Jergler: Early 'spring fever' has sprung

The unseasonably hot weather has many people dressing, acting and thinking like it's spring. In fact, the season isn't all that far off — it's a little less than two months away, starting March 20, according to Farmer's Almanac.

But some real estate experts are saying they're beginning to feel spring fever, with sellers and buyers expressing more interest in the housing market, ahead of the traditional spring and summer homebuying season uptick.

Perhaps it's the weather. In fact, most experts consider spring the begging of the peak home buying season, and summer an extension of that season.

"Absolutely, spring has sprung early and the market is heating up," said Angie Weeks, with Metro Realty in Newport Beach. "I've received an offer on a drive-by-only listing within one week of the listing, and had a buyer who was offer No. 15 in line on an Irvine condo that was on the market only three days. Things are busy here in Orange County."

And the action isn't only outdoors, where the warm and sunny weather tends to bring out the home shoppers, just as the rainy, cold weather typical of winter usually convinces homebuyers to put off their home search. Weeks said she's seen activity pick up in cyberspace.

"Many of my Facebook friends are asking about rates, prices, and buying their first home. It's exciting," she said.

Weeks is also advising her clients to get prequalified, conduct online market searches, and nail down three of their favorite neighborhoods in preparation for the market approaching its seasonal peak.

Matt Clements, with Prudential California Realty Laguna Niguel, believes the warm weather isn't the only driver behind an anticipated early spring pickup in the housing market. While the warm weather may be putting home shopping at the forefront of some people's minds, many homebuyers begin preparing for spring right about now, he said.

"Families typically prefer to move in around mid-June," Clements said. "They start the process in February getting pre-approved. March is touring and making offers. April is getting accepted with the terms they want. May is open escrow. And June is close."

While interest is being expressed in homes across the price range spectrum, and in all areas of Orange County, it's the entry level homes that most people are starting to talk about, both Weeks and Clements say.

According to Weeks, the less than $400,000 range is where most of the action is, and what many buyers looking to be active in spring have expressed interested in.

"Irvine is always hot," she added, "but properties in this range everywhere are frequently going with multiple offers."

Clements said he is also seeing growing interest in around the entry-level range.

"The hot price point is $400,000 for entry-level homes, and at around $240,000, condos don't last long; that's a very popular price point," he said.

Asked if this is just more "the market has reached bottom" talk, Clements doesn't deny it.

"The bottom just passed under our feet," Clements said. "We're looking good to start the recovery already. We have pending sales for February over $1.5 million after finishing January very strong. (The first quarter) should be solid."

As evidence that the market is back on solid footing, or that it's about to be, Clements argued that it's a perfect storm for buyers to jump in to the market now.

Thanks to low interest rates, buyers with decent credit scores "can buy a $300,000 three-bedroom all day long. My listings have multiple offers with very well qualified candidates. My sellers are in position to choose the best buyers."

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