A Good Time to Buy? 

Ask a realtor if it's a good time to buy a house and you'll get the same answer nearly every time: "It's always a good time to buy a house."

The equally important corollary to that question is, of course: "Is it a good time to sell a house?"

The answer to that question depends on the house you're trying to sell, its location, the market demand for your particular price level, and other factors.

That said, my wife and I put our under-$200,000, two-bedroom, Midtown house on the market on a Monday in October and had an offer in hand on Tuesday.

Your results may vary. But if my experience is any indicator, it is definitely a good time to buy a house in Memphis — and you would be ahead of the curve. The uptick in housing sales nationwide has yet to hit the Bluff City.

The National Association of Realtors issued a press release in October that said sales of existing homes in the U.S. in September were up 5.5 percent over sales in August — the largest such month-to-month increase since July 2003. Additionally, September 2008 home sales were up almost 2 percent over September 2007 nationwide, another positive sign.

In Memphis, however, the national trends have yet to take hold. According to the multiple listings from the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, home sales in Memphis in September 2008 were down 3 percent from September a year ago.

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However, after looking at several dozen homes in the past few weeks, it's my opinion that that is about to change. If my experience is any indicator, it is a very good time to buy a house. Interest rates are as low as they've been in years, and the combination of vacant foreclosed homes, houses that were rehabbed and didn't "flip," and stagnant sales numbers have made Memphis a buyer's market. The average price for a house sold in Memphis has declined from $135,000 in 2007 to $120,000 in 2008.

I can tell you that there is a staggering variety of houses for sale in Memphis in the $199,000 to $299,000 bracket — from Midtown to East Memphis to the far suburbs. And if your budget can handle it, houses for sale in the high six-figures (and low seven-figures) are everywhere at bargain prices. Drive down Belvedere's "mansion row" in Midtown and look at the For Sale signs, if you need proof.

Sellers appear to be downsizing, trying to get out from under big mortgages (distress sales) and are often selling at a loss or at least at minimal markup from what they paid for their homes. Throw in the usual number of folks who are selling because of job transfers or empty-nest syndrome, and you've got a house-buyer's dream market.

Investor Warren Buffett has said the secret to his success is that he buys stocks when everyone else is selling. Even I — someone whose philosophy has more often echoed that of Jimmy Buffet — can attest that Warren is on the money when it comes to buying a house in Memphis right now. The deals are out there.

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