Is this the year to sell your home? Is it time to buy?
National headlines are proclaiming a housing market recovery. The inventory of homes available for sale is down dramatically, and as a result, market time has dropped and that is breeding local optimism.
"Everything is selling now fairly quickly if it's reasonably priced," said David Piche, a real estate agent at Re/Max Signature. "The public has a perception that this might be the best time to buy."
Before jumping into the market, either as a seller or a buyer, there are a number of factors to consider, real estate agents say.
Everyone needs to be realistic. The market looks better than it has in years, but only to sellers who've taken off their rose-colored glasses. That means sellers and buyers each have to be willing to compromise.
It's a seller's market, in that sellers are getting closer to their asking prices, but those list prices are far more realistic.
"We are selling a lot more homes but the price is quite a bit reduced," said Althea Machtemes, an agent at McColly Real Estate. "The sellers are disappointed in what they're getting."
As for buyers, tighter inventories mean they aren't going to be able to lowball every offer. But it also means they should be able to make purchases with more confidence.
"There's not the same fear in purchasing," said Matt Farrell, managing partner of Urban Real Estate. "The hesitation to buying was the people who bought (before) have lost money. We're past bottoming out. Buying now is not a guarantee of loss."
According to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, Chicago-area home prices rose 2.2 percent last year.
Clean, weed out, repeat. Agents tell potential sellers: Wash the windows and get rid of unnecessary items.
"Sometimes we can raise the price a little if they've done a nice job," said Kathy Volpe, an agent at Re/Max Achievers.
Don't rule out a short sale. They're hot and are benefiting both buyers and financially troubled homeowners who need to get out from under their obligation. Last year, more than 16,000 homes sold in Illinois were short sales, a 53 percent increase from 2011, according to RealtyTrac.
In a short sale, a seller, with the lender's approval, sells a property for less than the amount owed on the mortgage. Banks are sometimes working with distressed borrowers to help set a price for the home, which speeds the process.
Real estate agents also suggest buyers take a look at some of the better lender-owned homes on the market.
Wait until next year. Would-be sellers who can't make the numbers work this year should consider making small improvements before trying to sell in another year.
"Why not enjoy it," said Jefferson Vice, an agent at Coldwell Banker Residential. "Some people who maintain a home correctly, you have to touch it up with a little paint here and there."
Buyer expo. This year has been proclaimed the "Year of Homeownership" by Gov. Pat Quinn, and the state has scheduled a homebuyer expo March 23 to help low- and moderate-income consumers purchase homes.
The event at Illinois Institute of Technology is for both first-time and repeat homebuyers. The Illinois Housing Development Authority hopes to be able to help qualified buyers receive affordable mortgages, cash assistance for down payments and closing costs and federal income tax credits. Income and purchase price limits apply, and registration for the event is required.
"It's not going to be a vendor fair where people just come for tchotchkes," said Cami Freeman, a spokeswoman for the development authority. "It's going to be housed with lenders, loan officers and housing counseling agencies. Buyers that register for the event will sit down with a loan officer that day."
More information and registration is available at ihda.org.