Exactly when to sell or buy: Money isn’t everything

Buying or selling a home at the ‘right time’ is tougher than it sounds. People usually take these actions because of a life event or financial issues. The economy and real estate forecasts tend to be secondary considerations. Yet both buyers and sellers often pose the question, “When is the best time to buy or sell?”

Perfect timing

If you have the luxury of choosing when you enter the real estate market, here are some points to consider when timing a home purchase or sale.

There’s no longer one national real estate market or forecast like there was 20 years ago. And just because the 24×7 national news outlets tell stories of hot real estate markets with multiple offers and quickly rising prices doesn’t mean that’s happening in your neighborhood. In fact, real estate activity can vary widely within the same county. One town can see record-breaking activity, while another 10 miles away has a glut of inventory.

If you want to purchase or sell, dig deeper, look around and get as much local information as possible. Meet with a good local agent early and often to stay informed about shifts in the market. Most people need a mortgage to purchase a home, and long-term interest rates are a major factor. For many years, we’ve been living with historically low mortgage rates. But while we might be living in a time of three- or four-percent rates today, remember that in the 1980s rates were 12 percent or higher.

It’s not uncommon for buyers to get off the sidelines and into the real estate market when they hear news of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. It’s very likely that when rates do start to creep back up again (and they eventually will), would-be buyers will turn into active customers.

Traditionally, spring has been the big real estate selling season. Flowers bloom, the grass is green, pools are open and homes show in their best possible light. Parents with school-aged children also wanted to purchase in the spring or summer so the kids could start a new school in the fall. While the spring is still a strong selling season, today’s buyers are looking online and searching on their phones every day, no matter the season, and transactions happen from New Year’s Day to Christmas Eve.

If you have a home to sell and aren’t in a rush, consider doing so at a traditionally “off” time. There will be fewer homes for sale, which means less competition. Don’t try to time the market based on antiquated assumptions about seasons. It’s more important that you show your home in its best possible condition and choose the right list price. If it’s priced right and shows well, it will sell anytime.

If a real estate purchase were purely financial, then we would see every renter who has money saved up and a solid job getting in the market. But there are practical and emotional considerations. I’ve worked with buyers for months, sometimes years. They were always qualified to purchase, but never pulled the trigger.

Why were they gun shy? Because it doesn’t make sense to put down 20 percent and take on a mortgage if their job with an hour commute isn’t steady, their marriage is on the rocks, or their aging parents live across the country.

Renting and keeping with the status quo is totally acceptable if there is any uncertainty in your future. While these buyers are free to shop and learn the market, they may not make a move. Since the financial crisis, many buyers have been hesitant to get back into the real estate market. And for good reason: some of those buyers probably were never qualified to be in the market.

But in many parts of the country, we’ve seen a comeback. Some markets are better than others. If you think home buying is in your future, do your research. Take your time, get your ducks in a row and start to feel the market.

Just know that nobody can predict when the right house will come along, and you can’t time a real estate market.

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