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Tips for Buying in a Tight Market

Increase your chances of getting your dream house in a competitive housing market, and lower your chances of losing out to another buyer.

1. Get pre-qualified for a mortgage. You ll be able to make a firm commitment to buy and your offer will be more desirable to the seller.

2. Stay in close contact with your real estate agent to find out about the newest listings. Be ready to see a house as soon as it goes on the market  if it s a great home, it will go fast.

3. Scout out new listings yourself. Look at Web sites such as REALTOR.com, browse your local newspaper s real estate section, and drive through the neighborhood to spot For Sale signs. If you see a home you like, write down the address and the name of the listing agent. Your real estate agent will schedule a showing.

4. Be ready to make a decision. Spend a lot of time in advance deciding what you must have in a home so you won t be unsure when you have the chance to make an offer.

5. Bid competitively. You may not want to start out offering the absolute highest price you can afford, but don t go too low to get a deal. In a tight market, you ll lose out.

6. Keep contingencies to a minimum. Restrictions such as needing to sell your home before you move or wanting to delay the closing until a certain date can make your offer unappealing. In a tight market, you ll probably be able to sell your house rapidly. Or talk to your lender about getting a bridge loan to cover both mortgages for a short period.

7. Don t get caught in a buying frenzy. Just because there s competition doesn t mean you should just buy it. And even though you want to make your offer attractive, don t neglect inspections that help ensure that your house is sound.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Making an Offer on a Short Sale What You Need to Know

Are you looking to buy a new home Are you thinking that now’s a great time to find bargains Before you make an offer, it pays to know a little about the seller’s situation.

If a home is being sold for below what the current seller owes on the property and the seller does not have other funds to make up the difference at closing the sale is considered a short sale. Many more home owners are finding themselves in this situation due to a number of factors, including job losses, aggressive borrowing against their home in the days of easy credit, and declining home values in a slower real estate market.

A short sale is different from a foreclosure, which is when the seller’s lender has taken title of the home and is selling it directly. Homeowners often try to accomplish a short sale in order to avoid foreclosure. But a short sale holds many potential pitfalls for buyers. Know the risks before you pursue a short-sale purchase.

You’re a good candidate for a short-sale purchase if:

* You’re very patient. Even after you come to agreement with the seller to buy a short-sale property, the seller s lender (or lenders, if there is more than one mortgage) has to approve the sale before you can close. When there is only one mortgage, short-sale experts say lender approval typically takes about two months. If there is more than one mortgage with different lenders, it can take four months or longer for the lenders to approve the sale.

* Your financing is in order. Lenders like cash offers. But even if you can t pay all cash for a short-sale property, it s important to show you are well qualified and your financing is set. If you’re preapproved, have a large down payment, and can close at any time, your offer will be viewed more favorably than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.

* You don t have any contingencies. If you have a home to sell before you can close on the purchase of the short-sale property or you need to be in your new home by a certain time a short sale may not be for you. Lenders like no-contingency offers and flexible closing terms.

If you’re serious about purchasing a short-sale property, it’s important for you to have expert assistance. Here are some people you want to work with:

* Experienced real estate attorney. Only about two out of five short sales are approved by lenders. But a good real estate attorney who’s knowledgeable about the short-sale process will increase your chances getting an approved contract. Also, if you want any provisions or very specialized language written into the purchase contract, a real estate attorney is essential throughout the negotiation.

* A qualified real estate professional. You may have a close friend or relative in real estate, but if that person doesn t know anything about short sales, working with him or her may hurt your chances of a successful closing. Interview a few practitioners and ask them how many buyers they’ve represented in a short sale and, of those, how many have successfully closed. A qualified real estate professional will be able to show you short-sale homes, help negotiate the purchase when you find the property you want to buy, and smooth communications with the lender. (All MLSs permit, and some now require, special notations to indicate that a listing is a short sale. There also are certain phrases you can watch for, such as  lender approval required. )

* Title officer. It s a good idea to have a title officer do an initial title search on a short-sale property to see all the liens attached to the property. If there are multiple lien holders (e.g., second or third mortgage or lines of credit, real estate tax lien, mechanic s lien, homeowners association lien, etc.), it’s much tougher to get that short sale contract to the closing table. Any of the lien holders could put a kink in the process even after you ve waited for months for lender approval. If you don t know a title officer, your real estate attorney or real estate professional should be able to recommend a few.

Some of the other risks faced by buyers of short-sale properties include:

* Potential for rejection. Lenders want to minimize their losses as much as possible. If you make an offer tremendously lower than the fair market value of the home, chances are that your offer will be rejected and you ll have wasted months. Or the lender could make a counteroffer, which will lengthen the process.

* Bad terms. Even when a lender approves a short sale, it could require that the sellers sign a promissory note to repay the deficient amount of the loan, which may not be acceptable to some financially desperate sellers. In that case, the sellers may refuse to go through with the short sale. Lenders also can change any of the terms of the contract that you ve already negotiated, which may not be agreeable to you.

* No repairs or repair credits. You will most likely be asked to take the property  as is. Lenders are already taking a loss on the property and may not agree to requests for repair credits.

The risks of a short sale are considerable. But if you have the time, patience, and iron will to see it through, a short sale can be a win-win for you and the sellers.

* Not all real estate practitioners are REALTORS . A REALTOR is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS and is bound by NAR s strict code of ethics.

Note: This article provides general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter. Laws vary from state to state. For advice on a specific matter, consult your attorney or CPA.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Neighborhood

Your neighborhood has a big impact on your lifestyle. Follow these steps to find the perfect community to call home.

Is it close to your favorite spots Make a list of the activities  movies, health club, church, etc.  you engage in regularly and stores you visit frequently. See how far you would have to travel from each neighborhood you re considering to engage in your most common activities.

Check out the school district. This is especially important if you have children, but it also can affect resale value. The Department of Education in your town can probably provide information on test scores, class size, percentage of students who attend college, and special enrichment programs. If you have school-age children, visit schools in the neighborhoods you re considering. Also, check out www.schoolmatters.com.

Find out if the neighborhood is safe. Ask the police department for neighborhood crime statistics. Consider not only the number of crimes but also the type  such as burglaries or armed robberies  and the trend of increasing or decreasing crime. Also, is crime centered in only one part of the neighborhood, such as near a retail area

Determine if the neighborhood is economically stable. Check with your local city economic development office to see if income and property values in the neighborhood are stable or rising. What is the percentage of homes to apartments Apartments don t necessarily diminish value, but do mean a more transient population. Do you see vacant businesses or homes that have been for sale for months

See if you ll make money. Ask a local REALTOR or call the local REALTOR association to get information about price appreciation in the neighborhood. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, this information may give you a sense of how good of an investment your home will be. A REALTOR or the government planning agency also may be able to tell you about planned developments or other changes in the neighborhood  like a new school or highway  that might affect value.

Make personal observations. Once you ve narrowed your focus to two or three neighborhoods, go there and walk around. Are homes tidy and well maintained Are streets quiet How does it feel Pick a warm day if you can and chat with people working or playing outside.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

How to Get an Offer on Your Home

1. Price it right. Set a price at the lower end of your property s realistic price range.

2. Prepare for visitors. Get your house market ready at least two weeks before you begin showing it.

3. Be flexible about showings. It s often disruptive to have a house ready to show at the spur of the moment. But the more amenable you can be about letting people see your home, the sooner you ll find a buyer.

4. Anticipate the offers. Decide in advance what price and terms you ll find acceptable.

5. Don t refuse to drop the price. If your home has been on the market for more than 30 days without an offer, you should be prepared to at least consider lowering your asking price.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Negotiate Your Best House Buy

By: G. M. Filisko

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Buying a home can be emotional, but negotiating the price shouldn’t be. The key to saving money when purchasing a home is sticking to a plan during the turbulence of high-stakes negotiations. A real estate agent who represents you can guide you and offer you advice, but you are the one who must make the final decision during each round of offers and counter offers.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.
1. Get prequalified for a mortgage
Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

2. Ask questions
Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed Have there been other offers If so, why did they fall through The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer
Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale.
Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

4. Avoid contingencies
Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

5. Remain unemotional
Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.
Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

6. Don’t let competition change your plan
Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions-such as waiving an inspection-that aren’t in your best interest.

More from HouseLogic
Determine how much mortgage you can afford (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/4-tips-determine-how-much-mortgage-you-can-afford/)

Keep your home purchase on track (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/keep-your-home-purchase-track/)

Plan for a stress-free home closing (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-steps-stress-free-home-closing/)

Other web resources
More negotiating tips (http://www.freddiemac.com/corporate/buyown/english/purchasing/offer/negotiate.html)

Develop a homebuying strategy (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29746.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has to remind herself to remain unemotional during negotiations. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

5 Things to do Before Putting Your Home on the Market

1. Have a pre-sale home inspection. Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. An inspector will be able to give you a good indication of the trouble areas that will stand out to potential buyers, and you ll be able to make repairs before open houses begin.

2. Organize and clean. Pare down clutter and pack up your least-used items, such as large blenders and other kitchen tools, out-of-season clothes, toys, and exercise equipment. Store items off-site or in boxes neatly arranged in the garage or basement. Clean the windows, carpets, walls, lighting fixtures, and baseboards to make the house shine.

3. Get replacement estimates. Do you have big-ticket items that are worn our or will need to be replaced soon, such your roof or carpeting Get estimates on how much it would cost to replace them, even if you don t plan to do it yourself. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home, and will be handy when negotiations begin.

4. Find your warranties. Gather up the warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for the furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items that will remain with the house.

5. Spruce up the curb appeal. Pretend you re a buyer and stand outside of your home. As you approach the front door, what is your impression of the property Do the lawn and bushes look neatly manicured Is the address clearly visible Are pretty flowers or plants framing the entrance Is the walkway free from cracks and impediments

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

6 Reasons to Reduce Your Home Price

By: G. M. Filisko

While you’d like to get the best price for your home, consider our six reasons to reduce your home price.

Home not selling That could happen for a number of reasons you can’t control, like a unique home layout or having one of the few homes in the neighborhood without a garage. There is one factor you can control: your home price.

These six signs may be telling you it’s time to lower your price.

1. You’re drawing few lookers
You get the most interest in your home right after you put it on the market because buyers want to catch a great new home before anybody else takes it. If your real estate agent reports there have been fewer buyers calling about and asking to tour your home than there have been for other homes in your area, that may be a sign buyers think it’s overpriced and are waiting for the price to fall before viewing it.

2. You’re drawing lots of lookers but have no offers
If you’ve had 30 sets of potential buyers come through your home and not a single one has made an offer, something is off. What are other agents telling your agent about your home An overly high price may be discouraging buyers from making an offer.

3. Your home’s been on the market longer than similar homes
Ask your real estate agent about the average number of days it takes to sell a home in your market. If the answer is 30 and you’re pushing 45, your price may be affecting buyer interest. When a home sits on the market, buyers can begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with it, which can delay a sale even further. At least consider lowering your asking price.

4. You have a deadline
If you’ve got to sell soon because of a job transfer or you’ve already purchased another home, it may be necessary to generate buyer interest by dropping your price so your home is a little lower priced than comparable homes in your area. Remember: It’s not how much money you need that determines the sale price of your home, it’s how much money a buyer is willing to spend.

5. You can’t make upgrades
Maybe you’re plum out of cash and don’t have the funds to put fresh paint on the walls, clean the carpets, and add curb appeal. But the feedback your agent is reporting from buyers is that your home isn’t as well-appointed as similarly priced homes. When your home has been on the market longer than comparable homes in better condition, it’s time to accept that buyers expect to pay less for a home that doesn’t show as well as others.

6. The competition has changed
If weeks go by with no offers, continue to check out the competition. What have comparable homes sold for and what’s still on the market What new listings have been added since you listed your home for sale If comparable home sales or new listings show your price is too steep, consider a price reduction.

More from HouseLogic
How to ready your home for sale at little cost (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/5-tips-prepare-your-home-sale/)

How to review offers on your home (http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/6-tips-choosing-best-offer-your-home/)

Other web resources
Setting the right price

More on setting the right price (http://public.findlaw.com/abaflg/flg-4-4a-1.html)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who made strategic price reductions that led to the sale of a Wisconsin property. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Understanding Capital Gains in Real Estate

When you sell a stock, you owe taxes on your gain  the difference between what you paid for the stock and what you sold it for. The same holds true when selling a home (or a second home), but there are some special considerations.

How to Calculate Gain
In real estate, capital gains are based not on what you paid for the home, but on its adjusted cost basis. To calculate, follow these steps:

1. Purchase price: _______________________

The purchase price of the home is the sale price, not the amount of money you actually contributed at closing.

2. Total adjustments: _______________________

To calculate this, add the following:
Cost of the purchase  including transfer fees, attorney fees, and inspections, but not points you paid on your mortgage.
Cost of sale  including inspections, attorney fees, real estate commission, and money you spent to fix up your home just prior to sale.
Cost of improvements  including room additions, deck, etc. Note here that improvements do not include repairing or replacing something already there, such as putting on a new roof or buying a new furnace.

3. Your home s adjusted cost basis: _______________________

The total of your purchase price and adjustments is the adjusted cost basis of your home.

4. Your capital gain: _______________________

Subtract the adjusted cost basis from the amount your home sells for to get your capital gain.

A Special Real Estate Exemption for Capital Gains
Since 1997, up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 for a married couple) on the sale of a home is exempt from taxation if you meet the following criteria:
You have lived in the home as your principal residence for two out of the last five years.
You have not sold or exchanged another home during the two years preceding the sale.
You meet what the IRS calls  unforeseen circumstances, such as job loss, divorce, or family medical emergency.

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

Deciphering Your Home Loans Good Faith Estimate

By: G. M. Filisko

Knowing how to read your good-faith estimate can help you save money on your home loan.

When you’re shopping for a mortgage loan, it’s sometimes hard to understand the jargon lenders use in the good-faith estimate explaining the costs and fees you’ll pay when taking out a mortgage.

When you apply for a mortgage, the lender has three days to give you a good-faith estimate of the fees and interest rate you’ll pay, as well as other loan terms.

Here are five tips for using the new three-page form to your advantage.
When you apply for a mortgage, the lender has three days to give you a good-faith estimate of the fees and interest rate you’ll pay, as well as other loan terms. Here are five tips for using the new three-page form to your advantage.

1. Know which fees can increase and by how much
In the past, lenders provided an estimate of the costs involved in getting your home loan, and if those costs rose by the time you closed on your home, tough luck. The good-faith estimate shows some fees the lender can’t change, like the loan origination fee that you pay to get a certain interest rate (commonly called points) and transfer costs.

The form also lists the charges that can increase by up to 10%, like some title company fees and local government recording fees. The lender must cover any increase over that amount.

Finally, the good-faith estimate lists the fees that can change without any limit, such as daily interest charges.

2. Look for answers to basic loan questions
In the summary section, lenders explain your loan’s terms in simple language. Can your interest rate rise If so, a lender must spell out how much the rate can jump and what your new payment would be if it does. Can the amount you owe the lender increase, even if you make your payments on time If it can, a lender must show you the potential increase.

3. Evaluate the “tradeoffs” on a loan
In the new “tradeoff table,” you can ask lenders to provide details on the tradeoffs you can make in choosing among home loans. If you’d like the same loan with lower settlement charges, how will the interest rate change If you’d like a lower interest rate, how much will your settlement charges increase

4. Compare apples to apples with the shopping chart
Included on the good-faith estimate is space for you to list all the terms and fees for four different loans, so you can make side-by-side comparisons.

5. Know what’s missing from the good-faith estimate
The new form lacks some key information, such as how much you’ll reimburse the sellers for property taxes they’ve already paid on the home. It also doesn’t tell you the amount of money you’ll have to bring to the closing table. Some lenders have created supplemental forms providing that information. If yours hasn’t, ask for it.

More from HouseLogic
More on the new good-faith estimate form (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/homebuyer-tax-credit-what-you-need-know/)

Other web resources
The new U.S. Housing and Urban Development good-faith estimate (http://www.hud.gov/content/releases/goodfaithestimate.pdf)

More on shopping for a loan (http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/ramh/res/Settlement-Booklet-January-6-REVISED.pdf)

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has encountered many settlement statements that bore no resemblance to the lender’s good-faith estimate. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Open House Safety Tips

An open house can be a great sales tool, but it also exposes you to numerous unfamiliar people for the first time.

Stay safe by practicing these guidelines.

Call the local police department and ask them to have a squad care drive by during your open-house hours.
Check your cell phone s strength and signal prior to the open house. Have emergency numbers programmed on speed dial. Carry an extra, fully charged cell phone battery.
Determine several  escape routes that you can use in case of an emergency. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
Turn on the lights and open the curtains. These are not only sound safety procedures, but also great marketing tactics.
Make sure that if you were to escape by the back door, you could escape from the backyard. Frequently, high fences surround yards that contain swimming pools or hot tubs.
When prospective buyers begin to arrive, jot down their car descriptions, license numbers and physical descriptions.
When showing the house, always walk behind the prospect. Direct them; don t lead them. Say, for example,  The kitchen is on your left, and gesture for them to go ahead of you.
Notify a friend or a relative that you will be calling in every hour on the hour. And if you don t call, they are to notify the police immediately.
Inform a neighbor that you will be showing the house and ask if he or she would keep an eye and ear open for anything out of the ordinary.

Source: National Association of REALTORS Safety Week kit

Reprinted from REALTOR magazine (REALTOR.org/realtormag) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS .
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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