Tips for Homebuyers & Sellers in 2013!

Tips for Homebuyers & Sellers!

In residential real estate, 2013 arrived much the same way that 2012 did: via a rocky road. While more homebuyers are swooping in and picking up great deals, sales are slowly increasing in many markets.

While potential buyers are still getting very low mortgage rates, they also are facing much tighter credit standards and demands for significantly larger down payments. 

Well, this new economy has added some wrinkles to home buying and home selling strategies, while reintroducing some of those old-school favorites like sound fundamental fiscal practices. So here are nine tips for homebuyers and nine for sellers to help them survive and hopefully thrive.

Tips for Homebuyers

  • Cash is the new king.  If you can spare the cash, it has a heck of a lot more buying clout now. In the past, we’ve tried to persuade people to seek out more liquid investments for their cash on hand and grab an easy-to-get low-interest mortgage. Now, with the equity markets depressed at the same time that mortgage loans are hard to find, the tables have turned. Those wielding ready cash in a recession are always ahead of the game.
  • Negotiate extras … and more extras.  This is a no-brainer in the current market. But while sellers continue to offer throw-ins such as built-in appliances, flat-screen TVs and even cars, the best throw-ins are always the ones that take monetary form. Think paid closing costs, a year’s worth of property taxes, repair credits and paid homeowners association dues, to name only a few.
  • Start a down payment fund.  The goal should be to amass 20 percent. Set monthly saving goals. Shore up the family budget. Work an extra job if you must. The pain will precede a gain: lower house payments and higher equity in the future.
  • Determine your own home buying budget.  Do this before you start talking with lenders. They will tell you what you qualify for, but only you can determine what you can really afford. Be realistic and work in a buffer for contingencies and negative life events.
  • Clean up your credit score.  You’ve heard this one before. But now it’s more important than ever if you hope to get home financing. Correct reporting-agency errors that may be dragging down your score. Pay your bills on time. Pay down active credit cards, but don’t close out paid-off accounts.
  • Research equals savings.  Agents will almost always tell you that the time to buy is now. But do your own research. Go online and scour newspapers and other local sources looking for housing inventory backlogs, the average for-sale time that homes are on the market and average selling prices. Also, be wary of the number of area foreclosures and major-employer layoffs..  You’ll get a better sense of how much negotiating clout you’ll really have and which way the market is moving. Information is power — in your case, purchasing power.
  • Don’t overlook neighborhood issues.  If and when you do qualify for a mortgage, don’t overlook these important issues in your exuberance: quality of schools, traffic noise, upcoming zoning issues, neighborhood stability, home turnover, crime levels and the presence of any sex offenders. This is where a strong, veteran agent can assist.
  • Watch for foreclosed-property inventory to loosen.  Banks soon will be under greater pressure to cut their losses on property they own through foreclosure and to increase revenues. With a smaller percentage of distressed homes selling at auction, banks are loaded up with more of these nonperforming assets.  In major markets, more agents are specializing in prying loose so-called REOs — real estate owned by banks. Again, cash on hand talks loudest.
  • Look for other looming opportunities.  Can’t get a loan? The newly Fed-fortified banks will, or at least should, start moving that money. They are banks, after all. But don’t expect a return to zero down payments.

Tips for Home Sellers

  • Price correctly from the get-go.  Unless you live in one of a handful of relatively stable U.S. markets, don’t start out too high-priced just to test the waters. Your backup plan of adjusting on the fly may prove futile. Keep that window of opportunity open from the first time the for-sale sign appears on your lawn. The first 30 days a home is on the market are when it gets the most attention from potential buyers and their agents.
  • Fix earlier pricing mistakes.  If you’ve already made the pricing mistake of not following the tip above, consider taking the home off the market and repositioning it for later entry. If you simply persist with that original, now-discounted offering and keep dropping the price as the months go by, lowball buyers and their brokers will be waiting in the wings to see how low you’ll go next month. If you do take the home off the market, make some relatively simple cosmetic improvements such as new paint and landscaping. Then list it again, but at the right price this time.
  • Looks do matter.  Don’t underestimate the importance of curb appeal. Not only is there an acute price war going on out there, there’s also a beauty contest being staged. You may be strategically located in a quiet cul-de-sac near great schools, great health care facilities and fabulous shopping, and you may have easy highway access for that morning commute, but unless your exterior is well coiffed and in sparkling condition, other offerings will outshine it. If your home’s outside doesn’t pass the drive-by test, the interior won’t, because it will not be viewed by serious buyers, who are already off to view the next home on their list.
  • Don’t overdo it.  By contrast, if you go too far in improving your place, you likely will not be able to recoup your remodeling investment. Don’t over-invest to the point where your home greatly exceeds competing properties in your price range and neighborhood. And keep color schemes neutral for best sale potential.
  • Don’t be an ambiguous seller.  Either you are going to sell or you aren’t. Why waste everyone’s time, including yours? If you manage to fetch a decent offer with a test listing in this market, commit to sell. You may be able to buy a better replacement house at a disproportionately lower price with so many steals still out there.
  • Be an energy miser.  A low- or mid-grade energy retrofit will make your home greener and more marketable, and it won’t bankrupt you. The selling point of seeing thousands of dollars in energy savings down the road is a timely one.  Add a programmable thermostat, re-insulate the attic and water heater and caulk around doors, windows, eaves, edges and joints to better seal them. Consider having a professional energy audit performed. They’re relatively cheap. At least one Web site, Home Energy Saver <>, offers a do-it-yourself audit tool.
  • Know all of your options.  If you are among the thousands of homeowners who have lost significant value in their homes or are upside down on your note and can’t refinance, know what your next step may be.  If you can’t get your mortgage agreement modified, negotiate an alternative payment arrangement or find a buyer to assume your payments, you should be aware of the more drastic alternatives open to you.  For more information, read Bankrate articles on short sales  all extreme options for getting rid of your home and mortgage payment.
  • Become a landlord.  This approach is best for people who aren’t too far behind on their payments. Yes, those newly reset adjustable-rate monthly payments are often higher than the rent you can fetch, but the rental market has made a comeback with so many foreclosure victims out on the streets.  Give first priority to possible lease-option or lease-purchase tenants. In a lease option, a renter pays more than the established monthly rent for the right — but not the obligation — to buy the property later. A lease-purchase pact is similar, but it obligates the renter to buy.  If you are not able to carefully screen renters and doggedly look after your property in any of these scenarios, don’t become a landlord.
  • Hold fast: Don’t sell in a panic.  Unless you owe more than what your home is worth or face a job change, relocation, divorce, health crisis or other major negative life event, then wait until next year or the year after to sell. Current conditions are not permanent.

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