FAIRFIELD — Sheila Vogel wants to buy a house, but it’s not easy. Especially in her price range.
“There’s just not a lot out there in my budget,” said the Fairfield mother of two. “It’s going to take a while. I’m extremely excited, but some of the wind went out of my sails when I found there wasn’t much there.”
Vogel, who estimates that she’s paid more than $150,000 in rent over the past 12 years, is looking for a home in the $200,000 range. In a fast-rising housing market, that’s tough.
According to San Diego-based real estate service DataQuick, the median price for a home sold in Solano County last month was $255,750 – a 36 percent increase over July 2012, continuing a months-long trend. But another trend also continued – the number of homes sold was down 0.8 percent over a year ago. Solano is the only one of the nine Bay Area counties where the number of sales decreased over a year ago.
Those numbers are backed up by the Multiple Listing Service for the Bay Area Real Estate Information System. It reported that the July median price in Northern Solano County – which includes Fairfield, Suisun City, Vacaville, Rio Vista and Dixon – was $273,200, up from $204,000 a year ago. The median length of time for a home to be on the market was 36 days, two weeks less than a year ago.
There just aren’t many homes available in Solano County – and that’s particularly true at the lower end. Fairfield Realtor Jim Stever recently did an MLS search for Fairfield homes for less than $180,000 and found just two.
“It’s tough,” he said. “There aren’t many out there.”
It’s even tougher for Vogel, who is receiving help from a first-time homebuyer program through the city of Fairfield. She is often competing against cash-only investors, who are much more attractive to sellers because of the simplicity of the deal. In recent years, investors scooped up many of the lower-end homes in the area and turned them into rentals.
“I want to own my own home and investors buying as much as they have in Solano County makes it less and less possible for someone like me to afford a home,” Vogel said.
Stever said that could end soon – although it might be too late to help Vogel.
“I’m afraid that in two or three years, we’re going to have a glut (of lower-end homes for sale),” he said. “There will be investors who can pull a quick $50,000 out of 10 houses and be done. I think most of those investors aren’t in it for the long term. That’s going to open up the lower end and that’s what we need.”
In the meantime, Realtor James D. Marshall of ReMax Gold in Vacaville said that buyers need to be wise in their approach.
“If you want a $200,000 house, your (loan) approval needs to be for around $230,000, because you’re going to have other buyers interested,” he said. “Buyers need to be able to negotiate. A lot of people go to the lender and get approval for $200,000, so they look at $200,000 houses. If you’re approved for $200,000, you should look at $170,000 homes, so you can negotiate.”
The dearth of homes for sale isn’t limited to the lower end.
“Inventory is the biggest factor,” Stever said. “We need more time or a continuing rise in prices. There are a lot of people with borderline equity who want to sell it. Now they’re breaking even or maybe making $10,000.”
Marshall said many homeowners are playing the waiting game.
“In Fairfield, for instance, a lot of homeowners are waiting for the sweet spot,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t aware that their equity has jumped up.”
Meanwhile, Vogel – who works for the Solano County Office of Education – searches for her first home.
“I’ve got two kids, who are 22 and 13,” she said. “In a few years, they’re not going to be around, but I’d like to have a home for them.”
Vogel is looking for a three-bedroom house with 1½ or two bathrooms. She said she’d prefer to have central air and heat and a kitchen with a dishwasher. But none of those are deal-breakers if the right house lacks them.
When she finds it may depend on the volume of homes increasing.
“I’m kind of on the fence about whether you’re going to see more inventory,” Marshall said. “We’re seeing more regular sales, but it depends on when sellers start selling. That’s what will determine what’s out there.”
Vogel practices patience.
“I’m very optimistic,” she said. “I thought I’d have a house this summer, then I thought October, now maybe Thanksgiving. I hope we don’t have another Christmas without a house.”
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.