Home & Design

Clockwise from far left: A four-bedroom home on Island Creek in Oxford, Maryland, sold in 2021 for $2.99 million; it was listed by Martha Witte Suss of Long & Foster. Photo: John Perkinson

Closing the Deal

Experts help clients navigate today’s competitive housing market

Since the world stopped in early 2020 and remote work and study became the norm, the concept of home has shifted. As families’ priorities changed during the pandemic, sales of second homes skyrocketed. With historically low interest rates and a limited number of homes on the market, buying a new property—especially in a coveted waterfront area—became a fast-moving, ultracompetitive sport.

“The realization over the past two years that time is our most valuable commodity has fueled drastic lifestyle changes. The importance of how and where we spend our time has become paramount,” says Stacy Kendall of Cross Street Realtors in Chestertown. “Finding a retreat that provides a sense of place has spurred a surge in housing demand, particularly in less congested communities. Many have found the unspoiled landscape of the Eastern Shore to be one of rest and relaxation.”

Supply and demand
Though interest rates have begun to climb, it remains a seller’s market in communities on and around the Chesapeake Bay. “We’ve never experienced anything quite like today’s real estate market,” Kendall continues. “It’s not uncommon for buyers to forgo inspections, appraisals and financing to strengthen their position. This is by far the strongest seller’s market we’ve experienced in our 20-plus years serving Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”

According to Long & Foster, the median sale price of homes in Anne Arundel County increased seven percent from February 2021 to February 2022. And the number of homes on the market in the county was down 44 percent during the same period. Talbot and Kent Counties have seen similar declines in inventory.
“People are leaving the metro areas and cities in droves and coming to the bay, so multiple bids are prevalent,” says Martha Witte Suss, who manages several Long & Foster branches on the Eastern Shore. “Inventory is lower than ever.”

Bidding wars
In this tight market, it’s not uncommon for sellers to receive at least five competitive bids. “My average listing sale is $2.3 million and waterfront homes in this price range are in high demand,” says Brad Kappel of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty in Annapolis. “Offers start at list price or higher, and homes often end up selling at five to 10 percent over list price.”

Many buyers are compelled to go much higher. Local real estate pros advise clients to act quickly, submit cash offers if possible and throw contingencies to the wind. “This means you should have a strategy ready before you look at a house,” recommends Suss. “Remember that many are buying sight unseen and buyers often lose out on properties because they are too slow to react.”

During a property’s “coming soon” period, Kendall advises buyers to “submit a non-contingent, cash offer approximately 10 percent higher than the asking price and agree to all other terms and conditions the seller might have.” If a property’s status is active, she suggests making a non-contingent cash offer 25 percent above list price.

Kappel agrees that non-contingent cash offers are essential nowadays. ”Make sure that you have a proof-of-funds letter ready so you can pounce on a new opportunity when it arises,” he says, adding that in the current market, low bids won’t fly. “Most sellers will only counter the highest initial offer; if you start with a low-ball offer, you’ll likely get a call that they selected another party.”

Stay the course
Whether or not inflation or rising mortgage rates will spark a slowdown is anyone’s guess. “I expect that we will continue to
see record low levels of homes for sale, so scarcity will continue to drive our local market,” Kappel contends. “Interest rates have gone up significantly and prices remain high, which could eventually cause the market to soften if demand diminishes.”

Though the ball is still in the seller’s court, pros encourage clients to stay the course and play their best hand. “Hire a trusted real estate advisor and keep your finger on the pulse of the market,” says Kappel. “Great properties hit the market often but are quickly snatched up, so make sure you remain focused throughout the search process.”

Suss sounds a reassuring note: “I know it sounds idealistic. But in real estate, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.”



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