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Top end of housing market losing some froth

There are increasing signs that some of the helium has started to seep from the real estate balloon -- and maybe most notably at the high end of the price scale.
/ Source: CNBC

There are increasing signs that some of the helium has started to seep from the real estate balloon -- and maybe most notably at the high end of the price scale.

Take a drive around the prime neighborhoods in your area -- where the $1 million-dollar-plus homes are -- and you'll see something you haven't in quite some time: lots of "for sale" signs. And the bigger and more beautifully coifed the lawn, the longer those signs are staying planted in it.

That's the anecdotal evidence. The hard evidence is this: even real estate agents -- the most positive people this side of the Osmond family -- are starting to concede that the top of the market has lost some froth.

“We've got a lot more supply coming on,” says David Michonski, CEO of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, a high-end brokerage in Greenwich, Conn. “Existing inventory is staying on the market longer. We've got fewer buyers, fewer bidding wars,  and we've got a lot of new construction coming on line."

Michonski says in Greenwich there's a two-year supply of homes on the market in the $3 million plus range, and a three-year supply at $5 million and up.

Nationwide, he says, figure on a 10-to-12-month wait from listing to sale for high-priced properties in good shape. And while we're talking top price, what might last July's $3 million home go for now?

“It might sell, if you have to sell, for 10 percent less,” says Michonski. “But remember that at the high end you've generally got sellers who don't have to sell and buyers who don't have to buy. So what you get is a stall and that's where we are now, and we're going to get a stall for the next 12 to 18 months."

That’s better news for buyers who play their cards right -- especially right now.

“Tactically, remember that the next 3 to 4 months are traditionally the slowest 3 to 4 months in the market and that spells opportunity for buyers,” says Michonski. You should get in now, if you're a buyer, because come March you'll have more competition as the spring market begins."

So move now. But Michonski says that if you're a buyer -- especially a high-end buyer, you should keep this caveat in mind: “You should be a user, not an investor. Expect no price appreciation over the next year to 18 months. Over the next 5 to 7 years, when you sell that home, you're likely to do very well."

Quite well -- but for high-priced home buyers, not quite the runaway price gains of the past five to 7 years.