Saturday, March 5, 2011

BUYING & SELLING: Many are willing to wait out sellers

WALTHAM — On a recent sunny, but cold Sunday, Cheryl and Brian Gillespie stood outside a tidy ranch in the Cedarwood neighborhood of this city. They commented on the sound of the traffic coming off Interstate 95. Inside, they pointed out hollow-core doors that needed replacing. They noted gaps and discoloration in the hardwood floors. And then they walked away.

The Gillespies, empty nesters hoping to downsize, have spent the past year searching for a new home, looking at an average of 5 to 10 properties a week. They are ready buyers, with good credit, a sizeable down payment, and preapproval for a mortgage. But as open houses follow private showings, which follow open houses, they say they aren’t ready to compromise: They will look until they find the right home at the right price.

“We have a lot of advantages as home buyers,’’ said Brian Gillespie. Added Cheryl: “Maybe that’s what makes us more picky.’’

With the housing market heading into the crucial spring season, the Gillespies’ attitude suggests any improvement is likely to come slowly. Buyers continue to show they are willing to wait out sellers to gain the amenities and prices they want. And with median prices slipping recently, and mortgage rates holding low and steady, buyers like the Gillespies feel little urgency to make a deal.

The couple’s long search also suggests another sign of a slow comeback for the market. They have been disappointed by the scarcity of move-in-ready homes, an indication that many potential sellers are still unwilling to settle for lower prices.

In order for the housing market to begin a solid, sustainable recovery, said Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern University, sellers will have to accept the reality that it will likely take several years for prices to return to prerecession levels. At the same time, buyers will need to feel that they must act quickly to lock in low prices and rates.

When that happens, perhaps in six months or so, said Bluestone, “We could have a market with more homes to buy, and more home sales.’’

The Gillespies began thinking about moving from their three-bedroom home in North Reading when the last of their three children moved out in September. In addition to finding a smaller place they also wanted to cut their commuting time.

Brian, 52, is a software engineer who works in Needham, a commute from North Reading that he describes as “simply lousy.’’ Cheryl, 48, works as a financial administrator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. They narrowed their search to Waltham, which would mean less time in the car for both.

The Gillespies are hoping to find a two-bedroom home, far enough away from noisy main roads, but conveniently located for commuting. A garage, and an updated kitchen and bath are must-haves. Their price range: mid-300’s to mid-400’s.

Since they began their search last year, the Gillespies have spent nearly every Sunday — and many weeknights — looking at homes. Attending open houses has become a Sunday ritual. Cheryl Gillespie updates her list of properties daily, often doing drive-bys during the week to get a preview of the home and neighborhood. When open house listings come out just before the weekend, she maps the route they will take on Sunday.

They are considering making an offer on a Waltham home, but are still weighing, location, layout, and potential resale value, while comparing it with other recent sales in the area.

The Gillespies acknowledge that now is a good time to buy. But they haven’t put their North Reading home up for sale yet, and don’t feel any need to pick up their pace.

They are looking forward to spring, when they hope more homes will come on the market. And they’re still convinced that the right house, and the right price, will come along. Until then, they plan to just keep looking.

“I think we’re at the age,’’ said Cheryl Gillespie, “where we just want what we want.’’

Brittany Danielson Boston Globe February 27, 2011

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