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1. Get "Pre-Approved" - Not "Pre-Qualified!"
Do you want to get the best property you can for the least amount of money? Then make sure you are in the strongest negotiating position possible. Price is only one element in the negotiations, and not necessarily the most important one. Often other terms, such as the strength of the buyer and closing date are critical to a seller.
Some Realtors ask that buyers get "pre-qualified" by a lender. This means that you spend a few minutes on the phone with a lender who asks you a few questions. Based on the answers, the lender pronounces you "pre-qualified" and issues a certificate that you can show to a seller. Sellers are aware that such certificates are WORTHLESS, and here's why! None of the information has been verified!
Many times unknown problems can come to the surface! Some of the problems I've seen include recorded judgments, alimony payments due, glitches on the credit report due to any number of reasons both accurately and inaccurately, down payments that have not been in the clients' bank account long enough, etc.
So the way to make the strongest offer today is to get "pre-approved".
This happens AFTER all information has been checked and verified. You are actually APPROVED for the loan and the only loose end is the appraisal on the property. This process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on your situation. It's VERY POWERFUL and a weapon I recommend that all my clients have in their negotiating arsenal.
2. Sell Your Property First, Then Buy the House
If you have a house to sell, sell it before selecting a house to buy! Contingency sales aren't nearly as strong as one that comes in with a ready, willing and able buyer. Consider this scenario, You found the perfect house now you have to go make an offer to the seller.
You want the seller to reduce the price and wait until you sell your house. The seller figures that this is a risky deal, since he might pass up a buyer who DOESN'T have to sell a house while he's waiting for you. So he says OK, he'll do the contingency but it has to be a full price offer! You have now paid more for the house than you could have because of the contingency, and you have to sell your existing house in a hurry! Otherwise you lose the house! So to sell quickly you might take an offer that's lower than if you had more time. The bottom line is that buying before selling might cost you THOUSANDS of dollars.
If you're concerned that there is not a house on the market for you, then go on a window-shopping trip. You can identify possible houses and locations without falling in love with a specific house. If you feel confident after that then put your house on the market.
3. Play the Game of Nines
Before house hunting, make a list of things you want in the new place. Then make a list of the things you don't want. You can use this list as a guide to rate each property that you see. The one with the biggest score wins! This helps avoid confusion and keeps things in perspective when you're comparing dozens of homes. When house hunting, keep in mind the difference between "STYLE AND SUBSTANCE". The SUBSTANCE are things that cannot be changed such as the location, view, size of lot, noise in the area, school district, and floor plan. The STYLE represents easily changed surface finishes like carpet, wallpaper, color, and window coverings. Buy the house with good SUBSTANCE, because the STYLE can always be changed to match your tastes. I always recommend that you imagine each house as if it were vacant. Consider each house on its underlying merits, not the seller's decorating skills.
4. Don't Be Pushed Into Any House
Your agent should show you everything available that meets your requirements. Don't make a decision on a house until you feel that you've seen enough to pick the best one. Currently homes under $300,000 are receiving contracts in matter of days, while homes over $300,000 tend to sit on the market a little longer. It's important to understand the current market conditions so you submit your offer in the appropriate amount of time.
5. Be prepared to act fast!
The biggest mistake I see home buyers make is they find something they really like, ask to see other homes, and by the time they decide their first choice was right, the home is gone. In a seller's market like we are in today, there aren't enough homes to satisfy every home buyer. Prices tend to be in the higher end because of the low inventory. Today home buyers typically make a fast offer, sometimes for more than the list price or they risk losing the home to a more agile home buyer. There isn't much room to negotiate in a seller's market unless the property is overpriced. Your agent should show you everything available that meets your requirements. If you see something you like and can afford, buy it. Inexperienced or not, in today's market you must be willing to act fast.