Now is the Time to Buy!

by Gerri Willis

I couldn't blame you if you had completely written off the housing market.

After all, it's been six years since the market was at its peak. And since that time, prices have fallen nearly 35%. 8.2 million homes have gone into foreclosure. Collectively, we owe $700 billion more than our homes are worth.

It's been the single worst housing crisis ever. Even the depression didn't take down so many middle class households. And, still, there's an overhang of unsold inventory sitting on bankers' balance sheets. Some families squat on properties that they long since stopped paying for, waiting for the sheriff's knock on their doors to evict them.

And yet, there are signs this market is mending.

True, some cities and regions are still fighting declining prices, but in other places, prices are firming, even mending. Denver, Phoenix and even Detroit are posting small price gains. Existing home sales in February were up 9% from the same month a year ago.

To be sure, fully a quarter of the homes bought in February were purchased by investors, but who can quibble with the details of who's buying, when you know that purchases will eventually raise prices for everybody?

Demand is also spiking from international buyers. The Chinese have become the second biggest group of offshore real estate buyers because outsiders can see what we Americans can't - the housing market won't stay in the dumpster forever, and that buying low and selling high is a strategy for success in any market.

A turn in the market has been predicted by far more sophisticated housing analysts than me, but I am encouraged by what is going on in the jobs market.

This week's ADP hiring numbers show what we've been waiting for - a strong jobs report that shows payroll expansion beyond just the smallest of companies. More and more mid-sized and large companies are hiring.

The government's monthly rate and payroll expansion numbers have posted improvements for three straight months.

At the end of the day, it will have to be jobs that bring us out of the housing mess because the only thing any banker respects when it comes to handing out mortgages is a steady and consistent paycheck.

I think we may well be at the precipice of that recovery. Prices overall probably won't rise this year, but they could next year, or the year after that.

Housing is too big and important a market to write off forever. The number of people who have made their fortunes from the industry or simply bought their primary home at an opportune time and hung on for a rising tide of prices to lift their fortunes are many.

In short, it may well be the time to start looking for that first home or second or third to grab the best price possible.

Don't believe me? Look at what happened to the people who exited the stock market after the 1997 selloff and never came back. They've missed some historic gains.

Much of life comes down to timing and in the housing market the clock is ticking down to a more normal market where you'll pay more for that dream house. The choice is increasingly yours: wait and pay or strike early and get a bargain.