Portrait of (would-be) Baltimore-area home buyers
If you read today's story about the housing market, you know that part already. But I thought the Rossbachs' experiences were illuminating, so read on if you'd like to know why two attorneys are having trouble getting a house in the Baltimore metro area.
Natasha Rossbach, 38, figures she's seen more than 70 houses in the last year of serious looking for a single-family house. Some are too cramped. Some are badly maintained. And the rest are too expensive. The Rossbachs' limit is $375,000.
They're looking in communities across Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and Howard. They considered the city, too, but Natasha Rossbach said they were concerned about moving from one too-small home to another. They have a son and want room in case they expand their family.
So far they've put in one offer — $350,000 for a three-bedroom Catonsville house listed at $425,000. Natasha Rossbach checked loan records beforehand to make sure the owners could sell for less. But "could" and "would" aren't the same thing.
"They didn't even do a counteroffer," she said. "They just said they would not accept anything less than $400, and we were not qualified for $400. And honestly, even if we were, I don't think the house is worth $400."
That was November. Since then the owners pulled the house off the market, she said.
As for maintenance issues, here's a trio of listings she saw in Linthicum:
--A foreclosure covered with "disgusting" graffiti. Closet doors and kitchen drawers had been ripped out. Price: $285,000. "I had nightmares about it," Natasha Rossbach said.
--A home that was "completely dirty," with dog hair everywhere and a hole in a wall that looked like it had been done with a fist. Price: around $350,000.
--A property in better shape compared with the other two, but a blast from the past. As in '70s and '80s. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to update this house," Natasha Rossbach said. Price: $439,000.
She offered these snapshots as examples of homes with problems one would expect an owner to fix before listing:
(Above, a Columbia house listed for $450,000. Below, a Catonsville house listed for $324,000. Besides the problem you can see in that refrigerator, it's rusted.)
"When people say 'this is a great time to buy,' I'm like, 'Yeah, maybe in California. Not here. Not yet,'" Natasha Rossbach said. "I'm hoping that it's a matter of time, but ... some of them have been on the market for a year, and they have maybe gone down in price at the most $50,000, but at the height of the market, I think a lot of them went up 100 percent. So I don't know what we're going to do. ... I'm just hoping we get lucky and we find something that's right for us."
John Rossbach figures they'd be getting better deals if they had $600,000 to spend, because homes that were once much pricier have dropped into that range. He thinks owners of mid-price homes are hanging tough on their asking prices because "that's all they have -- that's their asset."
"They don't want to believe their house is worth less," agreed Natasha Rossbach, whose work includes helping people file for bankruptcy. "Because let's face it -- their 401(k)s and all their savings have probably really diminished. So they're probably thinking, 'Well, I have the house.' They don't want to let go of that hope."
Have your own story as a buyer or seller? I'd like to hear it, whether your experience was good, bad or just plain funny.