Buying a House in 2023

Give yourself plenty of time to find a suitable property, and hire a real estate agent with deep experience in your market.
Barbara Marquand
By Barbara Marquand 
Edited by Alice Holbrook Reviewed by Michael Soon Lee

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A shortage of homes for sale continues to stymie buyers in 2023, leaving sellers holding most of the cards.

“I have seen the same buyers at many open houses,” Trevor Gearin, a real estate agent with Century 21 McLennan & Co. in Methuen, Massachusetts, said via email. “I have seen some of them for well over a year.”

If you're thinking about shopping for a home this fall, give yourself plenty of time to find a property, and then bring your A-game to the negotiating table.

Here's what's happening out there and how to prepare.

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Home prices are holding

After soaring in the past three years, home prices have mostly held so far this year, dipping a bit in some regions and creeping up in others.

In June, the national median price for existing homes — those that were owned and occupied before going on the market — was $410,200, less than 1% under the all-time-record high set in June 2022, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

In its most recent forecast, the NAR predicts the median price for existing homes will ebb 0.4%, and the median price for new homes will fall 1.9% in 2023 compared with last year.

Any price drop should come as welcome news to buyers. But today's higher interest rates make borrowing money more expensive, crimping affordability even further if, like most buyers, you need a mortgage to buy a home.

Nationally, affordability retreated this spring after recovering a tad in the winter, according to the latest available NAR Housing Affordability Index. When the index is at 100, it means that a family with a median income can qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. In January and February, the national index was at about 104. In March, April and May, the index fell to 97.9, 97 and 93.8, respectively. The index in May was 4.5 points under the level in May 2022.

Affordability varies widely by region. The most affordable region in May was the Midwest, with an index of 122.7, and the least affordable was the West with an index of 67.1, according to the NAR.

An index provides a snapshot. Prices and affordability also vary within regions and metropolitan areas, so it's important to get to know the market in your area and stay within a price range you can afford, whether you make more or less than your area's median income.

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Historically low mortgage rates are long gone

After hovering at historic lows through the COVID-19 pandemic, mortgage rates began rising in 2022, with the 30-year fixed rate more than doubling from 3% at the beginning of the year to more than 6% at year's end. So far in 2023, the 30-year fixed rate has danced between about 6% and 7%, averaging 6.75% in June, according to rates provided to NerdWallet by Zillow.

Mortgage rates have risen in concert with the Federal Reserve's actions to quell inflation. Since March of 2022, the Fed has increased short-term interest rates 11 times. The most recent rate hike, a quarter of a percentage point bump, was announced July 26.

“While significant progress has been made when it comes to inflation, the Fed believes that we aren’t quite at a point yet where we can back off completely from raising interest rates,” Michele Raneri, vice president and head of U.S. research and consulting at TransUnion, said in a prepared statement. “We may be waiting for a protracted period of cooling inflation before we see a halt to interest rate hikes."

However, if you get a mortgage now you won't necessarily be stuck with that rate forever. You may be able to refinance later if rates drop.

Properties are selling fast

Homes are selling quickly because there aren't enough of them on the market. In June, there was a 3.1-month supply of listed homes, meaning it would take about three months for all the homes to sell at the current pace, according to the NAR. In a balanced market, the supply of listed homes would last about five to six months.

Part of the problem is that homeowners who would like to move are staying put because they bought their homes or refinanced their mortgages when rates bottomed out near 3%. “Those folks aren't moving, so that's inventory that's just locked up,” says Nate Johnson, president of Real Estate Solutions Group at RedKey Realty Leaders in St. Louis.

In June, properties typically were on the market for 18 days, according to the NAR. That was up from 14 days in June of 2022, but still represented an electric sales pace.

Well-maintained, well-priced homes in great locations are snapped up in days in the St. Louis market, Johnson says. Homes that need some work or are in less-than-ideal locations may stick around for a few weeks.

“If there are no offers on the opening weekend, it's a good opportunity for a buyer to get a home without paying over the list price,” he says.

Multiple offers are the norm

Homes for sale in June received an average of 3.5 offers, up from 3.4 offers the prior year, according to an NAR survey of its real estate agent members. One-third of homes sold above list price.

“Five to six offers are not out of the question for a well-priced home,” Johnson says.

Ramez Tabri, an agent with Century 21 Real Estate Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area, sees a bit of a shift, though, as we head toward the fall.

“We're seeing more opportunity for negotiation now compared to a month or two ago,” he says. “It really depends on the property's price. If it's priced over the market, there's more opportunity.”

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Tips for buying a house in 2023

Here's how to prepare and compete.

Get your finances in order

Take a comprehensive look at your finances before you start home shopping.

How much can you set aside for a down payment? What's your budget? How much house can you afford to buy?

Review your credit reports and correct any errors, and check your credit score. If you can, work on paying down debt. Reducing debt can help elevate your score and reduce your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Lenders offer the best mortgage rates and terms to borrowers with high credit scores and low DTIs.

Before applying for a mortgage, schedule a free consultation with a loan officer, suggests Dan Hanson, executive director in market retail at loanDepot, headquartered in Irvine, California. A mortgage professional can let you know how your finances stack up and what you can do to improve your financial profile.

Understand mortgage options

“A lot of people still think they need to put 20% down,” Hanson says. “That's not true."

FHA mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration require 3.5% down, for instance, and VA mortgages for veterans and active-duty military members require no down payment. Some conventional loans require as little as 3% down. And most states have down payment and closing cost assistance programs for first-time home buyers with moderate incomes.

There are fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages, renovation loans for fixer-uppers and many other options.

Check out lender websites to learn about the choices.

Shop mortgage lenders

Some lenders offer a broad range of mortgages, while others specialize. Look for lenders that offer the types of mortgages you're looking for, and apply with more than one to compare.

Don't check just the interest rate. Look at the annual percentage rate (APR), which includes the total cost of the loan.

Compare loan estimates from different lenders line by line. The loan estimate, a standard document lenders must provide after you apply, details rates and fees, estimated closing costs and your projected monthly mortgage payment.

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Hire a good real estate agent

A buyer's real estate agent will help you find suitable properties, craft offers and negotiate with sellers.

Get referrals to agents and interview them before selecting one.

“Just because they have a real estate license doesn't mean they know the market and will be able to get you into the house you want,” Gearin said. “Make sure they know the current market conditions ... A buyer today needs someone that works the market full time and is in the trenches every day. This goes for a seller as well.”

Make your best offer and negotiate wisely

“There is more to it than just the money,” Johnson says. “There are a lot of other terms and conditions."

For example, being flexible with the closing date or letting the seller stay in the property for a few days after closing can help get an offer accepted in some cases.

And only make concessions that you can afford.

Johnson, for instance, says he never recommends buyers waive the home inspection contingency, which gives the buyer the right to back out of the deal or renegotiate, depending on the inspection report. However, there are ways to give a seller peace of mind without risking everything. For instance, a buyer might agree not to request repairs that would cost less than, say, $5,000.

“This way the seller knows they're not going to be nickel-and-dimed,” he says. And the buyer is still protected if there's a major structural issue that would cost a bundle to fix.

Don't give up.

Tabri tells of one client who got an offer accepted after looking for a home for less than a month. The property generated a lot of interest, but his client was the only one to make an immediate offer. Tabri guesses a recent mortgage rate bump and the Fourth of July holiday may have stalled other buyers.

“Even though there was a lot of activity, it was just by chance that [the seller] didn't get any offers on it but ours,” he says. “And we were able to get it for $50,000 below [the list price] … You never know until the offer is made.”

A previous version of this article gave the former headquarters location of loanDepot. The company is headquartered in Irvine, California. This article has been corrected.

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