BUYING & SELLING:
TIPS AND INFORMATION
Whether you're looking to buy or sell, the more you know, the better off you will be.
Here are some useful tips and insights we found across the internet about the buying and selling process.
First-time Homebuyers: Get That Starter Home Now
And we mean now! More than half of the home sales (52 percent) in 2017 are expected to be to first-time buyers, and mostly to the millennial set (19 to 34 years old), many moving from urban rentals, research by the National Association of Realtors shows. That means competition — and bidding wars — could become fierce through the rest of the year for such “starters” in desirable areas.
While there’ll be less inventory this winter, there’ll also be less competition per unit and a higher percent of motivated sellers. Before you shop for homes, check out our best mortgage options.
Buyers: There’s More Loan Money Out There
Those who couldn’t get mortgages during the downturn because they didn’t have 20 percent to put down can find affordable financing again. Borrowers with FICO scores as low as 690 are now getting conforming mortgage loans (those under $417,000). One telling sign: About two-thirds of mortgage refinancers were getting approved in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to just one-half of those at the end of 2014. However, borrowers without a 20 percent down payment will still pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, until they hit the 20 percent to 25 percent equity mark. The best rates go to those with 800-plus credit scores, though 750-plussers are getting virtually the same terms.Check your credit score for free at myBankrate.
Unfortunately, those seductive interest-only loans are also on the menu again. Avoid them. They’re affordable at first since you’re not paying principal, but then years later, well … see the Great Recession of 2008.
Renters: It Might Be Time to Buy
In many cases, rents are rising faster than home values, yet mortgage rates remain low. That, and the fact that renters now account for 37 percent of households (the highest level in 50 years), seem to indicate an imminent coming-out party for renters-turned-buyers, especially if they plan to stay put for five to 10 years after buying. Check out a buy-versus-rent calculator like Bankrate’s to compare affordability. Looking to stay in your house and not sell? Find the best refi rates now.
If You’re A Buyer, Don’t Believe the House is Yours
Don’t bank on a done deal or other verbal promises from listing agents until you sign a contract. In heated markets across the country, sales agents are giving buyers false hope and using their offers to bid up the price for preferred buyers who they think can pay more and close faster. Have other homes in mind. Strategies such as preapproval (versus prequalification), proof of funding, closing flexibility and the always-risky practice of waiving inspection and repair contingencies can help sway buyers. For added clout, tell sellers you’re willing to “escalate,” or exceed all offers to a certain limit. Some agents even advise buyers to write so-called “love letters” to sellers, telling them how much the home will mean to their families.
Staging Changes from Season to Season
The concept of staging was once a secret. That cat’s been out of the bag for a while now, but the practice of staging homes continues to evolve — and it can be much more complicated and elaborate than simply creating a cozy conversation area in a living room. For instance, did you know that it’s better to use shorter furniture during summer months? “It makes the room feel bigger, longer, and in the potential buyer’s mind, a better fit,” says Brian Pickler, president of Nadeau – Furniture with a Soul. Another staging secret is to play soft background music during showings to make a home seem cozier.
People Love a Healthy Lawn
Who can resist the smell of freshly cut grass? Apparently, buyers can’t. Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, knows one Nashville, TN, real estate agent’s secret: “She uses our platform to order last-minute lawn mowing before every showing. I’ve seen her get one home’s lawn mowed three times in one week.”
Pricing-Strategy Bands are Important
Setting the right price so your home will sell is not a secret, but have you ever heard of pricing within “bands?” Don Tepper, a Virginia real estate agent, explains: “Buyers who want to spend $340,000 on a property may look between $325,000 and $350,000. If that’s the seller’s target market, then pricing a home at $351,000 will result in a lot of potential buyers missing the listing altogether.” So what’s the secret solution? Tepper says to price the home at $349,000. If you price it at $351,000, you’ll get people looking at the band between $350,000 and $375,000. “Those buyers probably want something fancier or nicer than a $351,000 house,” he says.
Exaggerations in Listings Only Disappoint
People on dating sites often fudge their age or post a photo that makes them look more athletic than they really are. This works in the short term to capture attention, but when the face-to-face meeting happens, those exaggerated online claims often lead to disappointment. The same happens with real estate listings. “If your home is located near a tiny pond, don’t describe it as if it’s this huge, luxurious waterfront lake desirable to all,” says Chantay Bridges, a Los Angeles, CA, real estate agent. “Take what you do have and describe the best features of it. Otherwise, buyers may be turned off and disappointed.”
A Listing Can’t Sit Too Long
In a hot market, “too long” for a house to sit unsold is three to four weeks, max. “That’s a sure sign [the house] is overpriced,” says Miller. If you don’t want to appear desperate by dropping the value, price the home realistically from the start. “It’s much better to be in a position where the seller has multiple offers than to get greedy trying to obtain an unrealistic price — only to reduce it later,” Miller adds.
Hire the Right Agent
Oftentimes, the best investment a seller can make is time spent researching agents. A bad hire can cost sellers tens of thousands of dollars and months of worried waiting. First, look at an agent’s online marketing material and listings. Is there good photography or video? Does it “pop”? Are descriptions accurate and complimentary without seeming exaggerated? Then, look at profiles of the agents on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media; and be sure to read web reviews. What kind of vibe is an agent sending out? Narrow your search to three agents and interview each, ideally in person. Ask for sales-activity reports, existing listings and time-on-the-market averages, plus the requisite local comps. A seasoned listing agent also will know the best times for open houses and how to initiate a price war if the market allows. Never consent to a listing contract of longer than 90 days in a seller’s market. You can always extend later.
It May be a Seller’s Market, but …
Home sellers can do several simple things to enhance appearance, increase buyer interest and boost their home’s profile:
- Renew selectively:
Instead of wholesale renovations from which sellers recoup maybe 60 percent on investment, do light makeovers everywhere, with an eye on the kitchen and bathrooms. They’re far more cost-effective.
- Clean, clean and clean some more:
It’s hard for buyers to picture themselves living in a dirty house. Scrub floors, baths, kitchens, windows and walls, and be sure to clean, vacuum and deodorize rugs. This is simple but effective.
- Depersonalize, declutter:
Show the space, not the contents. Box up family photos, kids’ school papers and excess art, and store bulky and worn furniture. Organize your closets to make them look half empty.
Illuminate: Think bright and cheery. Open drapes and add brighter light bulbs in dark areas. Repaint where needed but use neutral colors.