- Ashley Nader, 28, has put in 15 bids on houses over the past 14 months. She still isn’t a homeowner.
- She went into contract twice, only to be ghosted by the first seller and forced out by the second.
- “All the other offers I’ve submitted have been rejected by greedy agents,” she told Insider.
Shopping for a house can be a lot like dating.
Just ask Ashley Nader, the 28-year-old product manager who has put in 15 bids over the past 14 months. None of them have worked out.
Nader began her house hunt in October 2020 after moving from the Bay Area back to the Miami metro area she grew up in during the pandemic. She’d been bouncing between the two coasts until her workplace reclassified her as a Florida employee and she began enjoying the tax perks of the Sunshine State.
A remote worker since the end of 2019, she had eschewed the idea of owning a house in favor of being a nomad until the pandemic prompted her to seek a home base in Florida. “I thought I’d be able to own a home and use it as a permanent residence, and then rent it out for six months out of the year,” she told Insider.
That idea has proved more fantasy than reality for many in today’s housing market. As workers like Nader fled cramped apartments in big cities for more more space in suburban utopias, a housing boom quickly became a housing shortage defined by cutthroat competition and bidding wars.
Nader said she originally wanted to buy a house under $US400,000 ($AU571,265) so she could pay it off in 10 or 15 years rather than 30 and “actually own it,” but the lack of starter homes caused her to increase her budget by $US200,000 ($AU285,633).
An aspiring first-time homebuyer, she has found herself on the losing side. So far, she’s signed contracts on two different homes. She went into contract for the first time in March, for a house that was appraised for $US12,000 ($AU17,138) less than what she agreed to pay.
But Nader just wanted to close and was willing to eat the difference. Come closing day, though, the seller never showed up. “Doesn’t answer emails, doesn’t answer phone calls, is ignoring the realtor,” Nader said. “They completely ghosted me like a dude from a random dating app.”
She ended up having to get a lawyer and enter arbitration — a dispute-resolution process that happens outside of court — so she could get her funds released. Meanwhile, she went into contract for another house which also fell through, in early May. She said she spent two months resolving the first contract while taking the risk of a second contract, and neither worked out. “It was a nightmare,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep for a while because I have $US70,000 ($AU99,971) tied up in escrow.”
But things only continued to go downhill. About a week before closing was scheduled on the second house and after the due diligence inspection and appraisal had already taken place, the second seller’s lawyer claimed Nader was in breach of contract and threatened her escrow funds if she didn’t sign a paper that released her from the contract.
Already traumatized by her first experience, Nader acquiesced and signed so she didn’t have to “start a war” to get her own money back. She later found out that the government ended up buying the house from the seller, a military family, which put an extra $US30,000 ($AU42,845) in their pockets because they didn’t have to pay a realtor fee. “They used that breach as a way to get out of the contract.”
‘I don’t want to play that game’
Nader is what Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American Financial Corporation, calls a “renter on the margin.” As she explained to Insider, “For that potential first-time homebuyer, it’s very hard for them to find something to buy, let alone afford at this point.”
The more housing inventory has dwindled, the more expensive homes have become — and the lower the share of first-time buyers. The national median home sale hit a record high of $US386,888 ($AU552,539) this June, more than $US80,000 ($AU114,253) compared to the same month in 2019. As of July, the percentage of first-time home buyers making purchases had dropped to 31% from 36% in April 2020, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
The rate is expected to stay this way for the foreseeable future as affordability challenges persist. It hasn’t helped that the new homes contractors have begun to build are in the higher end of the market, further exacerbating the shortage of starter homes, which currently sit at a five-decade low, according to data from Freddie Mac.
“All the other offers I’ve submitted have been rejected by greedy agents that want to sell homes for $US100,000 ($AU142,816) to $US150,000 ($AU214,224) more than they are worth,” Nader said, adding that she doesn’t have the cash to front the difference between the bank loan based on what it’s actually worth and what the seller wants to get for it. “It’s really a cash buyer market. If you have the cash, you can buy whatever you want right now.”
She refuses to put in an offer over asking price. “I don’t want to play that game,” she said.
In hopes of upping her homebuying odds, she’s expanded her search from Florida to Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, and California. She said she put in offers without even seeing some of the houses in person because of how competitive the market is.
Despite all the hurdles, Nader said she believes real estate is still one of the best assets to invest in.
“If I had better things to invest in, I would,” she said. “At this point, I’m like, do I just go buy virtual land? You see people making so much money in the digital world, but at the end of the day, I can’t live inside the internet. I need a home, I need a roof.”