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As inventories shrink, so do seller concessions

By STEVE COOK, Real Estate Economy Watch   |   Feb. 8, 2013 at 12:59 PM   |   Comments

There’s no better gauge of the onset of a seller’s market than the demise of concessions that were considered essential to attract buyer interest just a few months ago. The National Association of Realtors’ December Realtor Confidence Outlook reported that the market has steadily moved towards a seller’s market with buyers more willing to bear closing costs, in some cases paying for half or more of the closing cost. Tight inventories of homes for sale are making markets increasingly competitive.

NAR reports that last year 60 percent of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers. The most popular was a free home warranty policy, which costs about $500, offered by 22 percent of sellers, but 17 percent upped the ante by paying a portion of buyers’ closing costs and 7 percent contributed to remodeling or repairs.

Concessions linger where inventories are still adequate and sales slow, but in tight markets like Washington DC the times when buyers can expect concessions are already over.

“Buyers are discovering, to their dismay, that homes they wanted to see or possibly buy have already been snatched up before they even get a chance to see or make an offer on the property. This area’s unprecedented low inventory levels are slowly driving up home prices and making sellers reluctant to cede little if any concessions to buyers. Realtors are warning (or should in some cases) buyers to be prepared to act that day if they are interested in a property,” reporters a local broker.

In Albuquerque, supply is dwindling and sales are moving to a more balanced market. “Buyers can expect sellers to offer less concessions and sales prices will be close to list price,” reports broker Archie Saiz.

In Seattle, not only are concessions a thing of the past, desperate buyers are even resorting to writing “love letters” to win over sellers in competitive situations. Lena Maul, a broker/owner in Windermere/North in Lynnwood, reports a successful letter-writing effort last month by one of her office’s clients. Those buyers, who were using FHA financing, wrote a letter introducing themselves to the seller and explaining why they liked the home so much. After reviewing 13 offers, including one from an all-cash investor, the seller chose the letter-writer’s offer.

New regulations enacted last year by the Federal Housing Administration to limit its exposure to risk forced many sellers to cut back on the amount of assistance on buyers’ closing costs. Sellers on now limited to no more than six percent of the loan amount.

Underwriting standards on conventional mortgages also have the effect of limiting the amount sellers can contribute.

In recent years many lenders have disallowed seller paid closing costs on 100 percent financed home loans because of the high foreclosure rate.

However, seller paid closing costs are typically limited to 6 percent of the loan amount at 90 percent loan-to-value or lower, 3 percent between 90-95 percent, and then usually 3 percent for 100 percent loan-to-value.

Some sellers bump up the home sales price to pay for concessions. However the buyer will need to get the higher amount he will need to borrow covered by the appraisal and he will have to meet increased debt-to-income ratio in order to close his loan.

The demise of concessions will make buying and selling a little simpler and more rational. As one observed asked, “Why would anyone selling a home pay the home buyer to buy it?”
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