Time to get moving whether selling or buying a home this year

Robert Dischert talks to Stephanie Minix about cost analysis as her daughter, Kennedy, and husband, Charles, listen in.

The spring real estate market - housing's make-or-break season - is here.

Industry forecasters have high hopes for the months from now until the end of June, when vacations traditionally slow things for the summer.

Predictions don't buy or sell houses, but area real estate agents have suggestions for those who aim to do either or both this year.

Their opinions are local takes on recommendations from Realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke, who predicted that 2016 would be "mainly a seller's market, filled with increasing home prices, relatively low inventory, and fierce competition among buyers."

"Be the early bird," Smoke urged buyers.

In Philadelphia, "our market remains a strong seller's market, as quality inventory is scarce, especially in desired neighborhoods such as Fishtown, South Kensington and Passyunk Square," said Chris Somers, broker-owner of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties.

"We encourage buyers to start their search early in the year, instead of waiting until spring," Somers said, noting that even in January his agents were "experiencing multiple offers for many of our new listings this year in hot neighborhoods."

David Marcantuno, an agent with Keller Williams Real Estate in Swedesboro, said his area of Gloucester County "feels like it is definitely a seller's market right now."

"Assuming the house is in good condition and priced correctly, you're very likely to have multiple offers," he said.

Marcantuno's last three listings - "in good shape, well-kept and move-in condition" - went to the second or third buyer, not the first one to bid.

"One went as high $11,000 over asking price, and the other two within a couple of thousand dollars of the list," he said.

Main Line Realtor John Duffy polled eight of his 35 agents, concluding that "if the homes are priced properly, it is a seller's market; if the home is priced too high, the buyers will wait for the reductions, now called 'adjustments,' and the longer it sits, it becomes a buyer's market."

Realtor.com's Smoke suggested that prospective buyers consider "a new home" - sales of newly built houses rose 14.5 percent nationally in 2015 over 2014.

In this region, 2015 saw a decline of 0.7 percent in new-home sales, while housing starts were up 2.1 percent, said Quita Syhapanya, regional director of Hanley Wood's Metrostudy in Philadelphia.

Marcantuno said one developer in his area left two projects unfinished last year because high construction costs were reducing profit margins.

Said Duffy: "Although we have sold new homes in our area, they tend to be in the $1 million-plus range, and because of the lack of vacant ground we have a very limited supply."

Marcantuno acknowledged that new-home buyers "do pay more up front, but I think there are plenty of places to save later," such as the energy savings gained because of increased efficiency.

New regulations encourage consumers to shop for mortgages, and Smoke urged "comparison shopping," although fixed rates remain below 4 percent.

Interest rates will most likely rise over the next year, so shopping for the right mortgage "can be a very important element in the home-search process," said Mark Wade, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors in Center City, who thinks it's a seller's market and will not change soon.

"Often, it isn't the interest rate a buyer should be shopping for, but the type of mortgage product that best suits their current financial needs," Wade said.

Think options, he said.

For sellers, Sharon Ermel Spadaccini, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors in New Hope, advised, "Why wait for the masses to list their homes when we have limited inventory now?"

Your house "needs to be listed to sell," she said. "You cannot sell a secret."

Neither Spadaccini nor Jane Wellbrock, of Weichert Realtors in Chadds Ford, is convinced this is truly a seller's market.

Wellbrock said hers is a buyer's market, with current listings priced too high and getting staler.

"I wish they believed me when I told them what a good price was," she said.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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