buy or rent

A Twist in the Sacramento Real Estate Market

I’ve noticed a slight difference in the Sacramento real estate market this week. It’s a sign, I believe, that the market is struggling to head north instead of south. I wouldn’t say we are headed for full-blown appreciation by any stretch of the imagination but it is a positive signal that we might be pulling out of this real estate slump in Sacramento. It’s the piece of evidence I’ve been watching to emerge and have not yet witnessed until this week. We’ve monitored small median price change increases in year-over-year monthly stats, but not this.

I prepare offer tracking sheets for each of my listings. That way, if I need to know years from now about the offers I had received for any particular real estate listing, I’ve got that information at my fingertips. Each of these sheets give me an overview of what happened. For the first time since 2005, I’m receiving over-market offers from investors who are paying cash. That’s the sign I’ve been waiting for. I disregard the first-time home buyers. It’s the investors I watch.

For months now, multiple offers in Sacramento have been the norm. That’s due to low inventory, low interest rates and high demand. It’s cheaper to buy in the buy or rent scenario. When it’s cheaper to buy than to rent, it also means investors will get positive cash flow even if they finance a home. So, investors and first-time home buyers have been competing, often for the same home.

Here is something to understand about first-time home buyers. When a first-time home buyer bids over list price for a home, that home buyer is not taking extra money out of her pocket. She is rolling the excess into her mortgage. So, it’s not really costing her a lot of extra money to make a purchase offer over the seller’s asking price. If she offers an extra $5,000, her mortgage payment changes by about $30. That’s peanuts. Using that formula, at 3.5% interest, she can bid $15,000 over list price and still not change her mortgage payment by more than a hundred bucks. Of course, it might not appraise at that amount, and therein lies the major problem with first-time home buyers overbidding.

If there are no comparable sales available at that price, the appraiser won’t submit a value at the purchase contract price. If the buyer gets a low appraisal, her only solution to move forward is to pay the $15,000 difference out of pocket, in cash. Most don’t have that kind of cash and, if they did, they wouldn’t pay over market with it. Not just for the opportunity to buy a home, nope. Unless they would. Unless they were that desperate to buy a home.

Not only am I seeing owner occupants who are willing to play all loosey-goosey with cash, but now investors are, too. Investors are no longer guarding their cash like a precious commodity. They are willing to pay above market value, because that’s the last thing to give in negotiations. It’s no longer enough to pay cash. Now, it’s got to be over market. That’s what it takes to make prices go up. An investor who is willing to pay more than the going rate. Investors who pay over market result in higher comparable sales. Higher comparable sales pave the road for higher appraisals, which opens the flood gates for first-time home buyers.

The kink in all of this is sellers don’t seem to be aware of this new twist. When I tell sellers about the market, they look at me like I just landed here from Mars. Do I have spinach in my teeth?

I predict a very strong 4th quarter for 2012. I believe when we look back at the numbers in the spring, our Sacramento real estate market will blow your socks off. This is a fabulous time to be a seller or a listing agent in Sacramento.

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