Winter weather not slowing some house buyers

DAVID MILLER / Seattle Times
DAVID MILLER / Seattle Times
Posted: February 24, 2014

House-hunters keep hearing that inventory is tight. They're keeping a weather eye on interest rates. And, like the rest of us, they're enduring this patience-trying, snowblowing, when-will-it-end winter.

As 2014's first ice storm hit, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropped to 4.09 percent, the lowest in several weeks. Has the white stuff stopped folks from looking and buying?

Not so you'd notice, some real estate agents say.

"We were in [no-power] houses with flashlights," said Mary Beth Hurtado of Re/Max Executive in Bryn Mawr. "We went to one house, the electric wires were down due to the heavy ice. This was in Wayne. I sold in Chester Springs, two in Wayne, one in Haverford Township" in early February.

Nor has it seemed to matter to prospective buyers if a house has what many would consider snow-laden burdens: long driveways, lots of steps, many trees, tough-to-navigate cul-de-sacs.

Buyers "are out looking. They are not deterred," said Paul DiCicco, an agent with Addison Wolfe in New Hope. He said first-time buyers - a couple with their baby - came out to look at a Collegeville house with an icy driveway one evening. They came back for a second look about a week later.

Such intrepid seekers are ready to sit at the settlement table, observers of the local real estate market said.

Since this time last year, for-sale inventory in the Philadelphia region has dropped about 8 percent while prices have ticked upward. The median price of a house has increased 1.3 percent, from $159,000 to $159,900.

Inventory is low because many potential sellers are waiting before they put their homes on the market, thinking they will get higher prices for them.

"Sellers still have a tendency to overprice, but these buyers are not fooled. They go to [real estate databases] like Trulia and Zillow," DiCicco said.

Another recent flashlight-wielder, John P. McClintock of Keller Williams in Newtown, said he sold eight houses despite sellers canceling showings because their houses lacked power after the Feb. 5 ice storm.

McClintock said he showed five houses without electricity. "It was extremely cold, colder inside than outside," he said.

"Houses don't show well" in that kind of situation, he said, but not because the lights aren't on: "People aren't as prepared."

But buyers are determined, and limited selection has been a serious problem, he said.

"If you are motivated to purchase, it is a very frustrating time," he noted.

Why are buyers so motivated?

Hurtado said she had a couple whose home had flooded and were ready to buy. Other buyers, she said, were relocating from New York. And another couple, newlyweds, had found their dream house in Chester Springs after a year of looking.

"When the house is a no-brainer, you have to make an offer," DiCicco said. "You don't know if it's going to be there the next day."

But snow covering the roof and the perimeter of a property prevents the kind of close scrutiny a house should get.

Muskan Wadhwa, an agent with Weichert Realtors in Malvern, said she had buyers who were interested in a $600,000 house in Wayne but declined to make an offer. The reason: They couldn't see the backyard.

The snow didn't stop somebody else from buying, though.

"I saw on the [multiple listing service] that it went under contract," Wadhwa said. "That was a negative for me, because of the snow."

Another negative: delayed outside inspections. The snow has to melt first.

Wadhwa and Lavinia Smerconish, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach, had a different take on activity in a winter wonderland.

Wadhwa, who has been shoveling the driveway at one of her listings, said the weather had affected sales.

"If they are not in a hurry, they are going a little slow," she said.

Smerconish was surprised to hear other agents said they were busy. Chester County and Radnor Township were hard-hit, she said, and sellers won't show their houses if they have problems.

"It starts a conversation," she said.

About eight houses have papers signed and are waiting to go on the market, Smerconish said. "But no one wants their house" accumulating days on the market, just sitting there.

DiCicco gave this advice to sellers: Shovel your walk and driveway, clean off your steps. If you can't, get someone to do it.

Said Wadhwa: "If the seller doesn't make snow an issue, then everything is OK."

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