Winning the Game of Real Estate
You’ve seen the headlines: house prices are down, foreclosures way up. Is there any good news? If you’re a first-time home buyer, yes indeed. From Chatham to Warwick, here’s the latest scoop on the Valley’s housing market
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Boon For Buyers
“For some people, it’s absolutely the right time to buy,” agrees Prividera. “Prices are soft, mortgage rates are at historic lows, and inventory is available, so there are some good choices out there.”
Adds Domber of Prudential Serls: “There’s a lot of real estate panic among the public, but buyers who can get a mortgage aren’t the ones panicking. They’re actually pretty happy right now, especially qualified first-time buyers,” since it’s now a hot market for those in purchasing mode.
“And not to diminish the U.S. economic crisis,” Domber continues, “but even if nationwide unemployment goes up to 10 percent, it still means 90 percent of Americans are employed. And people will always be buying homes.”
When it comes to shopping for a first home, most experts suggest making practicality paramount. “We urge first-time buyers today not to look for the home of your dreams that you’ll be in for the next 20 years,” Prividera adds. “Starter homes are just fine. What’s important is to get into a home that you can afford today — and tomorrow.”
Chuck Bartolo, principal broker at Beach & Bartolo Realtors in Spencertown, says he’s seen some positive changes in the regional real estate market. “For the first time in a long time, more families who have lived their whole lives in the Valley — here in Columbia County, for instance — and who historically were priced out of the market by all the second-home buyers who poured in, are now finding that they and their children can get into the market and buy locally, too.”
And many of those second-home buyers are also rethinking their options, Bartolo adds. “They’re seriously entertaining the idea of not just making Columbia County a second home, but their primary residence. They’re considering commuting to Albany, or to Manhattan on Metro-North or Amtrak, or finding a new way to earn a living: getting into a business, doing consulting or telecommuting. There’s been a shift in people’s attitudes lately.”
Joan Lonergan, owner and principal broker of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty in Windham, notes that home buyers in Greene County are also encountering bargains. “People are shopping for value, and there are some undiscovered great deals,” she says. “People are thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I can get a great house and it’s really not that far to travel.’ There’s a fairly steady second-home market.” Lonergan also handles sales in Ulster County and says the market there is still pretty good, too. “There has been less activity in 2008 than in 2007,” she says. “But people like the convenience of places like New Paltz and that area. With the college there’s always something to do, plus the natural beauty and the outdoors is a big draw.”
In fact, Lonergan feels that, throughout the region, the housing market is not as badly off as it might appear. “People have been bombarded with the idea that things everywhere regarding real estate are a disaster. If you watch CNN or read the newspapers, you hear about some incredible drops in real estate values and prices. But it’s not happening uniformly everywhere. The number of sales of single-family homes has been down recently, but the numbers we’re seeing in the region for the end of 2008 show that sale prices only went down about four percent. That’s a drop, sure, but not an extreme drop compared to other places in the country, like Sacramento, for example. It’s pretty solid for the most part.
“It’s likely there will be yet another drop,” she continues. “But the good news is that by the time you hit bottom price-wise, you don’t even know it. That’s why I’m seeing a lot of pent-up buyer activity. People are circling, watching, waiting for the right time to buy. Eventually the dam will burst and people will say, ‘Now’s the time.’ People always have a dream of wanting a home, and they’ll only put that dream off for so long. Maybe in the past they wanted a $500,000 home, and now they’ll buy one for $300,000, but they still want a home.”
Lonergan is also optimistic about the government response to the housing crisis. President Obama’s federal stimulus package allows for qualified first-time home buyers to receive an $8,000 tax credit, which does not have to be repaid. “Some aspects of the new stimulus bill, like the tax credit for purchasing a home, will really help buyers, especially first-time buyers. So maybe in the long run, people will find out that this period of economic adjustment isn’t such a bad thing after all.”
Next: Take your time