The current real estate recovery is like a marathon. Last year, buyers and sellers sprinted out of the gates at full speed, fueled by low interest rates and affordable home prices. The press as well as social media were full of stories about limited housing inventories, bidding wars and multiple offers. In 2013, real estate was indeed very sexy and headline-worthy.
As we move into 2014, it's clear we've only run the first few miles of this marathon. Last year's excitement will surely wear off, and there will be a lot less flashy magazine covers, posts, tweets or evening news stories about real estate. Most experts predict a slower, steadier, more even "pace" this year in most of the country, even as mortgage rates and home values inch up.
However, all of this doesn't mean 2014 won't be as good a time to buy real estate. It helps to look at the bigger picture. Sure, we likely won't see interest rates as low in 2014 as we did in 2013. But to put that into perspective, interest rates were as high as 18 percent in the 80s, yet people still bought homes.
As you approach buying a home this year, it helps to focus on the long term by keeping the following five best practices in mind. You might wonder why they sound familiar - that's because these were best practices for homebuying a generation ago. And they'll most likely still be practical when the next generation of home buyers sprints out of the gate.
Buy when you're ready: Just because you didn't buy last year when the market was super hot doesn't mean you've missed out. Could you have gotten in when the rates were at their lowest and values near the bottom? Sure. But were you ready to buy then? Probably not. The main thing to remember is that you should buy a home when you can afford it, you have your financing and you've found a home that meets your needs. That will always be the best time to buy.
Homebuying is a journey: Despite how quickly the world works today, you can't force a home purchase. It's not like buying a television or a laptop. A home is a much more expensive and somewhat complicated purchase. It's where you can feel safe and calm from the outside world, a place you can customize to your needs, and where you will make lasting memories. Because of this, buying a home comes with emotional and practical implications on top of the financial ones. Remember that a home is your place to live first and an investment second. Take the time you need to find the right home.
Don't be driven by data: If you watch the nightly news or read news online, you'll hear real estate market predictions and numbers on a national level. And at any given time, you'll likely get conflicting real estate forecasts. A lot of information and data will come at you from many different angles - including social media. Don't take anything to be an absolute. Always keep your own goals and needs top of mind at all times.
Real estate is local: The national real estate news headlines may be about multiple offers and bidding wars. But that situation may only be relevant to one part of the country or even to just a handful of cities. Meanwhile, the neighborhood where you want to buy a home still has distressed sales and is more of a buyers' market.
All that really matters in real estate is what's happening in your own community. If you're interested in getting into the market, follow the local economy and housing markets. Go to open houses and learn. Get connected to a real estate agent who has "feet on the street."
Go with your gut: There's no one who knows your financials better than you. You know your down payment amount, credit score, amount of savings and the upper limits of what you can afford to put toward homeownership every month. Apply what you know about your finances to your local real estate market. You know the neighborhoods, the commercial districts and the types of homes for sale. By merging these two, your gut will inform you on what's a good buy, when it's the right time to buy and how to approach a purchase.
In 2014, stay focused on what you know, stay local, take your time and don't let outside forces sway your decision to buy a home. People have bought and sold homes for years, at higher prices and with higher interest rates. If you're in it for the long haul, consider yourself at mile 3 of a 26-mile marathon.