Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Rule: Sell Low, Buy Low

Recently at a good friend's holiday party I met a very nice woman who wants to leave her house of 20+ years where she raised her children to move into a single story, smaller house. She has a very common problem: she no longer can climb the stairs to and from her master bedroom and bathroom every day without difficulty.

For many young families, floor plans with all bedrooms up offer a very good value -- they get a functional layout downstairs for family activities and 4 bedrooms or so upstairs including the master, which also usually keeps the footprint of the house small so that it fits well onto a small but affordable lot. Using upstairs space for livable square footage is also a good value because upstairs square footage is much less expensive to produce, since a house only has one foundation, one roof, one set of plumbing stacks, etc. On a per-square-foot basis, single stories are often priced higher than comparable two-story homes for this reason (and a few others).

Some young parents also feel reassured sleeping close to their young children.

[An often overlooked advantage to having a master suite upstairs is that it typically allows for a much larger master suite.]

But in a few decades, those young parents become empty nesters and their many years of hard-work may leave their bodies a little less forgiving with the stair climbing up and down all day every day.

So the lady at the party with whom I was speaking felt like now is not a good time to sell in the market, particularly because she paid at the high end of the market cycle in the early 80's and it's difficult to face a lousy investment return on a house, even though the house has served as the main family stage for those many years. Memories aside, the simple numbers are disappointing. I get it.

So I asked her if she wanted to stay in the same area, and she said yes because her adult children still live in the general area.

"No problem, " I said. "You may sell your house for less than you might have a few years ago, but you're also going to pay less for your next house."

This is the new rule for taking advantage of the current housing market: sell low, buy low.

So for many people who might want to downsize or even buy a bigger house, if the goal is to stay within the same general market area, then it would hold that however much the market may be depressed, it's depressed on both the selling and the buying side. So yeah, you might not get to sell for as much as you would like (nobody ever does in Houston), but you will get to buy for less in the same market!

Not to mention the historically low interest rates right now for qualified buyers. (Well qualified buyers have no excuse not to be in the housing market right now. Move up, refinance, whatever, but now is your time.)

Think of the California market circa 2005, for example. What use would it serve for a couple to sell their 1200 SF home for $1.5 million if all they could do was buy another comparable 1200 SF home for $1.5 million?!? This is why Texas saw so many people relocate from California and other areas, because cashing out was only possible by selling in the high market and moving to buy in a market that wasn't so wildly out of control (ie, Houston).

It occurs to me that the reverse is now true in most housing markets. Sure prices may be a little down year-over-year, which makes the thought of selling daunting if one doesn't have to sell. However the market also has good buying opportunities coupled with historically, ridiculously low 30-year fixed interest rates.

In conclusion, it is not a buyer's market. It is not a seller's market. The forces affecting each side are relatively balanced when you think about it. So it's not a bad time to sell if what you want to do is turn around and buy. So don't give up, the opportunity to get what you need or want is still very much available in this market.