For these homeowners, selling has proved far easier than buying

(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
April 02, 2012|Jamie Smith Hopkins

Jason Berkowitz sold his Baltimore County townhouse more quickly than he thought possible. Getting a new place? Not so easy.

I shared his story a month ago, when he'd just accepted a contract on his home in Lutherville-Timonium after only six days on the market. He was concerned about the lack of inventory he was seeing, especially in the sweet spot of homes with asking prices that accurately reflect their condition, but hoped more was just about to hit for the spring selling season.

He emailed me with an update last week -- so far, no luck.

"Buying a home has proven to be much more difficult than selling my home," he wrote. "Who would have thunk it. There’s been no spring market where I’m looking. There are homes below my budget, and plenty of homes at the high end of it. None of the homes in the high end of my budget are even worth a look – everyone wants 2006 prices for homes decorated in 1986 style."

He added, "Other buyers must agree. The 2 or 3 updated homes which came on the market recently in the 525-575 range went under contract within 4 days.

"We put in a hail Mary offer on 1 home over the weekend. Unfortunately for us, the sellers feel their home is worth more than larger and nicer comps in their area which recently closed for ~10% less.

"Also interestingly, since the article we’ve heard from quite a few homeowners who live in the same areas we’re searching, but haven’t paid their mortgages in a long time and are as surprised as I am banks haven’t foreclosed upon them, given the supposed pent up demand."

Bottom line: Berkowitz said he and his wife are "content to sit on the sidelines and wait" for now.

"If the market does recover and prices start to rise, we feel better knowing we’re buying into strength at the expense of higher interest rates or paying more for a home. Likewise, if things are not healthy, we’re not looking to catch a falling knife at the expense of an inconvenient extra move," he wrote. "So, with closing on my sale a few weeks away, and with literally nothing on the market, it looks like a short term rental is in my future."

The Berkowitzes are fairly flexible: They're willing to consider most single-family houses with at least four bedrooms from $375,000 to $600,000, depending on condition, in their ZIP code and in nearby Sparks, Phoenix and Cockeysville.

I included that in the story, and boy -- people came out of the woodwork to say, "Me! Me! I have a house like that!" I forwarded emails from at least four sellers to the Berkowitzes, and the couple heard from others directly or through their agent.

Most, though, were either at the high end of the range with a home that hadn't been updated for many years (see that "depending on condition" condition, guys), or they were actually over $600,000.

"I find fascinating the consistent interpretation from your story," Jason Berkowitz wrote me. "All these soon to be sellers read 'lots of people ready to buy so I should be able to sell for the price I want.' Even more interesting, the reasons for selling are all the same. Kids grown up, ready to downsize or move. Mortgage paid off or close to it."

Is there an inventory problem near you?

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