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Home buyers still face tough challenges in today's housing market: steep prices, elevated mortgage rates and a shortage of homes for sale.
But the feverish homebuying competition of the last couple of years has cooled a bit. There are fewer bidding wars, and buyers have more room to negotiate.
Here's how things have changed in recent months and how to navigate the market in the last half of 2022.
» MORE: Tips for first-time home buyers
More homes for sale, but supply still low
A shortage of homes has fueled fiery competition among buyers in the last few years. But the supply improved as summer began.
The number of homes for sale increased nationwide by 9.6% in June over the previous month, reaching a three-month supply, versus 2.6 months in May and 2.5 months in June 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors. A three-month supply means it would take three months for all the homes to sell at the current sales pace.
"In a normal market, you have about a five- to six-month supply of housing," Todd Luong, an agent with RE/MAX DFW Associates in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, said via email. Still, with the growing inventory, buyers have more choices than they did earlier this year.
» MORE: 15 steps to buying a house
Higher mortgage rates and steep home prices
Mortgage rates began rising in January, with the 30-year fixed rate averaging 5.5% in July, roughly 2.5 percentage points higher than at the beginning of the year, according to rates provided to NerdWallet by Zillow.
Rates are expected to stay at about that level in the second half of the year, according to an average of forecasts by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors.
Meanwhile, year-over-year home prices soared in the first half of the year. The national median price for existing homes sold in the second quarter was $406,600, up 14% year over year, and hit a record high of $416,000 in June, according to the NAR. Existing homes are those that were owned and occupied before going on the market.
The NAR projects the median existing home price to drop quarter-over-quarter in the second half of the year, to $402,400 in the third quarter and $380,900 in the fourth quarter. A price drop from the peak spring and summer homebuying season is normal in the fall.
Prices will still be higher year-over-year, but those price gains will slow to 11.7% in the third quarter and 6.5% in the fourth quarter, according to the NAR's August economic outlook.
Homebuying competition a bit calmer
"The past two years, people would buy anything," Christian Ross, real estate broker for Engel & Volkers Atlanta, said via email.
Not anymore. Competition is still hot for modernized, move-in ready homes, but not so much for properties that need work.
She advised buyers at the beginning of the year to expect they might have to make 10 or more offers on homes before getting one accepted.
"Now buyers are seeing success in two to five offers and having the ability to request concessions," she said. "There still isn’t enough inventory, but there is less competition with the rising interest rates."
» MORE: How to make an offer on a house
Josh Horner, an agent with RE/MAX Masters in Salt Lake City, said via email that the Utah real estate market has shifted in the buyer’s favor. Although home prices are holding strong, he said, "buyers are now in the strongest negotiating position they’ve enjoyed in the past two years."
Dana Bull, an agent with Sagan Harborside Sotheby's International in Boston's North Shore area, said via email that it's still a seller's market. "That said, we are starting to see more negotiating around price and terms and the return of home inspections and finance contingencies as the market starts to normalize."
Record home prices and higher mortgage rates have forced many potential buyers out of the market, shrinking demand in Dallas-Forth Worth, Luong said. Home listings with his office are getting an average of 2.7 showings per week.
"Last year at this same time, our listings were getting on average 7.9 showings per week ... Reasonably priced homes that are in good condition and move-in ready are still selling very fast. However, the bidding wars have subsided considerably across the board."
Tips for buying a house in 2022
Given the market conditions, here's how to prepare and compete in the market this fall.
Shop lenders and get preapproved for a mortgage
"We always recommend getting in contact with a lender as soon as possible, not just to apply but to understand … the process," says Kevin Parker, vice president of field mortgage originations at Navy Federal Credit Union.
Lending criteria vary by the type of mortgage and lender. Down payment requirements can be as low as 0% for some mortgages.
But making a higher down payment has a couple of advantages: Lenders may offer lower rates because there's less risk of default when a borrower puts down more toward the purchase. And a hefty down payment can give sellers confidence that your loan will close, which may increase the chances of getting an offer accepted.
When comparing rates and fees among lenders, ask them for closing cost estimates, Parker recommends.
Once you have your finances in order — and before you start shopping for homes — apply for a mortgage preapproval. A preapproval is an offer from a lender to loan you a specific amount under certain terms. Real estate agents will require that you're preapproved before showing you properties.
Apply with more than one lender and compare loan estimates to choose the best deal. A loan estimate is a standard form that lenders are required to provide applicants. The form breaks down loan costs, including the interest rate, monthly payment and closing costs.
» MORE: How much house you can afford
Hire a good local real estate agent
An agent's expertise in the local area is critical, Bull says.
Experienced local agents know what's going on in their communities, and they share information with one another. That helps them find suitable properties and negotiate effectively for their clients.
Know what you want and can offer
Before shopping in any market, know the maximum offer you're willing to make, how the offer will be structured and the terms you're willing to negotiate, Horner said. The process will be less messy and you'll likely get more for less if you prepare.
"It's like taping a house before you paint," he said.
Look for properties priced under what you're qualified to buy so you have room to negotiate. Decide what you need and what you can live without, and then work with your agent to craft a competitive offer.
Network to let people know that you're house hunting and the kind of property you're looking for.
"I would still recommend being proactive, especially when it comes to getting into a desired school district and a home that checks most of the boxes for the flow and function you want," Ross said. "You still have competition!"