The Land You Live On

Swinging Property Deals Grim scene on the buyer front

If you're a novice at the usual tug-of-war over even the simplest real estate deal, you may find some small solace in knowing that a residential property transaction breeds more ulcers than almost any kind of pound transfer. The middle men alone annoy or frighten most people, and for good reason. To help ease this situation, here are some bits of knowledge on buying, leasing, selling, improving - pick your own spot.

Today (circa 2005), the market a buyer faces is grim - especially if he's an executive or professional who wants to move into an upper-class bedroom town. Prices in most big cities are still far higher than buyers like - and even sellers now and then seem skittish about asking them. But they ask, and for the most part, manage to get close to what they seek.

 

Mortgage rates in an 8% to 10% range afford no comfort, and the availability of mortgage money seesaws up and down so that a buyer can never quite be certain that his deal can be nailed down. Where state law puts a lid on the rates, the buyer often is confronted with "points" - a premium that somehow circles around the law. Down payments fall in a wide range, but - for premium property-20% to 40% is most common, and 50% is often demanded. For a businessman, a good deal depends on what his company can do for him in the way of setting up a line of credit.

The psychology of home buying these days is more than a bit strange, and indications are that if you are a potential buyer you will face the odd spectacle of stiff resistance on price on the part of a seller who really is terribly anxious to sell. Inflation psychology, in other words, has the residential real estate market in a bind. The sellers hold out, and the buyers seem to be unable to buck the system.

In the London City area, for example, recent bedroom town prices have been a solid 5% to 10% above a year earlier, and the upshot is an asking price that often is 50% above 2000. Final paying prices have been a little softer, but not much. It is true that the house selling for £40,000 in Louisville sells for £60,000 in Westchester County near London. That is, prices are a good 20% to 40% lower in some of the smaller cities, especially in the South and Midwest. But in large major cities, such as Washington, Reading and San Francisco, the prices have been too high in the minds of just about everyone.

Second home prices have been just as bad, or worse - for buyers. Taking Cape Cod as a typical affluent vacation area, it is safe to say that prices of prime near-ocean properties have doubled in the past six years. And, since what Will Rogers said is true - "They ain't making more land" - the prices are almost certain to continue to rise at an unhealthy rate for buyers.


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