In Omaha’s fast-moving housing market, Brian Fahey decided to up his game in his search for that dream home.
At the risk of appearing stalker-like, the Omaha attorney sent a letter with a family photo and other personal details to a few dozen midtown addresses, explaining why he and his wife and daughter would be a perfect fit for the property.
The houses, by the way, weren’t up for sale at the time.
His gesture went beyond the more typical letter-writing scenario where buyers make impassioned pleas to owners of homes already on the market.
It also went beyond the more typical outreach or door-knocking done by real estate agents acting on behalf of a guy like Fahey.
Indeed, the attempt to stand out in the crowd underscores ongoing competition among house seekers, and real estate brokers expect that to get even more harried now.
More yard signs, which typically rise in February, have popped up later this year, said Andy Alloway of Nebraska Realty and other real estate officials. Alloway said flooding and prolonged winter conditions pushed back the usual house-hunting start and has compressed the season. Add to that the tight inventory of homes on the market, and, he said, the crush is on.
“It exacerbates the situation, making activity fast and furious,” Alloway said. The Nebraska Realty founder said his team has seen 17 to 21 offers on certain properties priced below $250,000.
Marty Hosking of Keller Williams Realty said bidding wars are especially fierce today for well-kept homes between $130,000 and $200,000. He said a stylish ranch-style home he’s marketing near Bennington got 15 offers.
Bids on that house were accompanied by emotional letters from the prospective buyers, offers to skip the standard property inspection and other deal-sweeteners.
“It’s still a seller’s market,” Hosking said.
Though agents say the pace of house showings is picking up, this year that began with extraordinary snowfall and rains has catching up to do.
According to the Omaha Area Board of Realtors, the number of Douglas and Sarpy County houses that sold in the first three months of this year dipped 12 percent compared with the same time period in 2018.
Looking back at an entire year, Omaha area sales throughout 2018 lagged slightly, by about 3 percent, behind the previous year.
Houses, meanwhile, continued to appreciate in value. The median sales price for existing homes increased by 8 percent to $183,000, and sales prices of newly constructed houses saw a 5 percent increase to about $320,000.
Mike Riedmann of NP Dodge Real Estate said the scarcity of homes on the market — about 1,900 houses were up for sale in the metro area in February, compared with 3,000 five years earlier — has fueled the latest rounds of bidding wars.
“This winter just kept coming — and then broke,” said Riedmann, who heads the company’s residential sales group. “All those buyers waiting on the sidelines came back into the market, and sellers have not come back at the same pace.”
Exacerbating that, he said, is a local and national trend that has baby boomers staying in their houses longer — in effect holding back what in generations past would be a bigger selection of homeownership options for young families.
“We’re healthier, we’re not moving out and going to retirement centers,” Riedmann said of boomers. “We’re using housing stock that might otherwise be available to the new generation of buyers coming into the market.”
NP Dodge’s building arm has joined other entities in searching for solutions to the shortage of available housing within financial reach to first- or second-time homebuyers. Riedmann said his company, for instance, is seeking land on which to build for-sale attached townhouses that could be built less expensively in dense clusters.
“We have to look at different types of development in housing to meet the growing demand,” he said.
A recent analysis by Realtor.com described Omaha as a “slightly hot” market, saying that in March, properties received an average number of views 1.3 times higher than the U.S. average. The entity’s so-called hotness index ranked the Omaha metro area as No. 57 out of 300 metro areas.
A different national trend-watcher, Re/Max, views the Omaha market as rather zippy relative to the other 53 metro areas it examined. In its March report, Re/Max said Omaha and San Francisco had the shortest “days on market” turnaround for house sales: 31, compared with the national average of 59 days.
It’s in that climate that Fahey, 34, sat down and wrote those letters.
“Hello, my name is Brian Fahey. ... Your house is the type of beautiful old home we’re looking for but haven’t been able to find in this competitive market. That’s why we’re writing to see if you would be interested in discussing a possible sale.”
Currently, the Faheys live in a “starter home” in the Aksarben area, which they like, but they wanted a residence big enough where parents and kids can sleep on the same level and two cars can fit in the garage.
Fahey’s letters went to about 40 properties primarily in the Dundee and Field Club neighborhoods. They’re both within a short drive of Fahey’s downtown law office and Central High School, where wife Sara teaches choir (and where the two met as teens). He knows both neighborhoods as having relatively low turnover of houses.
Having grown up in the Field Club area, Fahey said he wanted that same type of close-knit neighborhood for his 3-year-old — where people on and around their block are like family and playmates become lifelong friends.
In addition to sharing a photo of his family and some details of their lives, he let recipients of the letters know that he’d already been pre-approved for a loan. He thanked them for considering his proposal to own a great home in a dream neighborhood. He added, “P.S., feel free to tell any neighbors about us if they’re considering selling.”
As it turned out, the tactic worked.
This past Wednesday, Fahey signed a contract to buy one of the houses he had targeted with a letter. Perhaps the sellers were thinking about a move, but their property at the time was not actively listed for sale.
If all goes as hoped, the Faheys will move into their new house in early summer. He said it’s well-preserved and on a block much like one he grew up on. There are five bedrooms, and it has an inviting front porch.
“It’s just one of those great picturesque Dundee streets,” he said. “We’re really excited.”