It was the right move. They found a three-bedroom, two-bath split-level with a large Florida room, a parking pad, and a full finished basement "the day after it came on the market," she said. A real estate agent had bought it from the elderly owner before she died, "and the agent did tons of work on it and flipped it."
"The closing took just 35 minutes," Garvey said. "It was a pleasant experience compared to the months we spent looking."
The housing industry trumpets record affordability and low mortgage rates, but the reality is that the market isn't accommodating to buyers.
What Garvey and Mooney, a steamfitter, found is that many sellers - especially older people needing to finance expensive continuing care, or their children acting for them - were unwilling to negotiate price.
Nor were they eager to make the most necessary repairs for a sale.
Thomas Kelly, who spent last summer and fall looking to trade up to a single from a townhouse, said most sellers in the Collegeville area "didn't do much to spruce up their homes and were of the opinion that if we didn't buy it, someone else would."
He finally bought a house in Skippack for $285,000 that had been on the market for 200-plus days at $350,000.
Garvey and Mooney avoided distressed sales, recognizing the risks. The numbers of such sales here are proportionately small. In the foreclosure-soaked West and Florida, buyers have little choice.
Consider Moe Goudarzi, 25, of Phoenix, an engineer preapproved for a mortgage up to $400,000. When I first interviewed him in January, he'd seen 70 houses, everything bank-owned or short sales. Most had been vandalized by owners livid at lenders who had foreclosed.
Fifty-two more houses and two months later, he offered $300,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a pool in Scottsdale. Then it took 40 days of sparring with the lender/seller to get a sales agreement, which still allows the bank to continue to show the house and try to sell it for a higher offer.
"I still think it is a good time to buy, since prices here are now what they were [in] 2002-2003, except that some banks won't accept lower prices because they don't want to lose too much money," he said.
Goudarzi closes April 24 - maybe. At least he'll get the $8,000 tax break for first-time buyers on his 2009 return.
Garvey and Mooney won't. They closed two days too early. "These things always happen to me," she said. "I call it the 'Garvey curse.' "
"On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-4272 or email@example.com.