If a home on the coast is on your mind, start looking now...

You would have to be living under a rock (rumor has it there are no native rocks in Carteret County), to not be aware of the softening of the real estate market. The idea of buying at the right time afflicts the stock market and almost every large purchase that we make. Studies have shown that finding the top or the bottom of the stock market is almost impossible. My guess is that predicting the top or the bottom of the coastal real estate market would be even more of a challenge.

Real estate, while it is impacted by national trends, is a local business. Whether prices rise or fall depends on the supply of buyers and the number of houses on the market. The price that a house sells at depends on the buyer and the seller coming to a meeting of the minds. There is no doubt that you can get some values sometimes if you are in the right place at the right time, and your buyer is under pressure. Many sellers are not under pressure and are perfectly happy to wait out the market.

In 1987 when we were moving from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Columbia, Maryland, we had our house almost sold in March of that year. Unfortunately the job offer took longer to come through than we had expected. In two months the off shore oil business collapsed. There were whole streets in local subdivisions that were being sold by relocation companies for the oil companies. We were caught up in the collapse. We actually ended up losing money on our house which we had only owned for a couple of years. We even carried the mortgage on the house for nearly a year after we moved out and before we sold it.

We only stayed in the house in Columbia for a little over two years. When we listed it, we were a little nervous, but it sold in six days at a profit that was more than enough to cover the losses on our Halifax house.

My recommendation for anyone is to buy when it fits your needs. If you're trying to time the market, prices are definitely past their peak with some local exceptions. People with prime property are not going to give it away. There might definitely be some bargains over the next few months, but if you wait to start looking when the media has announced that the market has bottomed, a couple of things will likely happen.

Number one, unless price is all you care about, you might well be out of luck if you have particular requirements in mind for your dream home. The best homes always sell first. If you're looking for a prime waterfront location, there just isn't a huge amount of that kind of property on the market at a given time. It took us three years to find a place that we liked and could afford.

The second reason to look now is that financing a house is still very attractive, the rates are low. If buyers come back into the market in droves, there's a good chance that mortgage rates will go back up especially if there is pent up demand.

While there is never a guarantee that any investment, houses included, will always go up in price, history has shown that housing is a very attractive investment especially given the mortgage interest deduction. However, just as in stocks, anyone who gets in and expects a quick profit is more likely to get burned than the person who buys for the right reasons and holds on to his or her house for a few years.

If you're interested in a second home, a smaller retirement home, or if you're just ready for a life on the coast, now is a great time to look at property along the Crystal Coast. You just might find a great value, but I can assure you that you will find friendly people, crystal clear waters, fantastic beaches, great fishing and boating, wonderful restaurants, uncrowded roads most of the year, and plenty of local festivals and shopping.

Buying a house is not something you do in a weekend, especially if you end up buying one under construction. Starting to look at real estate on the Crystal Coast now gives you a head start no matter what happens to the market.

Besides just look at the beautiful sunsets you will catch even in December if you get down here sooner rather than later.