From The Desk of Arthur Lazerow
As early as July or August of this year, the cold wind of a slower
real estate market appeared to be blowing from the north, but there
was insufficient hard data to declare the end of the Seller’s
Market. September data put the final nail in the coffin of the
seller’s advantage over buyers.
The current sales picture is astounding! The District of Columbia
has a 2- 1/2 month inventory and Loudon County, Virginia has over a
5- month unsold inventory. Montgomery County had more homes on the
market October 1,2005 than anytime since July 1999. At the end of
September, there were 1,033 open listings of single family homes in
Frederick County, but September’s sales counted only 337, which
equates to a three-month inventory of listed homes on the market.
August showed a two month inventory, whereas at the end of April
2005, there was only a one-month inventory available. Other
jurisdictions are experiencing the same conditions. From the buyers’
prospective, there is a wider selection of homes in every price
range than has been available for several years. Secondly, although
interest rates inched up a bit into the low 6% area for fixed-rate
loans, interest rates remain low, so the affordability factor still
works to the benefit of homebuyers. Creativity in mortgage
instruments will also serve buyers well, with five-year adjustable
loans still popular with buyers who expect to be in the home from
only 4-5 years. Interest only loans are also getting attention.
Are we in a buyer’s market? We do not know yet. One thing is for
sure, non- contingent contracts should be rare. As a result, there
will be better balance between the negotiating position of buyer and
seller. Home inspectors can get back to inspecting and Realtors will
sleep more soundly at night.
Tricks of the Trade
What does an inspector look for? That’s the key question in making
sure a house is up to snuff. Clue the homeowner into the following
areas of concern:
Floor Coverings – if the floors are wood (hardwood or
softwood), the homeowner should look at the quality of the finish
and the workmanship. If carpeted, the carpeting will be checked for
stains or excessive wear. An inspector will also look for wear in
tiling. Surface scratches, cracks, mortar or grout deterioration and
other imperfections will all be red flags to the inspector.
Windows – The sash joints at the top and bottom should not be
separated. Tight or secure joints are signs of an acceptable sash.
The counterbalance should be operating smoothly, so the window
closes properly. The paint and glazing should be smooth. Windows
with operating mechanisms, such as awnings, will be inspected to
assure the mechanisms are operating properly. The inspector will
take special note of windows with southern exposure, which often
causes weathering and paint wear, and windows with northern
exposure, which are susceptible to rotted sills and excess moisture.
Fireplaces – The chimney must be high enough for the
building. Generally, it should be two feet above the roof or any
other structure within ten feet. The damper door should operate
properly, and the flue should be at least one- twelfth the size of
the firebox. The inspector will check the inside of the chimney for
indications of deterioration.
Walls and Ceilings – Believe it or not, there’s a
“schedule” for the normal cracking that occurs in a plaster ceiling.
Cracks typically occur in one direction in approximately 30 to 40
years, while perpendicular cracks appear at approximately 50 to 60
years. If a plaster ceiling has cracks before schedule, it is cause
concern. Tile walls, such as those in bathrooms, usually fail at the
faucet first, then down the side wall toward the front. The
inspector will look for repairs that include a waterproof material.
Stairways – An inspector will be looking for consistent
risers, proper hand rails and adequate tread depth. Hardware
– All appliance springs and locks should be in proper working order.
The kitchen appliances need to be operable. The inspection will
include checking the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, drawers (yes,
even the sticky silverware drawer!) and countertops. The inspector
will be looking for workmanship, age, quality and functionality.
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