America's housing market is slowing down.
Monthly payments are climbing out of reach for many prospective homebuyers and some sellers are hesitant to pull up stakes, unwilling to face a real estate environment where you get less house for your money, with mortgage rates approaching 7%.
But the wheels of commerce must keep turning, and some realtors are finding creative ways to close deals. Everything is on the table: from pitching adjustable rate mortgages to offering free pilates lessons and more.
On the financing front, a so-called buydown incentive is now surging in popularity, experts say. Under this type of arrangement, a seller "buys down" the interest rate a home purchaser will have to pay in the initial years of their mortgage. For example, in a 2-1 buydown scenario, the buyer's interest rate will be 2% below the contract rate during the first year. In the second year, it changes to 1% below. After those first two years, the mortgage payment returns to the contract rate.
Buydowns are popular with sellers, especially large homebuilders like D.R. Horton and Lennar, because the program allows them to stay firm on a property's list price, according to Peter Idziak, senior associate at Polunsky Beitel Green, a law firm that primarily serves residential mortgage lenders. Lennar declined to comment; D.R. Horton did not respond to a request for comment.
"It can cost a builder less than offering a straight price reduction, and it's not as publicly available" as a markdown, Idziak said of buydown mortgages. "Builders still have cash buyers, and it would affect those cash buyers and also upset some buyers who may have previously purchased at higher prices."
The adjustable rate mortgage makes a comeback
The use of adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) has also soared to a 14-year high, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. With these types of loans, the interest rate shifts periodically depending on where benchmark mortgage rates stand. Because many buyers are expecting the cost of a mortgage to come back down as a global economic slowdown looms, more are feeling comfortable entering into ARM arrangements. That's a stark departure from the financial crisis of 2008 when an overheated housing market tipped into collapse as home prices fell and some financial institutions folded.
"ARMs are coming back," said Hagan Stone, a Nashville-based realtor. He said he expects to see mortgage rates fall in as soon as six months. "There’s optimism for that," Stone said. "In the interim, it's our job to get people in, where people can afford monthly payments and make that initial investment."
Stone said purchase offer packages are now including other perks, like free refinancing within three years — again premised on rates coming back down — and closing costs.
"I tell people all the time that the rate you’re buying is flexible and that you can refi that … but for the investment, now's a great time to get a better shot and a better deal on a property."
That's because there is less competition for homes now that fewer buyers are able to afford them. The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that existing home sales fell for the eighth straight month, declining 1.5%.
Taking the nontraditional approach
But the declines remain uneven, and many markets are still seller-friendly at the moment. That includes Nashville, where Stone is based — and where he said one buyer recently offered free pilates lessons to one seller.
"We are uniquely poised to weather this market well," Stone said. Still, the buydown and closing-cost included options are proving instrumental in allowing homes to continue to move.
Lauren Janoski, a realtor in Stillwater, Minn., told NBC News a recent buyer client offered to include a craft beer pass, good throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, for a seller after noticing the family had installed a keg-draft setup in the home.
“So we knew what kind of beer they liked, and we knew they had young kids. We were seeing all these things about how we can help them,” Janoski said, adding: “Hopefully this will give them date nights.”
The buyer's $295,000 offer was lower than the area's comparable homes' value of $330,000.
"The seller’s agent disclosed they had other really strong offers that were above our offer price but they appreciated our addition terms, the thought that went into ours, and creativeness," Janoski said.