Buyer’s vs. Seller’s Market: What Do They Mean?

When you’re buying a house, it’s important to know what type of market you’re in: a buyers market or a sellers market. Each type of housing market offers its own set of unique opportunities and drawbacks depending on what side of the equation you’re on.

In a buyers market, the market is more favorable toward buyers due to an abundance of inventory, a low demand for housing or other factors that cause home sales to be slower than normal. This type of market works in the buyer’s favor because they can ask for extra concessions, lowball the offer or generally push the purchase to be more favorable to them. A sellers market, on the other hand, means that you’ll be competing with other buyers for the homes on the market. In this case, the seller calls the shots due to high demand for homes.

Though much of the country would be considered a sellers market right now due to extremely low interest rates on mortgage loans, that could always change in the near future. The pendulum swings constantly, and it’s not always clear where it will stop. So, if you’re considering a new home purchase in the near future, here’s what you need to know about a buyers or sellers market to make the most of the market you happen to be in.

Compare Mortgage Rates

Compare top mortgage lenders in your area and find the right fit for you.

In this article

    What is a buyer’s market?

    A buyers market is when there are more houses for sale than there are buyers. People aren’t buying at a fast enough rate to keep the market from flooding with inventory — which drives the market to be more friendly to the buyers that do exist.

    [Read: Mortgage Rates Hit Another 50-Year Low. Should You Buy?]

    In a buyers market, sellers must often lower the asking price on their homes to be competitive. If they don’t, they run the risk of their house sitting on the market for too long, which can cause financial issues or issues with getting a loan for the house they’re moving to. Therefore, not only do homebuyers get to enjoy deflated prices in a buyer’s market, but they also stand a good chance of having their lowball offers being considered.

    What is a seller’s market?

    A sellers market is the opposite of a buyer’s market, and occurs when there are more buyers than there are sellers. When this happens, sellers obviously have the upper hand. Any reasonably priced house is likely to get multiple offers or even instigate a bidding war in highly desirable neighborhoods or cities.

    In this type of market, most homes don’t last long before being snatched up by buyers — especially if mortgage loan interest rates are as low as they are right now. Many homes are sold as is and could even get an offer that’s well above asking price. If you have a home to sell, putting it on the market during a seller’s market will likely get you more than you paid for it and help propel you to your next home.

    [Read: How to Negotiate Mortgage Closing Costs]

    How to determine if it’s a buyers market or a sellers market

    If you want to determine whether you’re in a buyers or sellers market, there are a few tricks you can use to figure it out. These include:

    • Analyze the inventory. Use a listing website and look at the county, neighborhood or area you plan to purchase in. Pay particular attention to information like time on the market and the final sales price. If you see a large number of homes are being sold as soon as they hit the market, you are most likely in a sellers market. If sold homes are few and far between, you’re in a buyers market. It’s possible to get even more precise. You can divide the number of homes on the market by the number of homes sold the last 30 days. If the quotient is over seven, you’re in a buyer’s market. Five sold homes or below equals a sellers market.
    • Determine the amount of time homes are sitting. Homes sell quickly in a sellers market if they are priced right and are in good condition — or in some cases, they may sell even if they need a ton of work and aren’t priced as low as you’d expect. The opposite is true of a buyers market.
    • Determine market trends. Are home prices rising or falling? A downward trend suggests a buyers market while an upwards trend indicates a sellers market. The good news is that you don’t have to do the research yourself. You can easily find market reports online or ask a licensed real estate agent to pull some comps for you.
    • Figure out whether the homes are selling for asking price. If a lot of the offers in the area you’re looking at are selling for more than their asking price, that is obviously good news for sellers and bad news for buyers. If the comps indicate that the homes are selling for well below the list price, then you know you’re in a buyers market. You can also look at current listings to determine whether you’re in a buyers or sellers market. Do you notice a lot of listed homes with price cuts? This suggests that homes in this area have sat on the market for longer than expected and that buyers are in control.

    Tips for a buyer’s market

    A buyer’s market offers unique perks for would-be homeowners. However, if you’re a seller, you’ll have to both lower your expectations and clear a few hurdles along the way.

    [Read: 5 Tips for Navigating the Mortgage Underwriting Process During Covid-19]

    Tips for sellers:

    • Don’t ask for too much. If your home is priced in the right range, you could still get a buyer in a reasonable amount of time. However, don’t price your home too low to try and unload it, since buyers will still push the envelope in this type of market, no matter what you list your home at.
    • Tackle needed repairs that won’t break the bank. With so many options to choose from, buyers won’t have a reason to take on a fixer-upper unless you’re selling it at a huge discount. Any decent agent will be able to tell you what your house needs to get attention — so listen to them and make repairs or upgrades when possible.
    • Be prepared for lowball offers. Don’t take lowball offers personally and be prepared for them. Figure out what you’re willing to negotiate on before you list your home. If you aren’t willing to negotiate, your home may sit there for a while.

    Tips for buyers:

    • Be aggressive: Don’t be afraid to make an offer that’s well below the asking price — especially if the home has been on the market for a while. All the buyer can do is turn you down — and if you’re in a buyers market, it’s less likely that would happen.
    • Negotiate with the seller. You have nothing to lose by negotiating. There are tons of other options on the market if this offer falls through. So, unless you’re at risk of losing the house of your dreams, you can go back and forth with the seller without worrying that you’ll kill the deal over bad feelings.
    • Ask for repairs and closing costs. The worst thing that might happen is the seller will say no. At the very least, you can expect a reasonable counter offer to come of it — and best case, you’ll end up with some contributions from the seller to make your home purchase cheaper.

    Tips for a seller’s market

    A seller’s market is a great time to cash in if you’re a seller. If you’re a buyer, be prepared to compete with tons of other buyers and maybe offer more than you originally intended.

    Tips for sellers:

    • Don’t worry about cosmetic repairs. As long as your home is in decent condition, it’s very likely to get multiple offers. You don’t need to dump a bunch of money into painting the bathroom a neutral color or upgrading the siding. Buyers will still likely be interested in your home.
    • Test the waters on the price. Believe it or not, you can scare buyers away with an overly ambitious listing price, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test the waters a little bit. Try listing your home for over what you think it’s worth. Even with a high listing price, you may get a bidding war from buyers — especially if you’re in a highly desirable area and also in a sellers market.

    Tips for buyers:

    • Check listing sites every day. It’s not uncommon for homes to get offers on the first day of listing in a sellers market. Be prepared to live on sites like Realtor and Zillow — and employ the help of a real estate professional who can send you the new listings as soon as they hit the market.
    • Work with a top notch agent. In a sellers market, you’ll need an aggressive agent who is able and willing to drop to show you a house. If you don’t have an agent like this, you’re going to miss out.
    • Get preapproved. You need to be able to make an offer at any time to be competitive with other buyers. Speak with a lender before you speak with an agent to get preapproved — this will strengthen your offer and make you stand out against others.
    • Know your maximum price. Bidding wars are common in a sellers market. Your emotions can put you in financial ruin if you aren’t careful, so you need to know when to back out. Set a maximum price cap and stick to it. Also keep in mind that you can refinance later on if you need to.
    • Don’t ask for too much. You’re competing with a lot of buyers in this type of market. Asking for too much in closing costs and repairs will likely result in the seller not considering your offer.

    Compare top mortgage lenders

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Lauren Ward

    Contributing Writer

    Lauren Ward is a personal finance writer living in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and three children. In her spare time she enjoys board games and gardening.