You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time.
In terms of real estate, I would say this saying could refer to a balanced market. Is there even such a thing as a long-term balanced market? I would suggest that the short answer is no. It is either a seller’s market or a buyer’s market.
We are well accustomed to these terms, which relate to months of inventory on MLS, sales-to-new-listing ratios or absorption rates. These are key figures to look at, as they are indicative of whether we are in an over-supply or under-supply situation. Supply is everything. Ignore days on market or sales-to-list price ratios, as these figures can be easily manipulated.
According to CREA, in March 2020, we had 4.3 months of inventory nationwide, with higher inventory in the Prairies and Newfoundland/Labrador. The sales-to-new listings ratio was 64 per cent. Both figures would indicate very light seller’s market conditions.
You may think that 4.3 months of inventory is substantial (the long-term national average is 5.2 months, according to CREA). However, keep in mind that this inventory includes overpriced listings, unsaleable listings (usually because they are overpriced) and houses that are located on super-busy streets, in substandard areas and/or in poor physical condition (again, usually this is not reflected in the price). Irrespective of market conditions, I would suggest to you that, at a minimum, at least one-third of inventory falls into these categories. Yes… at least one-third of sellers are unmotivated (and this figure is probably higher). But this situation has existed for an eternity and won’t go away.
A balanced market lies somewhere in-between. The glass is half full or half empty. Or is it? It is sort of like purgatory. Neither heaven nor hell.
I think that a balanced market is temporary. The sand keeps shifting, so sellers and buyers do not know how to react. During this temporary period, sellers usually lean towards the “glass is half full” mindset, sure that market conditions are bound to improve. Buyers tend to lean towards the “glass is half empty”, thinking that the sky is falling. This is why, during balanced market conditions, it is so difficult to bring deals together. There is a chasm between the mindsets of both parties. We can only start doing more business when inventory either decreases or increases, and the gap between seller and buyer mindsets closes.
We are set to enter buyer’s market conditions across our fair nation. This means that we will see inventory exceed five months on average and the sales-to-new-listings ratio fall to below 40 per cent. Assuming inventories don’t swell, it certainly will be easier to bring buyers and sellers together than during temporary balanced times. Mark my words, inventory will grow as we enter into an economic recession.
Purchasers will be worth gold in a buyer’s market. So will motivated sellers. There is an old adage in real estate that I learned from the wonderful, late real estate mentor Howard Brinton: “In life you want to be the first-born child, the second spouse and the third Realtor.” Maybe it’s time to say good-bye to unmotivated clients and refocus on good business. Gone are the days where the seller says, “We are in no rush to sell” or “We are not going to give it away.” If we each had a loonie for every time that we heard that in our careers, we would be sitting together on a beach in the Caymans.
When we represent buyers in the new market reality, we need to keep a list of “the top 10 buys in today’s market.” Who doesn’t want a great buy? When we represent sellers, we need to show them where their home falls in relation to the competition, and price ahead of the market. More than ever, our listings need to be best in class, beautifully presented and the best priced in their segments.
And, we’ll have to be more creative in putting deals together. Buyers will be fussier than ever on inspections. Old roof shingles may be a problem. Sellers may have to re-roof or replace their furnace as a contingency in an offer. Vendor-take-back-mortgages may come back in vogue for hard-to-finance buyers.
In my last article in REM, I wrote about getting back to basics in our business. Part of this new reality is to take a hard look at our buyer and seller clients and choose to work with those who are most motivated. The glass is half full.