Lew Sichelman

An opportunity for first-time buyers to find houses priced below market value is presenting itself in a number of places across the country – so long as they’re not looking in much of Greater Boston. 

Over the 11-week period starting when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, thousands of sellers listed their homes at a discount, according to Weiss Analytics. Not always by a huge discount  perhaps just a few thousand dollars  but significant enough that bargain hunters should perk up their antennae. 

Even when sellers dont drop their asking prices, nearly 7 in 10 would be willing to accept a lower offer just to get to the closing table, according to a LendingTree survey of nearly 1,000 people who currently have their homes on the market. 

Just over half the sellers polled by LendingTree said theyre seriously worried about selling their homes because of the pandemic and resulting economic recession. An additional 36 percent are somewhat concerned, and nearly a third are extremely anxious about selling anytime this year. 

New listings at or below the $200,000 range are the most likely to be discounted, Allan Weiss, a co-founder of the popular Case-Shiller price index, told me in a phone interview. And the lower the price range, the deeper the discount  up to 70 percent in some places. 

More often, though, houses are being priced just $2,000-$3,000 below market, Weiss said. Not in every market, but in what he called micro-clusters of neighborhoods and communities where house values are no higher than $200,000. Even in spots where median prices are rising, discounted properties can be found. 

Sellers offer their homes at below-market prices for any number of reasons. They may want to sell quickly. They may owe little or nothing on a property that has increased in value over the time theyve owned it, so undercutting the market isnt so painful. But they also may be unemployed and no longer able to handle their house payments. 

Whatever the reason, many in the lower-price tiers seem to be lowering their expectations.  

Every single metric  sales volume, median price  gets worse as you filter down from $200,000, Weiss told me. 

At least one-quarter of new listings in the nations Top 25 metro areas are discounted, according to Weiss analysis. Three small Texas metro areas  El Paso, San Antonio and Killeen  currently offer the largest percentage of properties priced below market. But bargains can also be found in Worcester, as well as major markets like Wichita, Kansas; New Haven, Connecticut; Akron, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Some Fraudsters Never Change 

Some people can never change their stripes. To wit, one of the first people charged with trying to scam the Small Business Administrations Paycheck Protection Program is a convicted mortgage fraudster. 

Kurt Sanborn, a former spokesman for the Lowell police superintendent, was convicted and sentenced to 27 months in prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to federal mortgage fraud charges. Now hes been charged with conspiring to seek SBA-backed forgivable loans intended as COVID-19 relief. 

Speaking of fraud, attempts to electronically intercept real estate transactions remain big business for swindlers. 

According to the FBI, these thefts are part of a fraud category that tops the list of high-loss crimes, resulting in almost $1.8 billion in losses to businesses and consumers. By comparison, investment and real estate rental fraud ranked fourth and fifth on the FBIs list of top crime losses, costing a paltry $222 million and $221 million, respectively. 

Wire fraud occurs when thieves intercept emails, so real estate agents should never send instructions electronically. Encourage your clients to call you if they something via email you or their settlement agent before doing anything else. 

Telephone utility fraud is also on the uptick. In this type of ruse, a scammer calls saying you were overcharged by your (unnamed) energy supplier and are due a refund. In another version, the reprobate offers a big discount. But to verify your identity, they say, we need your account number. 

If you are on the receiving end of one of these calls, hang up. The key is that they dont know the name of your utility or supplier. Moreover, a utility will not call you about a refund or discount, and a licensed and reputable energy supplier is required by law to give you the companys name and license number. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

Odd Lots: Pandemic Created Home Bargains in Some Cities

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 3 min