Homebuyers, broadly speaking, can be placed into one of three main categories: the wary first-timers, the bursting-at-the-seams upgraders and the downshifting empty nesters.
The first category consists of everyone from singles tired of throwing their rent money down the drain to newlyweds to folks whose growing families are making that apartment especially cramped.
Upgraders typically have more than one child and have worked their way up the career ladder far enough to be drawing a higher paycheck – perfect time to move on from their starter home and find a place with a bonus room and a big backyard.
Then there are the empty nesters looking to leave their suddenly quiet single-family homes for something smaller, yet perhaps even more luxurious.
Do any of those describe you? Good news.
Real estate experts say the Durham housing market has plenty to offer homebuyers in any of those three categories.
“The wonderful thing about Durham is how many different niches we have,” says Susan Richter, a Realtor with Prudential Carolinas.
“The variety of housing options is fantastic and still, for the most part, affordable. If you say, ‘This is my price range, and this is what I want in terms of amenities,’ you can find it in Durham. It almost doesn’t matter what you say.”
The not-so-good news is that there’s so much inventory and such a variety of housing styles and neighborhood amenities that narrowing your search could be a tough task.
Durham Magazine asked Realtors to help with the latter problem.
Durham is a transient community, with people constantly moving in, moving out and moving up. Grad students graduate and need to get out of that townhouse when they get a gig, either here or elsewhere. Doctors retire and head to the beach, leaving their 4,000-square-foot houses behind. Northerners move down for tech jobs but want to keep a slice of the urban lifestyle they came to love.
All of this is great news for homebuyers.
“There are some good values to be had right now in virtually every neighborhood, because there is always a segment of sellers who need to be on their way for whatever reason,” says Realtor Amy Andorfer of The Andorfer Group.
The market has slowed, both Amy and her husband and business partner, Jay, say, though not anywhere to the extent of the housing market busts seen elsewhere.
That’s also great news for buyers, in that sellers who really need to take that job in Silicon Valley aren’t getting as many offers on their homes as they were a few years ago.
“It’s not doomsday for our sellers,” Jay says. “There aren’t really any big steals out there. That’s not what this market is about. But houses aren’t selling as quickly as they were a few years ago.” There are some exceptions, several Realtors say. Any single-family home in decent shape priced below $200,000 won’t stay on the market for long.
And, while the recession has created some opportunities for buyers, it’s also taken some away. The number of houses on the market dipped by 11% between April 2007 and April 2009, in part, several theorized, because folks weren’t finding as many job opportunities outside of Durham. Less supply means greater demand, keeping prices up.
And the credit crunch has made getting financed that much tougher, with lenders expecting higher credit scores and more money down. That’s led to more cautious house-hunters even in a buyers’ market.
“In past markets, people looked for what they loved,” Amy Andorfer says. “Now they’re looking for what they love and what’s the best value.”
Realtors are banking on a market bump in 2010 as the economy improves. New housing developments, including several high-end residential projects in downtown and upscale condos near Hope Valley, are rising up to meet the anticipated demand.
But the inventory of desirable houses could remain tight for a while. “There’s probably not 10 houses that meet your criteria,” Jay Andorfer says. “There’s probably 5. The truth is there are good values everywhere. It’s a matter of finding homes that are in good condition that are priced reasonably and/or aggressively.”
Let’s start the hunt.
Arlette Dumke of Coldwell Banker-Howard Perry & Walston says Southwest Durham often is the perfect fit for many typical first-time homebuyers.
It’s convenient to RTP, Duke and UNC. Dumke sees many couples where one spouse works at RTP while the other is in school in Chapel Hill, for instance, making the area around The Streets at Southpoint the only real equidistant option.
“Houses here have been steadily appreciating and still there are things popping up everywhere,” she says.
But aren’t many of the housing options in this area relatively more expensive than some other parts of town?
“It is a little bit pricier here,” Dumke explains.
“But, especially with first-time homebuyers, they’re not going to be in their houses for more than five years. You do want something that is going to appreciate a bit faster, so at least you can break even when you are ready to sell.”
The higher price also means the house is in better condition, Dumke says. Young, busy professionals often don’t have the time, know-how or money for a fixer-upper, she says.
Plus, she adds, “Repairs aren’t going to increase the value of your home. They just keep it functioning. Just because you spent $10,000 on replacing siding that was soft, that’s not going to increase the value of your home. When you want to tinker and do upgrades, wait until it’s your second or third home.”
Dumke calls Woodcroft and Woodlake “the old reliables” of Southwest Durham, with everything from $65,000 townhomes to $325,000 single-family homes. Loads of amenities, including a pool and walking trail, make these long-established neighborhoods perfect for first-time homebuyers or really anyone who likes a great neighborhood in a great location.
Folks looking to put down roots in this transient community frequently find that new construction is a way to get plenty of house for their money.
There are many long-established neighborhoods that offer large houses, but those can be tough to come by and, very often, quite pricey if they’re historic homes that have received significant renovations.
Dumke advises using caution when buying in a brand new development where many of the houses remain unsold.
“The scariest thing about buying new construction is you might buy it and close this month, and then three months from now, the builder reduces the price [of other homes],” she says.
“All of a sudden you’re worth a lot less than you were a month ago.”
Talk with your Realtor and with the seller about the prospects of this before buying.
For folks who want that “in-town” feel, Jay and Amy Andorfer say you can’t go wrong with the old stalwarts of Trinity Park, Watts Hospital-Hillandale, Hope Valley and Duke Forest. That is, if you can find something that fits your needs and is in your price range. Jay Andorfer says many people get their friends in these neighborhoods to keep their eyes peeled for new homes on the market, so they can get a quick jump.
Those giant homes on giant lots can feel awfully empty once the kids move out.
Our real estate experts all said that empty nesters want to find something a bit smaller without giving up the comforting amenities and the sense of community that come with neighborhood life.
There are a number of new developments and a few still in the works available to meet all those criteria. But you’ll need to move fast, Jay Andorfer says. “We don’t have that great of an inventory of empty nester homes,” he says. “If a developer could find some land and build large one-story homes, they would really sell.”
As it is, many developers are putting up luxury condominiums.
“The reason people would buy sight unseen is that these are unique,” Amy Andorfer says.
“People who have been around Durham forever are really excited about downtown.” DM