Young homebuyers take time in tight market

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Agents say ‘HGTV effect’ can lead to unrealistic hopes.

Allison and Steve Padgett Vasquez stood on the porch in the bright, cool sun, looking into a house in Whittier Mill, a neighborhood about five miles northwest of Atlantic Station.

During a months-long search for a home, they’d walked through about a dozen other homes, and with a baby due in January they hoped they were getting close to buying their first home. Maybe this would be the one.

“We’d like to put our roots down in Atlanta,” Allison said. “Owning a house, you are able to make a mark and I am really looking forward to that.”

Everyone in real estate talks about first-time buyers as crucial to the market. They need a healthy selection of homes for sale, and they need enough income to buy. And of course, they need the desire to own.

Some agents say they need one other thing: realistic expectations.

First-time buyers have a lot more information than they used to – and some of it can be a bit misleading, said Lisa Harris, a Dacula-based agent with Harris Realty, RE/MAX, Dacula.

First are all the online sites that list homes for sale – data companies like Zillow and Trulia, sales companies like Coldwell Banker and RE/MAX.

Then there are all the television shows pegged to home buying, flipping and improvement, she said.

“HGTV is just continually on in their homes,” she said. They believe that the real estate agents show up with three great houses and you just pick the best one.

“I’d say that most of them prefer to have a house that is move-in ready. And because of HGTV they have an idea about what move-in ready is,” Harris said. “Most of them expect granite countertops, stainless steel… They want the painting to be done. They want the flooring done.”

Other agents also perceive an “HGTV effect” on buyer behavior.

Debra Bradley, managing broker for the Buckhead West Paces office of Coldwell Banker said such “reality television” distorts the reality. For one thing, there isn’t the glut of homes for sale that the shows imply.

“The shows make it look so simple. But if you have three homes to show them, you take them to see two and they are already sold,” she said. “And some of them don’t realize that every market is different. What is typical in Zip code 30305 in Buckhead is going to be different than what is typical in 30040 in Forsyth County, Cumming.”

The shows, however, are part of a trend toward higher quality – and higher price.

This isn’t typically the hottest time of the year – for the air or the housing market. In October, there were 4,105 sales in the 11 counties including and around Atlanta, according to a report from Atlanta Realtors: that was down 15.4 percent from the month before.

In general, the market has seen prices rise – up 6.5 percent in the past year. The median price for a home sold in metro Atlanta last month was $230,000, according to a report from Atlanta Realtors.

Priced a little high

That home in Whittier Mill was listed for sale at $354,000 and had been on the market a month when the Vasquezes saw it, a sign that it might have been priced a little high.

But it would have to come down more than 20 percent to reach the metro Atlanta median price of $230,000.

That may be a sign of a change in first-time home-buying, said Harris of RE/MAX.

Just a few years ago, a typical first-time Atlanta buyer used to be looking for something between $130,000 and $200,000, Harris said. “Now they are older, more mature. They have more savings. They are probably buying a little higher than they used to.”

Allison Vasquez is 31, an executive in a start-up company. Steve Padgett Vasquez is 32, a geo-spatial analyst for an engineering firm.

They saw their home search as based in practicalities, not HGTV-driven fantasies.

“We currently live in a two bedroom-apartment, but I think we will be busting at the seams pretty soon,” Allison said as they toured the home in November.

Nancy Keenan, an agent with Keller Williams, escorted the couple through the three bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home. They made appreciative sounds at the baby’s crib in one bedroom, the view of the nearby park from the second floor and the living room.

No cookie-cutters

“I like the high ceiling and the detailing and the character,” Allison said. “We are not looking for some kind of cookie-cutter house.”

They were a little disappointed that the bathrooms had not been recently upgraded. They weren’t crazy about having the laundry room right off the living room. They judged the drapery as “a little over-done.”

But they liked the layout of the kitchen and they liked the back porch. “I could see us entertaining out here a lot,” Allison said.

Would they make an offer? Maybe. But probably not until after the baby’s arrival.

Would this house still be on the market then?

“Probably not,” Allison said. “But we will look for something like this. We are not looking for some kind of cookie-cutter house.”