In a rapidly deteriorating financial market like the present, home sellers and buyers ought to take a hard, calm look at their plans -- and consider revising them.
The U.S. residential real estate industry is facing its most serious economic challenges since the 1973-74 recession, but individual sellers and buyers can avoid injury with some sensible planning.
If you're an owner, investor, prospective buyer or seller of a single-family home or condominium, consider these options for self-protection in a recessionary housing market:
Sellers should think about withdrawing from the market temporarily. Although the mere suggestion is anathema to realty brokers, the fact is that today may not be the wisest time to put your house on the market. If you don't really need to sell, but have discretion in the timing of your move, think hard about waiting out the current crunch.
With mortgage rates averaging 15 percent nationally, and hitting 16 percent in some cities, the cash value of your home is virtually certain to be lower than in a market flush with lendable capital. "Financing creates value" is an old adage in real estate, and it's true.
Conversely, every extra dollar per month that your purchaser has to pay to the mortgage lender is likely to come off the price you're able to command for your home.
Rather than selling in the midst of a disadvantageous period for sellers, hold off a little and watch developments in the money markets from the sidelines.
No economist can predict what interest rates will be two to three months from now; rates may well be lower. If they're significantly higher, the country will be in financial turmoil, and few houses are going to be bought anyway.
There may be special circumstances, of course, which alter this general rule for your particular property. For example, you may have a buyer who is so infatuated with your house that he or she will pay your fully inflated, spring 1980 price -- whatever the financing conditions in the conventional mortgage market.
Or you may have an attractive, assumable mortgage that carries a below-market interest rate. A purchaser may be willing to pay full price for your property, in part for the privilege of taking over your 8 percent or 9 percent mortgage.
Even if your loan is not assumable, the lower its face interest rate, the more likely your original lender will be to permit an assumption by your purchaser -- with a step-up in the rate to a figure that it still below the prevailing market. A savings and loan association or mutual savings bank won't advertise its willingness to do this, but many of them today are in serious profit squeezes that open them to negotiations that would have been unthinkable a year ago. Your existing five-year-old loan may be one of your key points of leverage as a seller, however bad the market is generally.
If you've absolutely got to sell -- because of a job change, divorce or other personal circumstance -- don't try to do it on your own in the current market. Get a reputable, well-established brokerage firm that specializes in your neighborhood, participates in a national referral network and can demonstrate experience in what is known as "creative finance."
That means problem-solving financial techniques -- from installment sales to short-term sellers mortgages, land contracts, second mortgages and wraparound mortgages. These may be your sole means of finance, at the selling price you want.
If you're a first-time home buyer, you also should consider sitting out the current squeeze for a month or two. You may not be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage at 15 percent anyway. Only 6 percent of the nation's households can qualify for the median-priced new home at an interest rate of 15 percent.
FHA-insured, graduated payment loans under the Section 245 program may be available in new housing subdivisions in your area, and at 13 percent those loans are excellent opportunities. Don't worry about prices going out of sight while you're on the sidelines. Homebuilders have a nine-month supply of unsold, new units nationwide. Houses will be available -- if you look and dicker for them -- at today's prices one or two months from now.
If you're a discretionary buyer, or a buyer with ready cash, you've got more choices and possibilities than just about anyone in the current market. Your biggest impediment, naturally, is the high-rate conventional lending market. Avoid it if you can, with the help of brokers who know creative finance. You also should be able to negotiate relative price bargains with sellers who have to sell.
There's no reason -- if your purchase is truly going to bail a seller out of a difficult situation -- why you should not seek more than the customary reduction in the asking price.
There's no reason, either, why you can't ask for a deeply discounted rate on any financing provided by the seller. A 12 percent, short-term mortgage from the seller to the buyer in a 15 percent market should be attractive enough to both sides to make the deal go through.