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Today marks the first day of spring, which traditionally signals the high season for open houses and home sales. This year, spring arrived early in some housing markets, where home buying is already frenzied. The pendulum has swung in some places from an excess of homes on the market to a shortage.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi starts us off in today's Bottom-line in Business. She found that the intense competition to buy is driving some people a little batty.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Patrick and Britney Bove are fighting on two fronts, so to speak.
PATRICK BOVE: Britney.
BRITNEY BOVE: Hi, nice to meet you.
BOVE: And I'm Patrick.
NOGUCHI: On one hand, they're hosting an open house in the Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore City.
BOVE: We're trying to stage the house, and it's been - I mean, he's pretty good about putting his toys away, but you know how kids are, like...
(SOUNDBITE OF A CRYING BABY)
NOGUCHI: And on the other, they're trying to find a house to buy, which is proving difficult, much harder than it was last summer, when they casually sampled the market.
BOVE: There seemed to be a lot more houses on the market. Everywhere we looked, you know, every weekend, there was something cool. And we thought, oh, wouldn't that be nice? So let's keep our eye for something like that. And now that we're finally seriously looking, this is when the shortage has hit.
NOGUCHI: There's a kind of mad quality to their search. It's made worse by alerts they get to their phones from their favorite realty website every time a new listing posts.
BOVE: Patrick and I are, like, obsessive with the Redfin alerts, you know.
NOGUCHI: They'll even check them in the middle of the night. It's to the point, Patrick Bove says, where he sometimes doesn't recognize himself.
BOVE: The other day, I was out shopping and I got an alert and I couldn't get Internet access in there. So I kind of started panicking. I knew the alert came through, but I wanted to see the picture. I left all my stuff in the store and just went back out the car, which was stressful, because it's like, hope nobody takes my stuff. If I wait, it could sell. And sure enough, you know, that house sold in two or three days. It's completely changed the rhythm of my life.
NOGUCHI: With so few homes on the market, he feels he's on constant alert.
BOVE: Here's one that showed up this morning. It's a really nice-looking colonial house. It was a good price. But it says changed from active to off-market. Well, it just came live this morning. It's a big tease, because look at this house? Wouldn't you like to buy this - oh, it's sold. Sorry, you know.
NOGUCHI: Rochelle Walker is the real estate agent helping the Boves sell their home. She says that mood has permeated the whole market.
ROCHELLE WALKER: I mean, I, for example, had scheduled five showings for yesterday, and when I called to confirm, three were gone. And that was within a 48-hour period. People are literally making offers inside the homes, because they know homes aren't sitting.
NOGUCHI: And Baltimore is far from being the hottest market in the country. In areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle and Washington, D.C., inventory is extremely low. But even in Baltimore, and specifically in the Towson area where the Boves really want to buy, inventory is down 47 percent from last year.
This is not all good news. Part of the reason few houses are going up for sale is that still about a fifth of all homes in the U.S. - as well as in Baltimore - are underwater. That is, the loan is bigger than what the house is worth. So a sizable number of homeowners can't afford to sell.
Also, with few recent comparable sales, agents say some offers are falling through because the appraisal comes in below the sale price.
Today, with few options to choose from, Patrick Bove decides to check out an open house that's adjacent to his desired neighborhood. Cars fill the cul-de-sac, and the open house is bustling.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
BOVE: I like this kitchen with the...
NOGUCHI: Bove and his agent, Lynn Ikle, ogle the expansive backyard and the mudroom.
LYNN IKLE: Drop your book bags and your shoes...
BOVE: Oh, yeah.
IKLE: ...come in through the garage with your groceries.
NOGUCHI: Ikle surveys the room knowingly. This house will be gone in day or two, she declares. It's not uncommon for her clients to submit offers at 2 AM.
IKLE: There's a panic feeling out there. It's like McDonald's. People want it really quick. They want to order it, and go around to the next window and pick it up.
NOGUCHI: Outside, Bove has barely left the house when he pauses to call and update his wife.
BOVE: Hello, (unintelligible).
BOVE: I want to tell you about the house I just saw.
BOVE: Oh, cool.
BOVE: Yeah, it looks - it actually shows a lot better than it looks. It's pretty nice. I think you should come see it.
NOGUCHI: Later, Bove e-mails me with updates on their saga. His wife loved the house, and the Boves made an offer. But they were outbid, and they don't yet have an offer on their own house.
Ah, well, he writes. The search continues.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.