she said.
Interest rates are starting to climb after sitting at rock bottom for years. People who have mortgages at those low rates don't want to give them up by selling, nor do they want to pay the high prices they'll face if they become buyers, Musiker said. Some may also be trying to time the market.
"They want to sell at the top of the market, so prices are continuing to rise, so people feel like it pays to hold on to your home longer," Musiker said.
How long can high prices last?
Musiker said inventory is starting to rise in some hot markets, which gives buyers a little more breathing room to wait for the right price.
"We've heard from agents, especially in Seattle, that homes have been staying on the market past their offer deadline, which means they're not getting as much of that urgent interest from buyers as we've been seeing in spring and earlier int he summer," she said.
The rise of home prices has started to slow in some markets, but it still remains a seller's market. Buyers should still have some urgency to get a home under contract before prices rise further, Musiker said. There may be more deals going into fall, when the market tends to cool off.
Wluka said it's hard to know the peak of the market until after it's gone. Rather than waiting on the sidelines, adjust your expectations on how much house you can afford. You may be able to upgrade later, after all.
"Your first house is never your last house, so you've got to set your expectations to reality," Wluka said.