While others argue over whether this really is the bottom, savvy buyers are taking advantage of the best market in years to purchase a home. If you’re an aspiring homeowner, here’s the know-how you need to snatch up a bargain — where to look, what to watch out for, and how to get financing that will make your home-ownership dreams come true.
The best kinds of homes to look for
1. A property with a clear ending! That is, a clear ending when it comes to estates, trusts, divorces and foreclosures.
2. A seller in trouble. Sellers who are behind on their property taxes, have a failed business or just need cash.
3. A scorned homeowner. Just like a scorned lover, the homeowner had another buyer who just backed out. They will almost always sell the house for even less.
4. A shopworn listing. A home that’s been on the market for more than 60 days or a home that’s had numerous or aggressive price drops always signals a good deal to be had.
5. A home with an overgrown yard. It always means the homeowner is ready to give up.
6. A vacant home. No one likes to pay a mortgage on an empty house.
Some don’ts to keep in mind
7. Don’t go for a short sale unless you have plenty of time. They can drag on and on because of the bidding process and you can end up paying the same money or more, with all the increased costs, repairs and the rise in interest rates, while waiting to close.
8. Don’t compromise on what you’re looking for just to get a “good deal.” It’s no deal if it doesn’t meet the criteria you want in your home.
Insider tips to spot the seller ready to take a low bid
1. Check the closets. See if the wife’s or husband’s clothes are no longer there.
2. Check the tax records. Find out how much the seller owes. You can get the records at the county clerk’s office, and in some municipalities the town records are online.
3. Look for give-away words. In advertising, words like “bring offer” or “drastically reduced” mean exactly that.
4. Ask your agent to pull the listing history on the house. It includes how many times the home has been listed and what the price reductions have been.
5. Let the seller talk! If the sellers are home at the showing, let them talk. Often they’ll say more than they should, like, “We close on our new home next month.”
How to get the financing you need as a buyer
1. Order the house appraisal first. The appraisal may come in lower than the price you plan to bid!
2. Ask the seller to pay part of your closing costs. It reduces the cash you need up front.
3. Ask not-for-profit organizations about financing. They’re good advocates for consumers who otherwise get overlooked or taken advantage of by major banks and mortgage companies. Check out NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America), NHS (Neighborhood Housing Services) in your part of the country, and ACORN.
4. Review your own credit report early. Correct any errors in the report and fix everything possible before you shop for a home.
5. Ask for owner financing. Many older homeowners are not buying another home and like the idea of a steady 5 percent return using their old home as collateral.
6. Ask for a family contribution. Many parents are very happy to help the first-time homebuyer and their grandchildren secure their first home.
7. Prequalify for financing with your lender or mortgage broker before you begin your search.
8. Don’t take no for an answer. If you’re turned down by a local bank, you may still be approved by a national mortgage lender. If you’re turned down by a national lender, you’re often approved by your local bank.