Top 10 real estate tips for 2017

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While home prices for starter-to-midrange homes are pushing upward toward pre-recession peaks, especially in secondary markets, they’re stabilizing in higher-priced areas.

If mortgage rates rise modestly as expected in 2017, sales elsewhere may normalize with smaller price appreciation, especially as housing starts rise to fill the inventory breach.

Here are 10 tips to adapt to the latest market conditions.

First-time homebuyers: Get that starter home now
More than half of the home sales in 2017 are expected to be to first-time buyers, and mostly to the millennial set, many moving from urban rentals, research by the National Association of Realtors shows. That means competition could become fierce in the spring 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.

Sellers: 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.

Then, look at profiles of the agents on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media; and be sure to read web reviews.

Narrow your search to three agents and interview each. 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.

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.

Borrowers without a 20 percent down payment will still likely pay private mortgage insurance until they hit the 20 percent to 25 percent equity mark.

The best rates go to those with 800-plus credit scores.

Sellers: 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: Do light makeovers everywhere, with an eye on the kitchen and bathrooms.

Clean, clean and clean some more: It’s hard for buyers to picture themselves living in a dirty house.

Depersonalize, declutter: Show the space, not the contents. Box up family photos, kids’ school papers and excess art.

Illuminate: Open drapes and add brighter light bulbs in dark areas. Repaint where needed but use neutral colors.

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.

If you’re a buyer, don’t believe the house is yours
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.

Strategies such as preapproval, 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.

Sellers: The grass is always greener…
… in yards with a “sold” sign. Major presale upgrades typically aren’t needed, but a little greening outdoors is a must.

Surveys show that strong curb appeal can increase prices by 10 percent or more. Greener grass, whether derived from new sod or fertilizer and water, is a must.

Sellers typically enjoy a 100 percent return on the money they put into curb appeal.

Sellers and buyers: Know the state of your market

When inventory remains below equilibrium, sellers enjoy more control over prices and terms, and the area becomes a seller’s market.

When inventory lingers well above stasis, you have a buyer’s market where sellers must get more serious about price reductions, credits and throw-ins.

Sellers: House going on sale in the spring?

Grab your camera or smartphone and do an exterior autumn photo shoot with the leaves changing colors.

It’s a much better way to showcase your home than to wait until late winter when everything is still dead and brown and mucky. Also take some landscape shots after the first snow, ideally on a sunny day, to show how cozy your place looks in winter.

Take a preliminary inventory, too. Look through your attic, closets, basement and garage to see what stored items you’ll want to keep, give away or sell in the spring. This will help you determine whether you’ll need a storage unit when your home is on the market and if there are any problem areas that need repairs or attention.

It’s also a good time to start discussing financing options with a local lender and interview prospective listing agents.

Buyers: Relocating near a waterfront?

You’d best consider weather and insurance realities.

FEMA flood-map changes are aggressively expanding flood zones, especially along the East Coast and Gulf Coast, forcing hundreds of thousands of homeowners to buy flood insurance for the first time and others to pay thousands more annually.

Insurers also are imposing coverage caps so there’s no guarantee you’ll be made whole post-catastrophe.

Some home sellers and their agents are conveniently not disclosing these realities, so buyers will have to ask pointed questions and do their own research.

Visit Bankrate online at bankrate.com.

By Steve McLinden, Bankrate.com (TNS)

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