Jennifer Moyers and her husband, James, started house hunting around this time last year.
Six months and 15 written offers later, the Omaha couple finally closed on a home.
The process, Jennifer Moyers said, was “painful.”
It hasn’t gotten any easier in 2022 for prospective homebuyers. If anything, it has become harder to find houses for sale, and the houses that go on the market are snatched up quickly — usually for tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price.
Local real estate agents don’t see things easing up anytime soon.
“The market is intense right now,” said Megan Bengtson, an agent with Nebraska Realty and the president of the Omaha Area Board of Realtors.
Fewer homes are on the market than in past years — as of Friday, 325 homes across all price ranges were up for sale in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. In past years around this time of year, the number has exceeded 1,000.
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“Those numbers are just mind-blowing,” Bengtson said.
Along with low inventory, she said, list prices are rising, and interest rates are expected to rise throughout the year.
In January, the median sale price of a house in Omaha was $240,000.
Adding to the competitive market is an increase in cash buyers. Paying with cash speeds up the process, allowing buyers to close on a home in as little as a week. It also means fewer hoops to jump through. With a home loan, underwriters need a home appraisal, buyers’ pay stubs and other documents to make sure the buyer will be able to repay the loan.
Some cash buyers may be investors looking to rent or flip the property, Bengtson said, while others may have gotten cash gifts or loans from a family member.
Buyers also have been willing to skip home inspections in order to curry favor with sellers. That decision could, however, end up costing them thousands of dollars in repair bills later if problems are found.
“When buyers are trying to make themselves competitive, they want to try to make it as easy of a transition for the seller” as possible, Bengtson said.
Jennifer Moyers said the home-buying process was frustrating because she and her husband either were outbid by several thousand dollars or their bids were passed over in favor of people who offered to pay with cash.
It was discouraging. So much so that the couple decided to pause their house hunt and take a vacation. After they booked and paid for a trip to Mexico, their real estate agent called. Someone else’s bid that a home seller had accepted had fallen through. Theirs was next in line.
“If finally worked out,” Moyers said.
The house they ended up buying, near 156th and Harrison Streets, is a little smaller than they wanted, but it was move-in ready. Moyers and her husband have done some cosmetic work, such as painting over the beige walls and swapping out some light fixtures.
Moyers said she’s happy with the house, but she said it’s not her “forever home.” Instead, she said she looks at it as her “five-year home.”
The few homes that are on the market today are selling fast, sometimes within hours of being listed.
Early this month, one Omaha couple went to a showing for a home at 11 a.m. after showings started at 10 a.m. By 2 p.m., the house had been sold to a buyer who had offered cash and paid significantly more than the asking price. Last week, the couple toured a home the first day it went on the market. It sold by that evening for at least $30,000 more than the listed price.
It’s uncommon for a home to stay on the market for two or three days, said Georgie Vint, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. If a house manages to stay up for 10 days or more, she said, prospective buyers start to wonder what’s wrong with it.
Vint, who has been in real estate since 1987, said she has never seen the market quite like this. “This is just amazing,” she said.
It’s a good time to be a seller, Vint said, especially for folks who are moving out of town or already have a home lined up. Even if sellers aren’t ready to move, buyers are willing to help them out by being flexible with closing dates.
“Buyers are being very flexible in their thinking,” Vint said. “They’re giving up warranties and home inspections and things like that in order to get in the house, which can be good and can be bad.”
It’s hard on buyers and agents when an offer isn’t accepted, Vint said. She and Bengtson said they advise clients to not get attached to homes when writing offers.
“Don’t go falling in love with any house until we know we’re under contract,” Bengtson said.
Buyers may need to adjust their expectations. They may have to settle for one bathroom instead of two. Or forget about finding a home with a finished basement and an updated kitchen.
The market is just as intense in Lincoln. Connor Menard and his wife recently purchased their first home there.
The couple made offers on a handful of homes. One house, Menard noted, netted 18 offers and ended up selling for more than $60,000 over list price.
The Menards ended up getting their house after a buyer backed out. Their offer wound up being $20,000 over asking price, and the couple had to forgo any sort of inspections.
“The sellers definitely hold all the cards,” Menard said.
Zach and Lauren Santee said they spent six months, off and on, house hunting.
The Omaha couple struggled to find the perfect house. They found options within their budget that were only “suitable.”
So the Santees opted to build instead.
Building is giving them “the best bang for the buck,” Zach Santee said, but it hasn’t been without hiccups. They have run into supply chain issues and labor shortages.
They started the building process in January 2021. They’re set to close on the home in Bennington in early March.
Despite the 13-month wait, they’re getting what they want in a home, including space for the couple’s two dogs and a fenced yard.
The builder — Celebrity Homes — has been upfront about delays.
“It’s kind of a pain in the butt, certain days more than other days,” Zach Santee said. “But at the end of the day, we’re able to drive (over) and see the progress on what they’re doing out there. You kind of realize they’re doing what they can with what they’ve got. That takes some of the frustration away.”
Shawn McGuire, a broker with Celebrity Homes, said patience is key to building now. The building process takes two to four months longer than it typically would.
Eric Jones and his wife, Katie, are looking for a bigger house with more updated amenities before they welcome a second baby. The Omaha couple has been on the hunt for a house for about a year.
Eric Jones said they have lost out to others who bid well over list price. The couple have had tough conversations, realizing that they could max out their budget for a home that still needs some work.
“It feels like we’re buying at the height,” he said. “I hope this doesn’t just keep going on.”
Jones said they likely will wait for the market to calm down before making a purchase.
It’s hard to predict what’s in store for the housing market. But Bengtson guessed low inventory and quick sales will persist the rest of this year.
Her advice for first-time homebuyers: Get preapproved for a loan and have money in hand for closing costs.
“All those things set you in place to make you successful in this market,” she said.