- I spent weeks talking with realtors from across the country about the chaotic market.
- They shared their best tips on what to know in advance and how to win a bidding war.
- I found four major takeaways, including that buying too quickly could lead to regret.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Last year, during the initial weeks of the pandemic lockdowns, it was comforting to indulge in a fantasy: a home with extra space and maybe even it’s own backyard.
This life, which previously felt unavailable to many city-dwelling millennials like me, suddenly seemed within reach. The pandemic made working from anywhere the norm, not the exception. And those of us who were lucky to have kept our jobs during a period of economic uncertainty for many Americans were able to save money for maybe the first time in our adult lives, aided by stimulus checks and, frankly, nothing to spend money on.
All of a sudden, this fantasy seemed more like a possibility, and many millennials decided to take the leap. Combined with existing homeowners looking to upgrade or expand, or simply take advantage of low interest rates, the US real estate market has become a wild land-grab, with buyers hoping to snap up homes amid soaring prices.
To learn more about the market – and perhaps, selfishly, to understand the situation in case I wanted to explore the process myself – I turned to eight realtors who work in markets across the country to answer questions like what prospective buyers should know going into the process, how to win a bidding war, and what other buyers are looking for in a home right now.
Here are my biggest takeaways after spending three weeks learning from realtors nationwide:
Try not to fall in love with every house you see.
Given the competitive state of the market, the homebuying process can take a toll, emotionally speaking.
Glen Clemmons, a broker and realtor for Costello Real Estate and Investments in North Carolina, said that in some situations, both he and his clients have ended up feeling “beat up.”
“I had one client who wrote 15 offers before they finally got one, and that’s exhausting,” he said.
Clemmons said his clients are going to multiple showings, putting in several offers, and generally being put through “the emotional roller coaster of, ‘Are we going to get this one?'”
“What I would say is, check your heart when you walk through a house,” he added. “[Going to a showing is] not a guarantee that you’re going to get it. Put your best foot forward, and be patient.”
Know that you can always fix ugly.
Mary Pope-Handy, an agent with Northern California firm Sereno and a blogger who writes about Silicon Valley real estate, told Insider that she sees lots of first-time homebuyers who keep getting boxed out of competitive bidding wars. While many of her clients are looking for a move-in ready home, that’s not always an option.
She advises those buyers to look for a house that’s been on the market for a while, because it’s less likely to be competitive. But that advice does come with a caveat: The kinds of homes that have been for sale for a month or more, especially given the current state of the market, usually have something wrong with them. It could be that it’s priced too high, or that it’s just plain ugly.
“You can fix ugly,” she said. “I would always go with the ugly house, with walls in the right places, in a good location, and then fix ugly over time.”
Don’t ignore the condo market.
For some buyers, condos aren’t as attractive of an option as a standalone house, especially during the pandemic, said Sean Waeiss, a broker and the owner of Wise Property Group in Austin.
Condos aren’t always what people envision as their first home since they’re grouped together and don’t always have their own outdoor space. From an investment standpoint, too, a condo probably isn’t going to gain value like a single-family home. “It’s the canary in the coal mine. With recessionary periods and that sort of thing, it’s the first to get hurt and it’s the last to recover,” he said.
But a condo could also be the perfect option for a younger homebuyer, especially one who keeps getting outbid on single-family homes, Waeiss said. Demand, at least in Austin, is significantly lower than supply, and condos are typically situated in urban centers where it’s possible to walk to shops, bars, restaurants, and even the office – a key amenity now that cities across the US are reopening.
“I think Americans, by nature, have short-term memories,” he said. “When the majority of the country is vaccinated and events are happening, concerts are happening on a regular basis, and restaurants are operating at full capacity … I think that there’s going to be this increased demand in these dense downtown condo areas.”
Don’t buy a home just to own ‘something.’
Nadine Pierre, a realtor with Allison James Estates & Homes in South Florida, said she’s putting listings on the market at 8 a.m., and by 5 p.m., she’ll already have 20 offers. In an effort to drum up inventory, she’s been sending out letters to the neighborhoods her clients are looking at in hopes of finding a “dormant seller.”
Clemmons said that some of his buyers have started putting offers in on “coming soon” listings, sight unseen.
But a recent survey from Bankrate found that 64% of millennial homeowners are experiencing regret after buying their current home, mostly due to unexpected costs. Most said that maintenance and other costs are too high, their home is in a bad location, or they bought a house that’s either too big or too small for them.
“Frantically trying to buy ‘something’ is a great way to make a bad purchase,” he said.