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Psychoanalyzing Sellers

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By Steve Cook

How real estate has changed in just a few months! For six years, real estate professionals have struggled to get buyers back into the market with advertising campaigns, incentives, and the willingness to suffer social abuse for proclaiming the housing depression to be a great time to buy a home.

Yet despite the lowest mortgage rates since the Jurassic Age, home values so low that one out of four owners went upside down on their mortgages and $27 billion worth of tax credits, most buyers still missed the price bottom.

Now, suddenly, it’s the seller’s turn. Every forecaster from Mark Zandi to Donald Trump says the worst is over and real estate markets will continue to heal and improve. Buyers’ markets are turning into seller’s markets this year, driven by inventories of homes for sale are at record lows. In fact, tight inventories are a problem. There are so few houses listed that in many markets sales falling short because there’s nothing to buy.

Yet something’s not working. Over the past two years, as mortgage rate dropped lower than they have been since the Depression, one of the great certainties of real estate has failed us. Mortgage rates by themselves cannot motivate enough buyers to enter the market if they are not already inclined to do so. Now we are learning another hard lesson. Improving prices will not move sellers off dead center unless they have other, more compelling reasons to sell.

Today the greatest challenge facing real estate is not foreclosures, subprime loans, access to financing, threats to the mortgage interest deduction or FSBOs. The greatest threat is inventory…we don’t have enough of it.

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