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How to buy a Triangle home this winter


Editor’s Note: Each Friday, WRAL TechWire takes a deep dive into the Triangle’s real estate markets.  In recent weeks, we’ve covered how to win in the Triangle real estate market as a buyer and how sellers can prepare a home for sale in order to get top-dollar offers.  This week, WRAL TechWire reporter Jason Parker, who is also a licensed North Carolina real estate agent, shares personal experiences of navigating real estate markets as a buyer during the winter holiday season. 


DURHAM – I bought my first home in the Triangle in a very different real estate market almost exactly a decade ago.  But the macroeconomic climate felt similar to today, at least to me.

For example, in late 2011, when I accepted a position that would relocate me back to Durham, where I’d been born and raised, I’d graduated and hustled my way through the aftermath of the Great Recession and I along with many of my peers and mentors felt uncertain where the U.S. economy was headed.

Still, I returned to the Triangle, in a role that I imagined would help bolster the region’s entrepreneurial activity, because I felt certain that the future of the Triangle region was strong.

Today, a decade later, the global economy is still recovering from a different economic shock brought on by the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic followed by further geopolitical uncertainty and a shifting of workplace and worker expectations, with housing markets finally cooling off a bit after a torrid pace of price appreciation since 2011.

Annual growth rate of Triangle real estate about 8.75% in last decade

In writing weekly columns for WRAL TechWire about the Triangle real estate market, I’ve yet to share my own experiences navigating housing markets, but here during this holiday week, our editorial team thought it might be worthwhile to contextualize our current housing market by showcasing my own experiences in purchasing homes.

That’s because each time I’ve bought a home in North Carolina, I’ve done so during November, December, and January.

Entering this fall, there were four factors that were changing the real estate market as it transitioned from one of rapid home price appreciation to one where most submarkets in the Triangle appear to have returned to seasonal, cyclical norms.

Which still means that some homes are selling for more than asking price, while some homes that may have been snapped up buy a buyer in April or May of this year remain on the market for multiple months.

These four factors are changing the real estate market in the Triangle

What happens in the Triangle’s annual market cycle

Research from ATTOM Data Solutions, released earlier this year, showed that even with the atypical real estate markets of 2020 and 2021, on average, the best time to buy a home in North Carolina in order to get the best deal on price came when homebuyers closed on the property in January.

Buyers paid an additional 1.3% premium in January, the lowest of all 12 months, the data showed, while closings that occurred in May required a premium of 7.4%.

Why do we see this occur in the Triangle and across the state?

Well, during a typical annual cycle, both buyers and sellers move out of real estate markets in the cooler winter months.  This dip in demand means that across the entire market, home sales tend to plateau or even decrease in normal historical cycles before picking back up price appreciation in the spring and early summer months when more buyers are active in the marketplace and more sellers are induced to list their homes for sale due to price appreciation increasing the potential sale price and thus net proceeds of a sale.

But in buying my own primary residence in the Triangle, I began looking as soon as I knew I would return to the region.  Which just happened to be in October 2011.

My first step—and yours should be as well—was to select a real estate agent and to speak with multiple mortgage lenders, selecting one with whom to gain a preapproval letter.

Even though mortgage rates as of today are higher than they were a decade ago—and a year ago—most good real estate agents will advise buyers to be “ready, willing, and able” to make an offer to purchase and contract.  That means if you’re thinking about your housing options, just wanting to move isn’t enough!  You’ll also need to take steps—with your homebuying team—to ensure you’re ready financially, willing to make a deal, and that you’re able to get the deal to the closing table where you’ll get the keys to your new home.

Mortgage rates as of today are now below 7% again

Image and data: Freddie Mac

My first purchase

While 2011 was, on the whole, still very much a buyer’s market, this was an important step for me as it helped me affirm my own comfort with borrowing money on a mortgage and helped set the upper bounds of my search.  And as I was bullish on Durham and the Triangle, I wanted to work with my real estate agent to find the home that would provide me the most future flexibility.

For example, I looked for three bedroom homes instead of two bedroom homes.  I looked for homes with two-car garages instead of one-car garages, even though I only had one car.  And I looked for areas that would suggest future growth and future price appreciation, including ones with proximity to both downtown, where I worked, as well as Research Triangle Park, and both universities.  I further narrowed my search to neighborhoods with well-established school assignments, but also where the City of Durham had planned an elementary school, despite not having children at the time.

Those same principles may apply for homebuyers today.  Looking for an extra bedroom than would otherwise be necessary, if you can afford it, may allow for a home office, and should you eventually resell the property, may attract a wider buyer pool.  The same goes for whether a home has a garage, and if so, what size it happens to be.  Typically, when it comes to storage space and garage space, two is better than one, which is better than none.

In working with my real estate agent, I received the advice to work to identify more than one home that fit my criteria, rather than to fall in love with a particular property.  There’s a conversation that I now have, when I do work with homebuyers to buy in the Triangle, which can be boiled down to one question: “At what price point would you switch?”

Because what I’ve learned, both in buying three North Carolina homes as primary residences, and in representing buyers and sellers in the Triangle and in the Charlotte region as an agent, is that a real estate search is often about trade-offs.

For me, in 2011, it took me six weeks, but I identified two potential properties.  I was ready, and I was willing, and I was able, so I made an offer on the property that I preferred.  But the sellers, through their agent, countered my offer, and we couldn’t come to a deal at a price and with terms that I’d already decided with my team that I wouldn’t exceed.

Which meant I moved on to the second property, which I ended up buying after negotiating in the weeks leading up to the winter holidays.  I made an offer at a reasonable price, and we were able to come to a deal.  I bought the home a few weeks later, at the end of January, which as it happened, was an excellent time to buy a home in the Triangle.

Number of first-time homebuyers hits record low – but prices in Wake are falling

Doing it again

Fast forward half a decade.  While a lot changed during that five years, the most important change was forming a partnership and a marriage with my partner and spouse.

In the fall of 2016, following our wedding, my partner had a career opportunity that would require us to relocate.  Which meant we began a housing search together, again in the latter part of the year.

While I’d love to say that I’d learned a great lesson from my prior homebuying experience, truth is, on this one, we really got lucky with regard to timing, with regard to the opportunity, and with regard to the particular house we ended up buying.

I will tell you this: it is really difficult to buy a home when you’re not able to be on the ground for your search.

Our parameters for this search were as follows, when it began: Anywhere within a 45-minute drive of uptown Charlotte.  That was a stated preference, if not a written requirement, of my partner’s employer.

It took a few weeks, and multiple trips into the city, to begin to identify areas and neighborhoods that fit our buying criteria.

If you’ve read this far, you won’t be shocked to hear that the criteria was: three-bedrooms, established neighborhoods with established schools, and garage and/or storage space that we could grow into.  And, of course, we had an upper bounded range on price.

We ended up finding a home that was tenant-occupied, which had remained on the market for a few weeks already by the time we were able to see it.

By the time I’d walked through the door, I’d seen about two dozen homes and hadn’t really liked any of them.  But when I walked into this one, I knew we were going to make an offer before I even went upstairs.

So much for finding more than one home that would meet our criteria.

We had an excellent team in working through the details of an offer, and negotiated it over the course of the next few days, coming to a deal that allowed us to buy the home and move in on our preferred timeline… January.

Looking to sell your home but don’t want to drop the price? Here’s how

Third time; still charmed

Fast forward another half decade, about 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since buying our Charlotte-area home, I’d decided that I’d learned a thing or two about the real estate process, and had been working on writing and reporting on the regional and statewide economy, including some real estate and real estate technology stories.  I took an interest in the practice and structures of the real estate markets, as well as the practice of real estate agency, which ended up in my enrollment in night classes to complete the prelicensing requirements for the state of North Carolina.

When complete, I figured, why not sit for the exam?  Dozens and dozens of hours of studying and work later, I’d earned my real estate license.  Meanwhile, I’d been asked to join Capitol Broadcasting and write for WRAL TechWire full-time, which allowed us to return to the Triangle from the Charlotte area.

Knowing the market, having written about the changing economy in the Triangle and across North Carolina due to supply chain shortages, material costs, labor costs, and the rapid price appreciation in housing markets due to strong demand bolstered further by tens of thousands of announced jobs coming to the region, we wondered just how we would compete, especially from two hours away.

We turned to a new segment of the market for us: new construction.  We identified a neighborhood that was close to our previous Triangle home, so we were already familiar with the area.  And, as it turned out, our timing was fortuitous, again, as we were able to select what we felt would be the very best lot in the neighborhood with a floor plan that would work for our family.

Homebuyers: Want a great deal on a new home? Here’s what to ask for

My advice to you

New construction homes may still be an excellent option for folks looking to buy in the Triangle, as builders have been quite active in recent years, due to the ongoing migration of workers into the region.

So if you’re considering your housing options right now, my advice to you is this: don’t read this column to this point and think that you must buy a home in the next two months, because that’s the only way you’ll find a deal.

My stories, and my experiences, are anecdotal.  But what you could takeaway from them is this: prepare in advance to be “ready, willing, and able” to make a move.  And, as an agent colleague of mine told me for a story we published earlier this year, don’t go home shopping unless you’re “ready to strike.”


WRAL TechWire reporter Jason Parker, who is also a licensed North Carolina real estate agent, works with journalists from to track and present market data and report on how people are experiencing the region’s changing real estate markets.  These special reports will use the category tag “Triangle Real Estate” or “Triangle Real Estate Market.

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