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Real Estate Tips

The old-school strategy of real estate sellers crossing their arms and holding out for a better offer will be brushed off by most homebuyers. Consider that of the homes that took four months or more to sell in the past year, almost half of their owners accepted less than 90 percent of the asking price, according to the National Association of Realtors. For a gauge, have your agent produce the latest comparable sales including short sales and foreclosures as well as a recent summary of sales prices versus original list prices. But be wary that such information doesn't reflect the homes that failed to sell.

Prep, paint, stage, scrub, improve, repeat. Efforts can include caulking, plastering, planting flowers, adding potted plants, making the windows spotless, pressure washing that oily driveway, edging the walks, trimming the bushes and trees, and mending the fences. None of these is excessively capital-intensive, but when applied en masse, they say “buy me.”

I'm not saying bend over backward to accommodate real estate buyers. Bend forward and sideways, too. Be ready to negotiate and offer extras such as closing costs, paid property taxes, remodeling work (or a cash credit), appliances, paid condo association/homeowner association dues, a few months of mortgage payments or even seller financing.

Home sellers who've been on the sidelines and who advised their agents to ignore offers by lowballers don't have that luxury now. Instruct your agent to listen intently to prospective homebuyers' misgivings about the home and adjust accordingly and immediately.

Hire a listing agent steeped in mobile platforms. Sellers and buyers are routinely using newspaper and other social media to sell and seek, not to mention dozens of online selling sites. Some owners are even making YouTube videos to showcase their homes, making it easier to quickly link to potential buyers via email. There's also an abundance of smartphone apps cropping up to review real estate listings and refine searches.

Fraudsters are targeting distressed homeowners with "deals" that can sound perfectly legit. Some offer loan modifications for upfront fees while others offer fee-based "help" in navigating government housing assistance programs, sometimes claiming they're attorneys.

There are also con-artist "investors" compelling desperate owners to sign over their homes with quitclaim deeds in return for a typically empty promise to remain there indefinitely. Others are telling former owners they can get their homes back for a lump sum. Be forewarned: Never sign blank documents or documents with blank lines.

If you're unsure of an offer, have an attorney or other trusted adviser look it over. Keep in mind that a law barring firms - except attorneys - from charging upfront fees for mortgage relief or mortgage modification took effect in 2011. It's called the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule.

Realize it's harder to qualify for loans these days. Credit records are under greater scrutiny, and lenders are often demanding a 15-20 percent down payment and some pricing flexibility from the sellers, especially if the lender's appraisal doesn't reach the asking price.

Consider cash offers, even if they're not the highest. Reject too-low offers from homebuyers gently and with encouragement, telling them they're oh-so-close. You don't want to give away the farm, but you don't want to give it back to the bank either. These days, meeting halfway usually means meeting buyers on their half.

Worried about durability? Buyers who place a heavier focus on brick or concrete-and-steel housing may find they're more enduring, safer and quieter.

Are you worried about sustaining value? Buy near a prestigious hospital, university, large government employer or newly vibrant central business district. These entities typically aren't going away, and the demand for good housing around them won't either.

There's still an overabundance of well-priced inventory out there, which means you needn't immediately narrow your search to the first house you fancy. That's especially the case with short sale homes, which can be a nightmare to close in a timely manner. There are some for-sale gems that need only a little polishing.

Shop around. Don't dismiss foreclosures and other bank properties, pre-foreclosures, auction homes, for-sale-by-owner or lease-to-own homes. Pick at least three favorites and work from there.

Are you perplexed by the home valuation you did on your place on the website of a large, seemingly reputable real estate organization? Puzzled how that valuation can be 25 percent or more above or below a firsthand appraisal you've had done? Well, value estimates on these sites can vary widely, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of ruppes, even by the admission of the companies themselves.

There are way too many variables in the valuation game to give too much credence to blind, algorithm-based estimates that are impersonally calculated. Nothing beats a nuanced firsthand professional appraisal.

Aside from the financial details, contracts, disclosures and protections you typically tend to as you prep to buy a home or commercial real estate properties, add these to the list:

  • Hire a title company to check the house for liens and tax arrearages.
  • Hire your own inspector. Don't use the seller's!
  • Have the inspector check for unpermitted work such as illegal room additions and garage conversions.
  • Consider the overall energy efficiency of the home with an energy audit.
  • Be sure property lines are accurate. If there's any question, hire a land surveyor to research the original deed and to stake out the property's lines and your neighbors' property lines to avoid future disputes.
  • Go to the local governing body to search for neighborhood predators.
  • Spend some time around the neighborhood and briefly interview neighbors. Determine if there are noisy neighbors, signs of gang activity, nocturnal barking dogs, indigent lingerers, frequent loud parties and/or suspicious nighttime visits.
  • Are there lots of rental homes? Is the block a cut-through point during rush hour? Does the school bus go past the block? Is there a restrictive homeowners association?
  • Determine what types of buildings can be constructed on vacant lots adjacent to the neighborhood. This helps avoid unpleasant future surprises. Is there constant noise from a nearby highway or busy street? Are there odors from nearby industrial plants?

If you are the local expert on real estate, show me.

Send me a flyer with real local market statistics and your professional interpretation of where the market is today and what homeowners should be thinking about. I’ll probably look at the information out of self-interest, and you’ll score some credibility that you can cash in later when I’m actually looking for a home.

But your glossy flyer with your photo that tells me how great you are…that’s headed for the trash.

Local reporters like local sources. As an intelligent buyer/seller, you can rely on expert and professionals real estate market agents. Talk about local market conditions, what you are hearing from clients, and trends in the business. No need to plug your knowledge – your appearance in a media outlet will build more than enough credibility for you. Besides, we as a real estate agent, aren’t that hard to find, are you?

Any market is competitive, but real estate agents compete in the ultimate free market. Use the tips above to help stand out from the crowd.

Carve out a market position. Are you the low priced agent, the best service agent, the “gets you the best price agent”, the best agent for first time buyers, the best agent for seniors, etc.

Everyone you are competing with is a real estate agent. So we've niche down and build a package of services that makes a meaningful difference to a subset of the market and gives you very good reason to choose us over everyone else.