Want to Buy a Home? Beware: It’s a Seller’s Market

One factor in the tight supply, Mr. Blomquist said, is that people are holding onto their homes longer than they once did. Investors who bought homes during the recession are earning rental income and are not in a rush to sell, while some owners still cannot sell because they remain underwater on their mortgages — meaning they owe more than the homes are worth. The average home seller these days has owned the house for about eight years, he said, compared with about four years before the recession.

Another factor, according to Attom’s data: fewer foreclosures. Nearly 10 years after the financial crisis, foreclosures are at prerecession levels in many areas, reducing another source of homes for sale.

All that means that competition is fierce in some markets, especially for lower- and midpriced homes, and home shoppers must be nimble. Lynn Johnson, a broker with Bamboo Realty in bustling Raleigh, N.C., said buyers must understand that they do not have days to mull an offer. “They have to be ready to pull the trigger if they find the right house,” she said.

Is It Better to Rent or Buy?

The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make.

Buyers must also be prepared to put more cash down when they place a property under contract, she said. In the past, Ms. Johnson said, shoppers could expect to put down $500 as a “due diligence” deposit to the seller, which they would expect to lose if they found a house they liked better and walked away from a purchase contract. But now, sellers may demand deposits of $1,000, and sometimes as much as $2,500.

In Denver, where the inventory of homes has been low for the past couple of years, “There is no such thing as lowballing,” said Stacie Staub, founder of West and Main Homes in Lakewood, Colo., near Denver. Often, she said, homes go on the market on a Friday and are under contract by Sunday.

The market is so tight that Ms. Staub often recommends that people looking to trade up to a new home should first sell their own house, and then go shopping with cash. Sellers generally frown on “contingency” offers, which are subject to the sale of an existing home. When sellers are receiving multiple offers, they’ll choose all-cash bids over contingency offers, she said: “If you…

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