Realty Check

Housing: Buy, Sell or Hold? It's Your Call Alone

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about what you should do if you’re looking to play the real estate market today. Jim Cramer said on the "Today" Show Wednesday, “Don’t you buy now. Don’t you dare buy a home now. You will lose money.”

I don’t think it’s politically prudent for me to say what I think of those comments, especially since he has an hour show that makes lots of money, and I’m just a day-laborer with a housing beat, but suffice it to say, there are other opinions, and then there are facts.

Let’s talk about value for a moment, because that’s fundamentally what any consumer is looking for. Prices on a nationwide basis are falling, down further for new homes than existing homes, but down nonetheless. That’s on a nationwide average. Market to market there are certainly cities where prices are in the midst of a free-fall, like San Diego, Detroit, and Tampa, while others are still rising, like Portland, OR and Seattle, and still others are improving in their declines, like Boston and Chicago.

If you’re looking to buy a new home, happy days for buyers are here. Builders are offering every incentive in the book, and your dollar is going farther than ever before. Will prices continue to come down? Probably a bit, but they’re already off their highs, and base sticker price doesn’t mean much anymore. You can negotiate everything including the kitchen sink.

On existing homes, you have to look at your market. I live in a very nice section of Washington, DC, where sales really and truly slowed over the spring and summer, but are picking up this month. I think sellers have dropped prices, and now may be a great time to buy before prices start skooching back up again. Is this the case in Miami? Hell no! If you’re looking to buy an existing condo in Miami, wait a few months and you’ll get a better deal.

All I’m trying to say is don’t be a generalist. I’ve said it a hundred times, and now I’ll say it 101. All real estate is local, and while there are overreaching factors affecting everything, like the mortgage issue, some markets are responding differently than others. For sellers, overall, not a great time, but homes are selling, in fact, more than 5.5 million of them this year. And not everyone is losing money on them either. Remember, home price appreciation during the boom was positively historic, which means that even if the price comes down a bit, it may still be well above what it was five years ago (again, not everywhere, but in most places).

Am I bullish on housing? No. But the plain fact is that while people didn’t need the latest .com technology, people do need a roof over their heads. Demand is still there, it’s just in a holding pattern. Do your homework, listen to the facts reported, and you decide what’s the best course of action. Your call.

Questions?  Comments?