Every homebuyer has a dream house: the one that offers the perfect combination of location, size, condition and price.
These days, it's entirely likely that dream house exists, but it isn't on the market because the supply of for-sale homes in many areas is smaller than normal.
Sit on the fence or jump off?
So should you wait for the home you really want? Or should you buy a home that's not quite right, but might be good enough and is actually for sale at a price you can afford?
The answer isn't obvious.
At the end of February, 1.89 million existing homes were for sale in the U.S., according to the National Association of Realtors.
That figure represented a 4.6-month supply, or inventory, of for-sale homes at the then-current pace of sales. With six months' supply considered to be a balanced market, 4.6 months signals a market in which sellers have an advantage over buyers, and buyers' choices may be slim.
Inventory isn't constrained everywhere, but the shortage is surely being felt in some places.
"If we had inventory, we'd be having big increases in the numbers of sales," say Kent Temple, broker/owner of Keller Williams Realty in Mooresville, N.C. "We don't have the inventory to fill the buyers' needs."
Most buyers have wants and needs in mind for their new home.
But today's limited inventory means some wants and perhaps even a few needs have to be scratched before buyers can find a home to buy, says Wendy Furth, assistant manager at Rodeo Realty in Calabasas, Calif.
"Unfortunately, the dream house _ we are going to help you find that _ it may not exist and it may not be what you're going to have to look for," Furth says.
For many buyers, location is a must-have, whether due to a school district, commute to a job or other reasons. That makes sense since location is the one characteristic of every home that can't be changed, not even for a boatload of money.
Settle on other things
Buyers whose location is non-negotiable and whose budget is maxed out have to compromise on their new home's size or condition. They might choose a home that is smaller, has fewer bedrooms or bathrooms, or doesn't include amenities or improvements they wanted.
"They may not get a have-to-have," Furth says.
Wait or rate?
Some buyers choose to wait for their dream home, but that strategy has risks, as well.
One risk might be mortgage interest rates, because if rates rise, higher monthly payments could price patient buyers out of the location or size and condition of home they want.
So far, rates have stayed low.
But Temple says buyers "will start to get off the fence if they see rates going up."
Then there are prices
Rising home prices can become a hurdle as well, even if interest rates hold steady.
"As prices go up, not as many buyers qualify for what they want. They want this house for this price, but they aren't getting it," says Mark Fleysher, broker manager at Sellstate Deluxe Realty in Las Vegas.
Yet another concern is that most buyers need a place to live while they wait. Eventually, a new lease must be signed or their current home must be sold before they can buy another one.
"There's no 'I'll put my house on the market when I find (a house to buy),'" Temple says. "Because if you find something you want, someone else wants it, too, and will buy it."
Resale homes listed on multiple listing services aren't the only homes for sale in most markets.
In fact, buyers can also look at other categories of for-sale homes, Fleysher explains.
-- Newly built homes being sold by homebuilders.
-- Off-MLS homes, sometimes called pocket listings, being sold privately by realty brokers.
-- For-sale-by-owner homes, sometimes called FSBOs, being sold directly by owners.
Fleysher says sales locally appear to be on the rise in all three of those categories, and many realty salespeople will try to help buyers tap into these markets.
"If a buyer comes to me and there isn't something on the market, I will contact homeowners in that community," Fleysher says.
Rather than wait, some buyers settle for something other than their dream home.
Sometimes those settled-for homes turn out to be just fine. Other times, buyers regret their decision almost immediately.
"We're having more buyers back out of contracts for no reason other than 'that's not what I want' than ever before _ and they're walking away from some money," Temple says.
Realtors naturally wish more buyers would give up some of their wants and have-to-haves to make more sales happen.
"For my personal business," Temple says, "I wish more of them would compromise."
ABOUT THE WRITER
Marcie Geffner writes for Bankerate.com. Visit Bankrate online at http://www.bankrate.com.