Pop culture seems riddled with "multiples." Interestingly enough, they tend to reflect a hybrid of good stuff and bad stuff.

For example, you’d think that multiple personalities are bad. Unless, that is, you’re watching Showtime’s series, "The United States of Tara," in which case (I must say with admitted bias from the fact that the protagonist is my namesake) they make for tragic yet enthralling entertainment.

Editor’s note: Meet Tara-Nicholle Nelson at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send Tara-Nicholle a message.

Pop culture seems riddled with "multiples." Interestingly enough, they tend to reflect a hybrid of good stuff and bad stuff.

For example, you’d think that multiple personalities are bad. Unless, that is, you’re watching Showtime’s series, "The United States of Tara," in which case (I must say with admitted bias from the fact that the protagonist is my namesake) they make for tragic yet enthralling entertainment.

And, multiple births are good, right? I mean, births are good in general, so you’d think that more would be better. But the media madness surrounding every 9-1-1 call made by a member of "Octomom’s" Jolie-esque brood and the latest on the Jon-and-Kate debacle? Bad.

I’m not "being random," as my son would say. My minor obsession with all things multiple (and my sense that they represent a mashup of good and evil) can be traced to the real estate market. In my area right now, at the entry level price points, multiple offers are back — and they’re bad. And good.

Last week, I posted to Twitter: "Writing the 5 millionth offer this week. Listed today — already eight offers.Wrote offers on homes with 20, 22, 30 and 35 offers this week!"

This was no exaggeration. It was also not a fluke of a week — in the last couple of days, I’ve seen another 30-offer listing and a bunch in the seven- to 15-offer range. The level of buyer activity has gone from zero to 1,395 in the blink of an eye.

(And I’ve asked around — my colleagues in other markets are seeing the same multiple-offer phenomenon, although perhaps not to quite the same extremes.)

In fact, my average buyer is now competing against more offers than my 2005-06 buyers did at the very peak of the seller’s market. Of course, there are a number of other factors that mark major differences between now and then, not the least of which is that prices are about 40 percent lower than they were then.

So, what’s behind this buying frenzy? Many buyers, of course, are trying to cash in on the $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit that’s currently set to expire on Dec. 1.

I’d like to think that the multiple-offer mania means the whole market is fixed now — nothing to see here, go on about your business. Whether or not that’s the case certainly remains to be seen, but I can say with extensive anecdotal evidence that both traffic and prices are on a major upswing. …CONTINUED

I believe the hard evidence will bear me out, but depending on what happens with unemployment we could either be talking recovery or a bump in the trajectory.

But I digress. My thesis was, you’ll recall, that the intensely competitive scene of multiple offers is a dual-fuel hybrid of good and bad. So let’s tally this up.

Under good, I’d say that from my perch as both real estate professional and consumer it’s good to see life back in the market — period — after a couple of years of stagnation during which some were beginning to question whether real property ownership was actually a desirable life experience at all.

(This is a different question from whether real estate is a good investment. That’s a question for another day, but we’re talking about people buying homes to live in, here, not investment properties per se.)

Those buying right now, in the face of all these multiple offers, are largely first-time homebuyers, ecstatic to have the opportunity to even buy a home at all, as a direct result of fallen prices.

They are getting mortgages with low interest rates, sustainable terms and still-feasible down-payment requirements.

Yet they, like all of us, are also much more sober and deliberate about their mortgage decision-making than the preceding generation of buyers, having literally stood by and observed both extremes of the housing market in very fresh and recent memory.

The fact that they might make a number of offers before being the successful offer on a property only gives them multiple opportunities to confirm their wants, needs and financial priorities. And all this, in my opinion, is very good.

Buying a home is like buying a car. It activates your brain’s reticular activation system, and you begin to notice all the other people driving your make and model — or buying homes — at the same time.

The current extreme multiple offers are good in that I don’t have to work as hard to help my buyers understand the need to make competitive offers anymore; rather, word has already spread and they come in ready to be aggressive.

Even though many of these multiple-offer situations occur on bank-owned properties, in my market it’s good for individual sellers, too.

Those who choose to go the extra mile, primping and staging their home to stand out from the distressed properties (and pricing them to compete with the bank-owned homes) may not get 2006 prices but can get their home sold, and that’s a positive development from a year or two ago.

The bad? Its bad when buyers lose hope, get frustrated, and even desperate because they have lost multiple properties due to multiple offers. …CONTINUED

In fact, it’s probably even good that appraisers and debt-to-income ratios are more conservative these days (Did I just say that?), or we’d be seeing the auction atmosphere of multiple offers cause people to throw dollars at these homes like fans tossing their unmentionables onstage at a Wayne Newton concert.

It’s really bad when buyers who are being aggressive in their offer strategies (without being reckless) have their offers snubbed strictly because they are FHA-financed, despite the fact that the home itself is quite appropriate for an FHA loan.

When the multiple offers include one or more all-cash deals or high-down-payment, conventionally financed deals, the lower down payment and FHA financing of a first-time homebuyer simply can’t compete — even at a higher offer price!

And that’s bad, because these are precisely the sort of buyers these loans are meant to help. And these are precisely the sort of buyers who might only be able to buy while prices are this low.

As I think of it, this multiple-offer market is actually a market of multiple personalities. It’s a buyer’s market in terms of relative pricing, affordability and, somewhat, inventory.

But it’s a seller’s market in terms of the sheer numbers of buyers competing for each property and the seller’s ability to pick the offer with the best price and "close-ability factor" mix.

Either way, it’s an active market, and that is good — not just for homebuyers and sellers, but for everyone whose financial worth is intertwined with the health of the housing market.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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