What's on the market?
Virtual tours, statistics only offer part of what buyers need to know
If you want to know what's on the market, you need to get out there and look.
That's what I did in March, spending a couple of weekend afternoons cruising through open houses in Mountain View.
The first weekend, in three hours I was able to check in with real-estate agents at five open houses. Each one offered a nugget or two of advice.
I began by visiting 792 Bond Way in the Cuesta Park neighborhood, with an asking price of $849,950.
At first the number seemed odd to me, until I was told the federal first-time homebuyer tax credit of $8,000 was available to those who purchased a home for under $850,000. (Eligibility rules actually set income limits of $125,000 for single taxpayers and $225,000 for married couples filing joint returns, and a maximum price of $800,000 — www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com/faq1.php#11.)
But, at just after 1:30 p.m., the traditional time for open houses to begin, not one person was inspecting the premises.
Patricia York, a Menlo Park Alain Pinel agent, wasn't surprised, since there was a pending sale on the property.
"Last week it was a madhouse," she said, with 50 groups trooping through on Saturday, another 25 groups on Sunday.
Three offers were tendered, and one accepted. The three offers varied from a little below the asking price to one way above. York was not at liberty to reveal which was accepted.
York's take on today's market: "There's a different energy. Last year people waited; banks were acting up with all their rules and regulations. Having 50 people come through was unusual."
York helped the current homeowner buy the Bond Way home, as well as sell it now.
• Homes on the other side of Miramonte, in the Los Altos School District, sell for $100,000 more.
• The first thing she advises her clients to do is line up their financing.
Next stop: 1097 Karen Way, Mountain View, with an asking price of $998,000.
At 2:15 p.m. would-be buyers were swarming the house, which was a short sale (where the home is on the market for less than the balance owed on the property's loan) with no date set for offers yet.
According to David Chung, of Alain Pinel, Palo Alto, 60 groups viewed the Gemello neighborhood home on Saturday, and another 20 had shown up so far on Sunday.
The outstanding loans on this home were $1.1 million, but because both loans were held by the same lender, there was only one negotiator for the short sale.
Even then, Chung said, it could take two to three months to complete the sale, once an offer was accepted.
• Inventory is low compared to last year. Since the market bottomed out in January 2009 it's been slowly inching forward. "The last three to four months we're seeing prices up, mainly because of lack of housing," he said.
• "People still need a bigger place. Eighty percent of sales are trade-ups, plus lots of 're-lo's' (people relocating from another city or state)," he said.
• When shopping for a short sale, remember that interest rates often can't be locked in for as long as the short sale takes to get negotiated; just when the lender says OK, the prospective buyer has to start over in getting financing.
A half hour later, Leslie Zeisler of Midtown Realty showed me through 823 Sheila Court, on a private street in an industrial part of Mountain View, north of Old Middlefield Way.
Twenty houses in the Central Park of Mountain View subdivision were built 11 years ago on two private roads — Sheila Court and Warner Court — surrounded mainly by storage facilities and light industry.
"It's a nice, nice house. Anyplace else it'd be over a million dollars," Zeisler said. With an asking price of $849,000, the home seemed to be attracting those first-time homebuyers interested in the federal cash incentive.
"Yesterday I had a fabulous afternoon," Zeisler said, with 22 groups coming through, several showing strong interest and returning for another look.
• First-time homebuyers are in a bit of a quandary looking at homes priced at $800,000. If they bid over the asking, they lose their eligibility for the cash-back. But if they bid at asking or lower, they risk losing the house.
• Gather information about finances early; the rules changed in January. "There are new rules about waiting periods, appraisals. It's taking longer. ... Some lenders don't want to close under 45 days," she said.