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Bidding wars frustrate Cincinnati home buyers

Homes in hot areas selling above asking price
Posted at 10:41 AM, May 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-29 10:58:52-04

How hot is the housing market this year? 

So hot that this is the best time since the peak of the 2006 housing bubble to sell a home, with buyers offering more than asking price in many areas, even in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. recently named Greater Cincinnati one of the nation's hottest housing markets, due to strong demand and a lack of homes for sale.

Home buyers frustrated

New mom Corey Curran of Deer park has been forced to put her baby's bassinet in the living room of their two bedroom home, due to a lack of bedroom space.

While she tries to get to the baby boy to sleep, husband John tends to their toddler in the kitchen.

Both of them dream of moving to a bigger home in the northern suburbs, just north of I-275.

But mom Corey says trying to buy right now is "insane!  Before we even get in to see houses, they are sold within a couple of hours."

They are hoping to find a 2,000 square foot move-up home for under $250,000 in Butler County. That price typically brings a well-cared for subdivision home built in the 1970's, 80's, or 90's,

Newer homes with "great rooms" tend to cost $300,000 or more.

But even with their modest expectations (granite counters not required) they have been outbid a half dozen times this year.

John Curran says he's learned the rules of 2018 the hard way. "You have less than 8 hours to get a bid in, and you have to go over asking price or you don't have a chance," he said.

Normal rules of buying don't apply

Forget the usual suggestions about offering 10% below asking price, and setting up contingencies, such as an allowance for a new air conditioner. With inventory tight is many desirable neighborhoods, prices are at all time records in Ohio, Kentucky, and many parts of the country.

The Cincinnati Board of Realtors says the average selling price in the region has hit $205,000 for the first time ever, up 6% since a year ago. (Be grateful you don't live in Boston, New York City, California, or even Austin, Texas, where tiny starter homes are now $400,000)

Lori Newsom is the top selling realtor in Deer Park, an ideal starter home community, due to its local schools and proximity to Kenwood Towne Center.  Former starter neighborhoods like Oakley are no longer considered to be that "starter" category, because of high prices.

"It's a great time to be a seller here," she said, "but frustrating to be a buyer."

She says even in Deer Park where post-war Cape Cod starter homes are still just $150,000, they're going fast. "One of the houses I recently listed had several offers the first day way over asking price," Newsom said.

Increase your odds

So if you are trying to buy a house in a red hot market right now, what should you do? You could wait till fall for less competition, but mortgage rates are moving up, and inventory will be even tighter then.

So there are a number of things you can do to make sure you don't show up and find your dream house has already been sold.    

West Chester, Ohio realtor Lynn Schwarber has one big piece of advice: "You've got to rush out the first day a listing hits the market," she said.

In the Lakota School District, where Corey and John dream of finding something, Schwarber says "most buyers are looking at spending between $200,000 and $250,000. But right now there are only 12 active listings at that price point. Only 12."

Once you get above $300,000 in Butler County, Schwaber says buyers have many more options.  And above $400,00, homes can sit on the market for months, she says, because they are competing with brand new construction, with 3-car garages and miles of white granite countertops.

So what can you do to improve your odds? Schwarber says:

  • Sign up with a buyer's agent who can alert you to new listings immediately. You don't pay them anything upfront: you just agree that they will represent you and get a cut of the agents' commission at sale time.
  • Visit a new listing that day, never waiting till Saturday or an open house on Sunday.
  • Be prepared to offer listing price, because someone else will.  Better yet, make it an "escalating" offer, where if someone else offers more than asking price, your bid automatically goes up (just like an auction).
  • Have a lender's letter of pre-approval in your hand.
  • Write a personal letter to the owner.

"Make it a personal letter to the seller," Schwarber says. "Tell them about your family, because a lot of times sellers will pick you if they can relate to that."    

What about just buying a new house? Realtors say its very hard to find new construction for under $300,000 in the Cincinnati area anymore, because building costs have gone up so much in recent years (though you may find new homes for less than that in Clermont County, southeast Indiana, and in Northern Kentucky due to cheaper land costs).

Corey and John Curran hope a seller gives their young family a break, and a home.

As always, don't waste your money.


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