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The changing market

 

The real estate "boom" is over, experts say. With change comes both risk and opportunity.

Baiting buyers in a cooling market

It's been a good run -- for home sellers that is.

In many markets over the past five years, anyone posting a "for sale" sign in the front yard was virtually guaranteed to ignite a bidding war. Buyers pushed prices into the stratosphere in a mad dash to nab record-low interest rates and roll the dice on one of the biggest run-ups in real estate history. Lots of sellers doubled their investment dollars in a few short years.

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But appreciation rates in even the hottest markets, such as New York and San Francisco, are starting to soften. And in some rather chilly markets, including those in South Bend, Ind., and Erie, Pa., single-family home prices have actually declined during the year ending in December 2005, according to the latest survey from the National Association of Realtors.

Metro markets with negative/minuscule price appreciation in year ending 2005*
South Bend-Mishawaka, Ind.
Erie, Pa.
Springfield, Ill.
Lansing-East Lansing, Mich.
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich.
Toledo, Ohio
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Akron, Ohio
Barnstable Town, Mass.

*Data of median home prices between year-end 2004 and 2005.
Source: National Association of Realtors, Quarterly Housing Affordability Index

Slower appreciation rates are good news for the economy, experts say, as the real estate market settles into a more sustainable rate of growth. They're not great news for sellers, who might have to resort to some creative marketing tactics to set their homes apart.

Incentives for buyers
"Seller concessions have not been common in the last five years," says Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors. "Sellers haven't had to offer them. But as we become more balanced, especially in areas of high inventory, that's where you'll see the use of concessions become a bit more common."

Seller concessions are incentives the homeowner provides to entice buyers. They can include anything from a decorating allowance (think scuffed hardwood floors) to contributions toward closing costs.

Historically, concessions have been introduced during the negotiating process -- often after an inspection reveals undisclosed problems within the house. But Quicken Loans Chief Economist Bob Walters says they can also be an effective way to attract buyers.

"In difficult markets, as it is here in the Midwest, the balance of power is shifting," Walters says. "If your house is already priced aggressively and you've updated the home and done everything you can for curb appeal, what's left? The only answer for many sellers, unfortunately, is to cut the price. But if you advertise in your listing that you can help buyers get a payment that's hundreds of dollars less per month than they would pay in a similar home down the street, you're really differentiating yourself."

-- Posted: March 2, 2006
 
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