The unexpected has become the norm for the US real estate market. As evidenced by the annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, recently released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), market trends are shifting both quickly and often. Whatever was happening in your local market last spring isn't likely to be happening now.
Here's a rundown of the top trends outlined in the NAR report and how you can make the most of them:
Trend: The national median price has finally pulled up from the bottom. It is now $189,700, compared to $180,000 in mid-2011. But local market values range from anemic to robust. That explains why bidding wars aren't really back, despite agents' insistence to the contrary. Only 10% of all buyers paid more than the asking price; half of buyers paid 95% to 100% of the asking price, and 17% of buyers paid less than 90% of the asking price. Takeaway: Set the initial price carefully in order to capture the most interest as soon as the house goes on the market. And cultivate a healthy skepticism of agents' claims that sellers are being mobbed by eager buyers.
Trend: It used to be that buyers expected to be in their homes for a certain amount of time. But now 43% of buyers aren't sure how long they will stay in the house they are purchasing, though the typical buyer guesses he will remain for 15 years. That's 50% longer than the average 10-year guesstimate in the NAR's 2010 profile. Takeaway: Buyers need houses that fit current needs and that can be adaptable to anticipated future needs. That means flex space and easily added space, such as ready-to-finish basements, will appeal.
Trend: Married couples, not first-time buyers, are currently the driving force. This trend might shift in the spring as millennials escape their parents' overcrowded basements. Takeaway: If you are putting your house on the market now, concentrate staging and marketing on amenities likely to appeal to married couples, such as the master suite, big closets, and kitchens that can accommodate two cooks.
Trend: Everybody relies on online listings all throughout their home search-that's everybody from mobile millennials to settled seniors. Further, 82% of buyers cited digital data as the most useful source of information in the buying process, and 42% of buyers located online the home that they eventually bought. Takeaway: Invest in plenty of photos, descriptions, and detail in your home listing. Snap photos as you prepare the house in order to capture each room in its best condition and light. That first impression means everything.
Trend: Three bedrooms are the rule. This is one trend that is longstanding-break it and undermine your equity. Only 15% of buyers bought a place with two bedrooms; 83% bought a place with three or more bedrooms. Takeaway: Know the local definition of bedroom-typically it's a room with a closet, a door, and at least one window large enough to serve as a emergency point of egress.
For more on buying and selling homes, consider:
What's My House Worth?
3 Ways Your Neighbors Affect Your Home's Value
How To: Calculate the True Cost of Homeownership