New Rules for First-Time Home Buyers (Continued)


New rule: Stay for a decade.

Not only are the days of flip-and-move long gone, but buying a house has become truly a long-term investment. In many cases, 10 years long, says Paul Bishop, vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors — if buyers are hoping to make a profit or just break even. As mortgage fees rise, buyers have to recoup larger costs, which takes a longer time. Also, experts predict very slow growth in home prices over the next 10 years, which means it will take a long time before sellers can make a profit, says Findlay. Of course, buying a home may still make financial sense, but buyers’ focus should shift from rising prices to building equity.

For first-time buyers, this means avoiding homes that require renovations, if it’s possible — it will only take longer to recoup the costs of a new kitchen or deck, says Findlay. Instead, stick to a home that requires few major projects, which builds equity with the passing of time. Also, a bigger down payment can cushion the blow for buyers who end up having to sell in a hurry, because it lessens the chances of owing more money on the home than it’s worth should values drop.

New rule: Brace for competition.

Following the housing downturn, desperate sellers were often eager to accept an offer – any offer. But now, first-time buyers looking for discounted prices may be disappointed. Over the past few months, investors, international buyers, and downsizing retirees have made a noticeable impact on the market, because they’re paying with cash. In January, about 32% of purchases were made with all cash, up from 26% a year ago, according to the NAR. Sellers are often more inclined to accept these offers since they don’t need to wait for a lender to approve financing, says Karen Trainor, managing broker at Weichert Realtors in Ashburn, Va.

To stand out, first-time buyers can present an offer with few contingencies, she says. At this point, given growing competition among buyers, there’s little reason for a seller to work with someone who requests repairs or asks them to cover the closing costs. But offers from buyers who ask strictly for a home inspection and appraisal – two requirements they shouldn’t give up – are more likely to get accepted than all-cash bids with a long list of requirements.