First-time homebuyers face seller’s market in tri-state area

First-time homebuyers seeking to purchase property in the tri-states face a daunting undertaking as they compete in a “seller’s market.”

Low inventory and low interest rates have inflated demand — and prices — leading to bidding wars and rapid turnarounds.

“The interest rates are so good that buyers really want to buy a home,” said Nancy Droessler, managing broker for Exit Realty Unlimited in Kieler, Wis. “They just have to navigate the challenging process of securing the home that they want.”

May data from the Iowa Association of Realtors, the most-recent figures available, indicated that single-family homes in Dubuque County remained on the market for just 13 days — a decline of nearly 63% from the year prior.

Meanwhile, the median sales price increased more than more than 20% to $217,500.

And the market had just 1.6 months worth of inventory. Generally, a balanced real estate market has between five and seven months of inventory, according to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Those factors weigh heavily in sellers’ favor, said Ellen Sinkey, a mortgage loan officer and branch manager of Movement Mortgage in Asbury, Iowa.

“You really have to be in a position to be preapproved (financially) and ready to go,” she said. “Make sure your ducks are in a row.”

The pressure to act quickly and stand out from the competition can exacerbate the pressure of an already-stressful process, said Ben Pothoff, Dubuque housing inspection supervisor.

“Especially with first-time homebuyers, it’s a pretty big decision and an emotional decision, and to be able to make it on the fly in the market like this, where you don’t have time to really weigh out your options,” he said.

But the rush sometimes leads buyers to extend purchase offers without contingencies to makes themselves stand out.

“No inspections. No financing,” Pothoff said. “On some of these houses, the sellers are getting multiple offers. They are looking for the least complicated offer. Any time you have an inspection, there is a potential for inspections to identify costs that could take away from that offer price.”

Forgoing inspections can prove burdensome later on, especially when problems are detected that were not immediately apparent — for example, during the current drought, a basement that routinely floods or a roof that leaks.

Residents seeking to use the city’s first-time homebuyer programs, which provide low-interest loans, must have the property inspected, Pothoff said, which might make their offers less competitive.

But there is room for optimism for the prospective purchaser.

First-time buyers are not encumbered by the pending sale of their current home, which can make their offer appear more attractive, Droessler said.

And Sinkey reminds buyers not to underestimate the value of record-low interest rates — currently below 3% for a 30-year loan.

“That will ultimately be where the cost lies,” she said. “It’s still a good time to buy.”