By Celeste M. Smucker –
Spring is an optimistic time of year when people look forward to a new start. It is also a time when many sellers choose to list their homes and when buyers, ready to shake off the cabin fever of winter, come out to take a look at what’s on the market.
There are many reasons spring is a popular time for real estate. The holidays are over, the air is warmer and landscapes are coming alive with blooming plants and trees. Children are still in school in the spring and families are at home, unlike the summer when vacations and other activities occupy their time and attention.
Spring also motivates home owners to do outdoor projects like repairing and staining decks, cleaning the gutters or clearing out the garage, all important tasks for getting a house ready to sell. And the warmer weather brings gardeners and landscapers out to put down fresh mulch, trim hedges, put in bedding plants and get their yards looking their very best.
Many families like to house hunt in the spring because a purchase means a June or July closing, and that allows plenty of time to get everyone settled in their new home before school starts.
If this is the year you plan to buy or sell a home (or both), get started today. Sellers can begin by sprucing up their homes. Buyers can call their lenders about qualifying for a loan, and once they know what they can afford, can narrow their search to the type of house and neighborhood that best suits them.
Both parties also need to contact their REALTOR®, who can help them take advantage of today’s hot market and this special time of year.
Spring: A Great Time for Real Estate
Spring brings warmer weather and colorful blooming plants that are a nice change after the cold, snow and grey days of winter.
Properties show well in the spring said Murdoch Matheson with Frank Hardy Sotheby’s International Realty. Not only are many plants turning green and blooming, but flowering trees like dogwoods and red buds are “electric,” he said. And for agents like him who sell farms and estates with large tracts of land, spring is a great time to enjoy the blooms but still be able to see enough of a property through the woods to appreciate what it has to offer. In the summer this is more difficult because the leaves are out and block the view.
Come spring, “the holidays are over and people are ready to do the next thing, like put their house on the market.” said Michael Guthrie, CEO at Roy Wheeler Realty Co. He added that spring is a time when not so many people are on vacation as during the summer, and kids sports are not yet in full swing leaving “extra time to do things like look for a new home.”
February is normally considered to be a winter month. However some agents, such as Ann Hay Hardy with Frank Hardy Sotheby’s International Realty, note that this year they see signs of the spring market already under way in some areas.
On the other hand, a lot of sellers want to wait until March because they believe there will be more buyers out then, offered Matthew Woodson with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. He has several that are in this category and are waiting to list their homes until after the threat of snowstorms is past and when the number of expected days on the market will be lower.
The school calendar is always an important consideration for families, explained Bill May, Broker with ERA Bill May Realty Co. In spring the end of the school year is in sight and most families want to avoid moving before school is out. Since closings typically happen from 45 to 60 days after a sales contract is signed, starting a home search in March, the typical start time for the spring market, makes sense.
Some other factors that influence the market this year include interest rates which, while still very low, are widely predicted to rise during 2018. Similarly, prices are edging up adding additional incentive for buyers to get out into the market and make a purchase while they can still afford the house they want.
Spring Market Dynamics
“The market continues to improve,” Matheson said. He described home sales in the City as “excellent, very hot,” and he is also seeing “signs of improvement” in the farms and estates market.
May expressed that if agents list a home priced at $375 thousand and below they are sure to get a quick sale. The market slows some at $500 thousand and above, he continued, and when properties are further from Charlottesville. However, as prices continue to rise areas further out are becoming more in demand as well.
Like the other agents, Woodson is expecting a strong market this year, such as we experienced in 2017.
While the strength of the current market is good news, a down side is we are experiencing inventory shortages that are frustrating both buyers and their agents. The shortages are also pushing up prices.
“We have now had several years where the market has outperformed the year before and in some areas (especially in new construction) we are seeing 2005 prices again,” Guthrie said. At the same time, inventory shortages “will continue to put a damper on home sales.”
Inventory is “the lowest it’s been since 2005,” Woodson added. He emphasized that this challenge in turn “creates its own market.” For example, buyers can’t be leisurely, but have to “jump at homes” as soon as they come on the market.
Unlike other parts of our area, there is not a lot of new construction in Greene County, Woodson said. For this reason he is excited about Oxford Hills, a Ryan Homes subdivision coming on line there that will add 120 new homes and offer buyers more options than are currently available.
While many agents are now saying we are in a “sellers’ market,” it is still important to price homes correctly Woodson emphasized. “Even in this market it is still possible to over-price your home,” he said. He urges sellers to choose an agent that knows their area well so that they can get good advice about pricing.
Prepare For the Spring Market
Sellers who want to take advantage of the hot spring market need to be sure their house looks its best before putting it on the market.
Even in a market like our current one, it is important for sellers to prepare and stage their homes to look their best for buyer prospects, May noted. It is also critical for them to do any needed repairs as, in his experience, buyers are not as willing to fix up homes as they once were. He also advises his sellers to get their homes “Q-Tip clean.”
Some sellers may need to start getting ready months in advance. Agents may advise families that have been living in the same house for thirty five years or more to start as much as a year in advance of listing it, or at least allow several months to do a good job.
Sellers should also consult with their agents about whether to order a pre-inspection of their home to uncover repairs they may not be aware of. The buyer will do their own inspection, of course, but with a pre-inspection the seller can fix outstanding issues without the pressure of completing the project according to an arbitrary contract deadline.
“Your house needs to show perfectly,” said Inessa Telefus with Loring Woodriff Real Estate Associates stressing that it is critical to spend the time and money it takes to get it that way. She also emphasized the importance of curb appeal, which means well maintained landscaping and exterior maintenance.
Preparing a home is important at every price range, however it becomes even more so in homes over $500 thousand.
Guthrie explained that in this price range 100 more homes sold in 2017 than in 2016. However 50 percent of them were new construction sales. Given the many advantages of moving into a brand new home, sellers in this price range must be especially careful to price their houses competitively and “have them looking as good as they can to offset buyers’ desire to choose one that is newly built,” Guthrie said.
Buyers Get Ready
Serious buyers must be prepared to make an offer as soon as they find a house they like if they want to avoid disappointment and make the most of the spring market.
An important first step is to call their local lender to determine if they qualify for a loan and, if so, how much house they can afford. The lender will generate a letter stating what they qualify for and in some instances will even create a specific letter for the buyers’ chosen address.
Either way, the buyers’ agent will present the letter along with the purchase offer assuring the seller they are solid prospects who will have the funds needed on closing day.
Prior to shopping, buyers should become familiar with the area as a whole and with specific communities that have what they need. If privacy is a concern, a home in the country surrounded by a few acres may be perfect. On the other hand, for those that want to walk downtown to meet friends for coffee or take advantage of restaurants and entertainment, close-in communities like Belmont may be more appealing.
Buyers should also be clear about the type of house they want, and since that may change once they start looking, it is also important for them to keep an open mind.
Those coming from out of the area will need to adjust their expectations to our local situation. Many from NOVA, the Northeast, California or other high priced markets will be pleasantly surprised at what their money can buy here and what they will save on taxes and monthly heating bills.
Like sellers, buyers need to find an agent they trust and someone who is familiar with the area where they want to live. Telefus described the current market as “strong and fast” which means if buyers are indecisive they lose out.
For this reason, they need an agent they trust enough to be willing to take their advice when it is important to move forward quickly. Telefus had buyers recently who purchased a home sight-unseen when she called them about the perfect house that came on the market while they were out of town.
Whether you are a buyer or a seller, 2018’s spring market offers a lot of rewards including that spring is a beautiful time to be out and about. For best results, buyers should be prepared to act quickly and sellers must be sure their homes are priced appropriately and look their best.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.