A couple’s 3-year journey to buying their first home and their advice for others in this hot real estate market

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The housing market in Sioux Falls and much of South Dakota has been on an upward climb for more than a year. It’s made for some tough competition for anyone looking for a new house but it’s been especially difficult for many people trying to buy their first home.

What may look like a typical family going through the grueling task of moving is actually a hard fought first for Victoria and Robert Cross and their four kids. 

Bridget Bennett: You guys have been ready to be in a house for a while?

Victoria: Yes, for years.

They had no idea it would end up taking three years to actually buy their first home.

“The Crosses are not a typical story, I met them three years ago almost to the day, in a first-time home buyer class,” Hegg Realtor Justin Garry said. 

During that class, they learned they had some work to do before they could get through the first step in buying a home.

“When I have somebody come to me that is ready or thinks they’re ready to look for their first home, I ask them for the pre-approval letter,” Garry said. 

The Cross family learned they needed to build up their credit before they could get approved for their first mortgage.

“We were keeping an eye on our credit, it finally hit that point where it hit 580, we got the pre-approval letter and we went from there basically,” Victoria Cross said. 

Getting that pre-approval took almost two years of building up their credit, but the next step took even longer than expected.

“We were actively looking probably close to nine months,” Garry said. 

We first introduced you to the Crosses this past July as they were putting in their 12th offer on a house.

“As soon as we put an offer in, a lot of times we’re outbid,” Victoria said.

“There used to be a time when you saw what the list price was, that was where you started and probably what you paid,” Garry said. “Now whatever the price is today that’s really the starting point and becomes a bidding war if the home is in good shape.”

That’s especially true for any newly listed home that’s $300,000 or less.

“It is super competitive when a quote-unquote affordable house hits the market. If we list the house on a Wednesday, chances are the agent notes say we need your offer by 5 p.m. Monday. It just starts the rat race,” Garry said. 

Hegg Realtor Justin Garry says when these newly listed affordable homes hit the market, it’s a revolving door of dozens of hopeful homeowners lined up to get a look inside.

“The one house we walked into there were 14 other realtor cards on the table, these were the ones that left their cards, could have been more than that,” Victoria said. 

With so much competition, first time home buyers with a history of credit challenges like the Cross family have an especially tough time winning a bid.

“A lot more difficult, there were some we know we offered more, they ended up going with someone with a more conventional loan,” Victoria said. 

“Some loans do come with different challenges, for the Crosses that was an issue, they were an FHA loan which is government backed, normally those appraisers look for a house that is safe and that is sound, sometimes they come up with issues that have to be fixed before it can go forward,” Garry said. 

But last week, after more than nine months of actively searching and putting in more than 15 bids, the Crosses finally purchased their first home.

Bridget Bennett: Does it feel like your whole year has been house hunting? 

Victoria: Yeah it really does. I was actually to a point where I was like, ok one more, and if we don’t get approved I think we’re going to take a year off because it’s just getting to be more stressful than I was ready for.

As this hot market continues, realtors know that stress and the increased home prices are causing some would-be first time homeowners to pause.

“Year over year we’ve seen a 21.5 percent increase in home prices on our MLS,” Garry said. “So first time home buyers are holding a little bit, but you do see the occupancy rates at apartments around Sioux Falls at 99 percent, so something has to give.”

For the Cross family, that tipping point came out of a need for more space.

“A family of six with one bathroom is not recommended,” Victoria said. 

It’s what makes all of the struggles of the past year of bidding on houses worth it, now that they finally have a home of their own.

“It was a huge relief, it was nice to know it’s done, we can move and everyone’s got their place here now,” Victoria said.

The Cross family has this advice for anyone looking to buy their first home: patience! And find a realtor and banker you trust to help guide you through every step of this highly competitive housing market, that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

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