Perfect Game Plan

Buyers do post-Super Bowl shuffle to get a jump on spring rush

By Jeffrey Steele
Special to the Tribune
Published February 2, 2007

Mary Viola and her partner, Mike Koch, kicked off their new- home search a year ago, just after the Super Bowl. And it was a good thing they didn’t wait longer.

Their early start on the spring buying season enabled them to find their dream home in February.

They also avoided uprooting Viola’s 13-year-old son during the school year.

“We wanted to get into a new home in the summer months, so Steven could get into the eighth grade at his new school, and we wouldn’t have to pull him out of his old school after a month,” Viola said.

At the time, some builders were reducing prices by offering free options or low-interest loans.

“During the winter months, as we waited, the incentives kept getting better, so we had the best of both worlds. We were able to get the home when we wanted, with the incentives well in our favor,” she said.

Viola and Koch scored big on their post-Super Bowl purchase, garnering a two-story, four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home with a full basement and three-car garage at The Ponds of Bull Valley, a community of single-family homes in Woodstock.

The period immediately following the Super Bowl brings a blitz of new home buying action, housing analysts say. By pursuing a new home seriously in the first weeks of February, an astute home buyer can get the jump on the competition.

Pam Albrecht, vice president of Northbrook’s Ferris Homes, is among those who believe the home-buying season really gets going the Monday following Super Sunday.

“We’d love it to be sooner, but it still is” the day after the Super Bowl, she said.

“Customers are kind of housebound before that, with the holidays, family time and football. And so they find that once those events are over, they kind of take stock of their surroundings, and changes they might like to make to their current situation. … They’re interested in coming out of hibernation,” she said.

In addition to winding down after the holidays and perhaps taking a winter vacation, prospective home buyers may be determining their goals for the new year and recalibrating their finances, said Teresa Ryan, broker/owner of Naperville’s Ryan Hill Realty, which is marketing the Front Street Lofts in Lemont.

“The first weekend in February is the first after-the-holidays main event,” she said. “The winter sports are over, and spring is right around the corner.”

The Super Bowl gets consumers psyched into a buying mood, said Fawad Butt, chief operating officer of the Chicago real estate firm Sunrise Development Group.

. “The first few days and weeks after the Super Bowl, there’s a lot of buzz about the commercials that ran during the game, so everyone is in a very consumer-oriented mindset,” said Butt, whose company is developing Pure, a 75-unit condominium building in the West Loop, featuring one-bedroom, one-bedroom-plus-dens, two-bedroom and penthouse units.

David Strosberg, president and CEO of Chicago’s Morningside Group, which specializes in mixed-use multifamily buildings in suburban downtowns like Oak Lawn and Royal Oak, Mich., says this year didn’t see a typical winter slowdown.

He noted that his company had its highest monthly sales figure of 2006 in December, which he described as “a fantastic month” for the firm.

“There are several explanations, mainly the warm weather, and that people were out looking for homes because it was so nice,” Strosberg said.

Now is a good time to take advantage of pre-construction pricing in newly announced developments, Butt said.

“Developers have to do a certain proportion of sales within a given time frame,” he noted. “Banks are looking for 30 or 40 percent of pre-sales before they will fund a construction loan.”

Ryan says buyers should determine their home-purchase priorities, including square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, specific schools they would consider, and the length of their commute to work.

The home search may include virtual tours that offer room dimensions and photos, he added.

According to Strosberg, the single most important step a buyer can undertake is gaining preapproval for financing. A good mortgage lender can examine prospective buyers’ financial profiles and tell them the kind of mortgage for which they can qualify.

That way, they won’t waste time shopping for $400,000 homes if all their budget allows is $250,000.

“This can be done very quickly these days,” Strosberg said. “Give a lender your financial history, salary history, assets and debts, and the lender can run a credit report, and analyze your cash flow. Within 48 hours, he can give you an idea–within a very narrow range–of the price for which you qualify.”

Honore Frumentino, Realtor at Deerfield’s Koenig & Strey GMAC, says that as spring warms up, more buyers will come into the market, creating greater competition for the best homes.

“If you can get started early, you’ll have a better selection of homes, and will be able to get a better deal,” Frumentino said. “You can name your tune with these builders now, because they have had product sitting on the market for some time.”

In addition, builders with inventories on their hands may be willing to help with incentives like upgraded features and better financing, she added.

Free upgrades may be available now, but they may not last. And some builders may be able to “buy down” mortgage rates to hold them below 5 percent, Frumentino noted.

“There are some great deals out there,” she concluded. “If you’re in the market for a house, it’s the buyers’ market you’ve been waiting for. It’s the time for buyers to begin flexing their muscles. But don’t wait too long.”

Or as Viola advised: “Look for the community you want, remember what your focus is and look for incentives that will give you the most bang for your buck.”

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