Here’s the good news, if you’re moving to Charlotte and looking for a home at an affordable price in a great neighborhood: The inventory of homes on the market is growing, and likely to continue to swell. You’ll have more homes to choose from, and face fewer bidding wars.
“I expect to see inventories rise the rest of the year,” said Maren Brisson-Kuester, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. “But it’s not going to be some leap up. It will be a gradual increase.”
Here’s the bad news: The key word is “gradual.”
For the first half of the year, inventories in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County hovered at less than a two-month supply of homes on the market. Two months is just one-third of the six-month supply generally considered a healthy balance between buyers and sellers. In April, the supply for the county – but not the city -- finally hit two months.
That tilts the balance toward sellers. Brisson-Kuester, who’s with CottinghamChalkHayes, calls ours a “healthy seller’s market.”
The lack of inventory means competition in popular, affordable neighborhoods can be fierce.
Bob Baldwin, broker in charge at Coldwell Banker’s northeast office on Mallard Creek Church Road, said the low inventory ramps up pressure on both agents and their buyers. Agents need to work hard to list homes for sale, and buyers need to adjust to the competitive environment.
“Some buyers have heard about how things were several years go,” he said. “Short sales and lowball offers. That’s just not the way things are now.”
The busiest price range in his slice of the market is $125,000 to $225,000. “Sales times are measured in days,” he said.
That’s the affordable end of the market in his area. There are always more potential buyers at lower price ranges, and the most crowded price ranges are feeling the inventory pinch the worst. “The higher you go in price,” Baldwin said, “the fewer buyers there are.”
The busiest price range is a bit different down on the southern rim of the county, but the story is the same.
Hadi Atri, owner of Re/Max Executive, works from an office in the Ballantyne area, which stretches from Interstate 485 to the state line. It’s not only among the most popular suburban areas in Charlotte – but also in the nation. A Ballantyne ZIP code, 28277, ranked No. 5 among searches on the Realtor.com site a few years ago. Atri said it ranks high on the national Re/Max search engine, too.
That, he said, illustrates how many people want to live there — and why it’s so important to raise inventories with new listings.
The busiest price point in his area, Atri said, is about $260,000 or a bit more. Buyers from Charlotte and across the country snap up homes.
Atri and Baldwin both said their agents are selling more new homes because of the shortage of available existing homes. Typically, the builder pays the buyer’s agent, which is important to know if your family is moving to the area. You won’t pay to be represented during your home search and purchase.
Builders welcome buyers represented by their own agents — but builders aren’t wooing agents as they did when times were slower.
Baldwin laughed and said, “Builders used to bring us food, and all kinds of things. Lunch, bagels, some kind of treat.... Now, they never come around.”
The lack of inventory is a nagging issue all across the country, as markets rebound from the housing downturn. It’s taking builders a long time to gear back up. The issue is especially acute in Charlotte, the pros say, because lots of newcomers want to move here for work or to be near family. Jobs have come back faster than homes have gone up.
Also, lack of inventory tends to lead to lack of inventory. Owners of existing homes don’t put their houses on the market unless they’re reasonably confident they can find the next desirable place.
Pat Riley, president of Allen Tate, said baby boomers hitting retirement age are especially cautious.
“Boomers are a mess right now,” Riley said. “Millennials are doing their job (buying houses). Twenty-year-olds are not waiting. They don’t want to wait until their 30s to get in their first house.”
But boomers, in their 60s, are facing sticker shock. They look around, don’t see anything better at a price they’re willing to pay, and decide to stay put.
Atri agrees, and uses similar language: “If they sell their house for $300,000, and they plan to stay in Charlotte, where are they going to get something else for the same price or a little more?”
Even buyers at the upper end are a bit more reluctant to sell and move than they would have been in years past, said Valerie Mitchener of HM Properties.
Mitchener’s firm specializes in expensive homes near SouthPark and in neighborhoods such as Eastover and Myers Park. While the upper end never is as busy as the market for more affordable homes, it has been relatively strong. Her firm has sold homes valued at more than $2 million this year, and even some costing more than $3 million.
“Pocket listings” are becoming more popular at this price range, she said. A pocket listing is one that doesn’t go into the multiple listing service immediately. Instead, the listing agent contacts a few other agents who might have clients who’d be interested. That way, the listing agent and prospective seller can measure the reaction.
If the home doesn’t sell, the seller can lower the price. Or, the seller can decide to pull the home off the market and stay put.
Allen Norwood is a freelance writer and retired Homes editor for the Observer.