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New Listings Becoming Scarce

While the past six years have been marked by skittish house-hunters scared to get off the fence and buy, real estate agents now a dearth of sellers willing to put their homes on the market for the low prices they currently command.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that the number of U.S. residences up for sale in March slumped 22 percent from a year earlier to 2.37 million – or a supply of 6.3 months, which is considered a balanced level between buyers and sellers. Last month, however, Redfin says that inventories shrank to less than a three-month supply.

According to Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, sales are down in the most competitive housing markets, where bidding wars have flared up – including the District of Columbia, San Francisco and Phoenix. However, he adds, “the limiting factor on sales volume isn’t a lack of buyers. It’s a lack of sellers.”

Owners are not motivated to put their homes on the market, knowing that they will almost certainly take a loss because of severe property depreciation. CoreLogic estimates that more than 11 million Americans are upside down on their mortgages, meaning that they owe more than what the real estate is currently worth, which restricts their ability to move.

“We’re not going to have a healthy market until we can have move-up buyers purchase homes and not simply stay in place,” stresses Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Real estate professionals are going to extremes to find willing sellers in the meantime. One agent in Denver e-mailed thousands of other agents on May 1 seeking homes that had not yet been formally listed and offering half of his commission for a deal reached by May 11 for his client.

Another agent in Florida hosts a happy hour each month, inviting empty nesters who are considering selling a single-family residence and buying a condo near the coast. She says the events have helped her to identify four homes to sell, all of which had buyers within a week.
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