It's Your Money: Local Housing Climate - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

It's Your Money: Local Housing Climate

MADISON (WKOW)--The house hunting season is here.  And buyers have a lot of potential targets out there.

Kami Jo Sanner and her husband are first time homebuyers; an enviable position to be in these days, with historically low mortgage interest rates and this year's $8,000 tax credit.  For the Sanner's, it was time to take the plunge.

"It's really exciting and really nerve-wracking at the same time," says Kami.

And local realtors say the Sanners aren't the only ones buying.

"Starting about mid-March and right thru now, we've seen a real uptick in activity and I'd say right now, the market is showing more energy than at this time last year," says Dave Stark, president of Stark Company Realtors.

He and other realtors can only hope that last year is as bad as it'll get when it comes to buying and selling homes.

"'08 was a very challenging year. '09 is what I think will be a transitional year. And '10 will probably see much more normalization in the market," predicts Wisconsin Realtors Association president, Bill Malkasian.

The numbers tell the story: in Dane County, about 5,300 homes were sold last year; around a thousand fewer than in 2007 and way down from the boom levels of 2004 & 2005.

"We would like to think that this market would strengthen by the summer. But that's not certain, there are a couple of clouds on the horizon," says University of Wisconsin Business School real estate expert Steve Malpezzi.

And that's the optimistic prediction. About the clouds he and his colleagues see on the horizon...

"The thing that concerns us is the increase in the unemployment rate."

Malpezzi expects the jobless rate to be at least 10% nationally this summer.

"When you're unemployed, even if you have a reasonably-designed mortgage, you're going to have trouble making the payments."

Malpezzi says the other cloud on the horizon is another potentially big round of mortgage defaults.  They're people who have so-called 'Alt-A' mortgages, which required much less documentation than traditional mortgages.

"Suppose I'm wrong about the optimistic scenario. What's the pessimistic scenario? House prices might fall another ten percent," says Malpezzi.

"We've seen that the median price here in our market has been pretty flat for the last three years, hasn't really gone up or down," says Dave Stark.

What has gone up is inventory; the number of houses for sale.  Stark estimates 8-9 months of local inventory right now.  Six months is about normal. 

For people trying to sell a house, lower inventory can mean higher prices. But,  these days, it's more about making the sale than making a big profit.

"If you price it right to begin with and have it really ready to show, we're seeing houses with multiple offers almost the minute they hit the market. Multiple offers? Yes, it's not unusual," says Stark. 

The other key component of the housing market is financing.  The mortgage crisis that became the foreclosure crisis that became the recession has changed the rules and attitudes when it comes to buying a home.

"Today if you lose your house to foreclosure, it's everybody's problem. Because these are the things that are driving down prices," says Malpezzi.

Gone are the days of easy approval and no downpayment.  So, even though lenders have money, homebuyers must meet higher standards to get it.

"You need to have a decent credit score, you should probably have some downpayment, or you're going to be looking at private mortgage insurance again.  We're also seeing appraisals getting much tighter, says Stark.

As for the Sanners, after successfully jumping through all the hoops for first time homebuyers, they decided against buying a fixer-upper.

"But then we found a house we fell in love with a decided to go with that instead," says Kami.

So, buyers, the big things are a better than average credit score... we're talking 720 or higher... and at least a 10% and preferrably a 20% downpayment.

For sellers, the advice is to keep the asking price in line with what similar homes have recently sold for.

Click here for information on mortgages and home buying.


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