Some sellers have been biding their time for three years and now wonder if they should continue to wait or bite the bullet and sell now.

Karl Case, co-creator of the widely followed S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price index, thinks there’s a 50-50 chance that we’re at the bottom of the market and that we’ll see improvements in the months ahead.

Unemployment and rising interest rates remain a concern. An increase in the number of new households is predicated on an increase in jobs. Even if we have seen the worst of the recession, most analysts believe the housing recovery could be rocky for years. A quick turnaround is probably not on the horizon. And, home prices may never reach the peak level of summer 2006.

The home-sale market is generally better this year than it was last year at this time. Interest rates are lower by about 1 percent. Mortgages are much more readily available. Home prices have dropped significantly, making it possible for buyers to afford to buy a long-term home.

An increasing number of fence-sitters have turned into motivated buyers. However, they are focused on value, condition and location; they aren’t overpaying, as they did in 2006. It’s still a buyer’s market and could remain so for some time to come.

Sellers who purchased within the last five years might need to sell for less than they paid. One couple bought a home in Crocker Highlands, a coveted Oakland, Calif., neighborhood. They paid just over $1.1 million in 2005 and made improvements to the property. They sold in 2009, after investing more to prepare the property for sale. They received multiple offers, over the list price. The home sold for $905,000.

These sellers weren’t happy about the loss. But, their goal was to own only one home. They bought a retirement home near Sacramento and were spending most of their time there. Holding onto the Oakland home was a financial drain, particularly since they were there only part time. They couldn’t rent the property out for enough to cover the ownership costs.

Another homeowner realized before the recent economic downturn that she couldn’t afford to continue to make hefty mortgage payments due to a drop in her income. Emotionally attached to her home that she’d improved over time, she decided not to sell then, which would have resulted in a profit. Instead, she rented the property for a few years and moved in with a friend to lower her overhead. Although the rent reduced her monthly debt load, it didn’t cover the carrying costs.

When she finally sold in January 2010, prices had dropped to a point that the property sold for less than the amounts of the mortgages secured against the property. To get lender approval on a short sale, the seller had to contribute cash at closing. Clearly, she would have been better off financially if she had sold years earlier.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Deciding whether to sell now and take advantage of an improved home-sale market or wait for a better time is complicated. First, you need to know the approximate selling price of your home in this market. How much work needs to be done to get the property ready to sell? Does the house have any defects or deferred maintenance that will impact the sale price or make the property harder to sell? If so, this would negatively impact the price. This information can be obtained through your real estate agent.

THE CLOSING: Low inventories of good homes in some niche market gives sellers an edge. Even so, you’ll be successful in today’s market only if you are realistic about the current market value of your home.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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