Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Buy My House: Reverse sticker shock

A Realtor may be coming to the Squeeze house soon to evaluate how much it might sell for in today's market. We're anticipating the news with the same joy that comes with opening our 401(k) statement.

How low will our number go? It's that reverse sticker shock, Realtors say, that's among the biggest obstacles to the housing markets rustling again. People aren't buying homes, in part, because they're unwilling to take a hit on the homes they live in.

Last month, the Squeeze began helping you navigate housing issues in Charlotte by telling you the story of one house. My house. (Our promise: We won't exploit this very public venue for any actual deal-making.)

Our story is a familiar Charlotte story. We purchased our home in the University area in late 2004. Our mortgage was a five-year adjustable rate, and today we are less than a year from that adjustment, facing a decision to bear the expense of refinancing or take a chance and put the house on the market (risking a future refinance.)

We're also confronting a reality seen throughout the city - houses are staying on the market a long time, in part because the market isn't accepting the listed prices on those homes. MLS figures last month show that average sales prices in the Charlotte area were more than 11 percent below what buyers were asking - a gap that has widened in recent months.

Real estate experts have long said that one key to selling is to price competitively from the start. Last year, 55 percent of U.S. homes that sold in just one week sold for the full listing price, according to statistics from the National Association of Realtors. Only 31 percent fetched full price after 2 weeks, 22 percent after 4 weeks, and 15 percent after 8 weeks.

But, says Allen Tate president Pat Riley, it's difficult to convince people that they won't sell their home now for what their neighbor got two years ago.

"It's been brutal," Riley says. "We have supplied our people with every chart, every graph that shows history, shows cycles, so they can sit down and explain this."

Except: "A home is very emotional. It's 'I'm going to wait until I get what Sally down the street got, because my home is nicer than Sally's. ' "

Part of the blame resides on what he calls "The Roaring 2000s," a decade that largely saw home prices spike across around the country, including many neighborhoods in Charlotte. People began seeing real estate as equal parts residence and investment - even in the short term - and they grew to expect nothing less than significant increases in their home's value.

Instead, the market has withered. Prices on homes here fell 15.5 percent last month compared to February 2008, the 15th consecutive month of year-over-year price declines and the second month in a row of double-digit declines for MLS transactions.

That pain is more severe in neighborhoods that saw bigger spikes earlier this decade. Those homeowners are likely better off waiting for values to rise again. "If I bought at the peak and put very little down, I'm handcuffed to that house," Riley says.

For others, including those in more modest neighborhoods like mine, there might be opportunity. Interest rates are abnormally low. Houses in the neighborhoods we'd like to live have also dropped.

And the Squeeze house? Because it appreciated slowly in the middle part of this decade, its value probably has not plummeted.

But it isn't what it was one, two, three years ago. How much loss can we swallow? We're not sure we want to find out.


Tell us about your house. Are you selling, waiting, dreading?


Anonymous said...

People are sometimes morons when it comes to these things... If you want to sell your house go for it! Yea you won't get your asking price but the people who sell you a house won't either so it all evens out in the end.

Anonymous said...

I agree...people are so naive. They see a much nicer house that is selling for the same price they bought their current house for a few years ago and think they can buy that. The only reason the "nicer" house is affordable is because the price adjusted.

It's amazing how many people say they aren't "giving their house away" because they think only the price of everybody else's house has decreased and not theirs. It's all relative: you will get less, but will pay less.

The only people that should NOT buy a house are the ones not intending on buying another house or those that owe more than it's worth.

Anonymous said...

The hard part now is that housing has a negative influence on taking almost any new job, if that job takes you away from your current home.

We've lived in our house 2 years.

I recently got a job offer outside Charlotte that pays $70K more than my current job (which pays around $90K).

(Both offers are excluding bonuses, of course, which could get taxed out of existence...)

Great offer, right?

But with the guaranteed housing losses, and the higher probability of a new job loss, it doesn't look like it is worth the risk.

We paid more than 30% down on the house, so still owe less than we can probably sell for based on some comparables that have sold recently.

We still could face about a $50K loss from what we paid if we sold now.

If we COULD sell NOW.

But we can't even guarantee that $50K loss.

It could be on the market a year, costing us at least another $20K in maintenance.

Basically, the job offer has to net $70K more the first year just for us to break even.

And, of course, my existing job is very secure, while the new job is certainly more of a gamble.

It looks to me like we're going to have to pass on what under any other circumstances would be a hard to resist opportunity.

Another possibility would be to find some really good renters and hope to ride this out.

I would think there would be some good opportunities for responsible renters to move up a notch in their lifestyles in todays market.

Michelle said...

I miss the days when your house was a home, not an "investment property".

Gary said...

When we sold our house to move down here, within my family, there was lots of discussions on what it should be listed for and finally what offer we should accept.

It is very hard to take the emotions out of it but that is what people have to do.

A house is only worth what people are willing to pay for it, not what we are willing to sell it for (emotion).

If the house is worth 10-20% more than what someone is willing to pay, then guess what, your keeping your house.

Like so many other things in this country, we expect and we feel entitled to receive double our money on everything. If we don't get it, we are being taken advantage of.

I got in during the peek in 2006, if I want to "get out" of my house, I need to treat this like "getting out" of a car lease. The properly depreciated from an unrealistic value because I was stupid to buy it at that price, no one forced me to do it except me.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen the main page and how one article indicates that home prices have suprizingly remained stable yet the article next to it is about home's "reverse sticker shock"? SOunds like either these columnists or perhaps these appraisers don't know what the heck there doing!!

pstonge said...

Anon, 4:12: Thanks for the note. Those two items are consistent. While home prices have remained steady for the past few months, they have plummeted from 2006 prices. So homeowners often face a substantial loss when they put their houses up for sale.

Anonymous said...

IF you planned on staying in your home, WHY did you accept an adjustable mortgage?!? Those mtgs are ONLY for people who are going to sell within a year or two, definitely by the time the mtg adjusts. WHY am I supposed to feel sorry for you for making a stupid decision?!? If you could not afford a traditional mtg, then you CANNOT afford the home -- PERIOD!!

pstonge said...

Anon, 4:28: Thanks for the comment. Part 1 of Buy My House, which I linked to on this post, has the answer to your question. Here's an excerpt from it that explains:

"Our mortgage was a five-year adjustable rate, and we made our payments and saved our pennies with the notion that before the mortgage adjusted, we would sell and move to a location closer to work and church.

Today, we are less than a year from that adjustment, facing a market in which good houses are sitting unsold for long stretches of time. We are fortunate in that we can afford to stay - our house has equity and value, and our mortgage payment won't rise too steeply when it adjusts. Do we test that market, anyway, to see if a buyer happens to fall in love?"