Buying a House in Fall? Avoid These Pitfalls

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
By Jason Notte

The real estate market supposedly shines in the spring and summer sun, but fall is where the deals are found.

Existing home sales are up more than 10 percent since last year, while the price of those homes has risen 9.4% over the same span, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the backlog of homes on the market has dwindled 31 percent from a more than nine-month supply of 3.15 million last July to a 6.4-month supply of 2.4 million this summer. As a result, the percentage of "distressed" and foreclosed homes on the market dropped from 29 percent last year to 24 percent in July.

"Mortgage interest rates have been at record lows this year, while rents have been rising at faster rates," says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. "Combined, these factors are helping to unleash a pent-up demand."

With interest rates on 30-year mortgages dropping from 4.55 percent last July to 3.55 percent today, buyers who've been riding out the economic downturn and housing crisis might be tempted to make a move. With real estate site Zillow reporting that 31 percent of American mortgages are still underwater despite rising prices -- including nearly 51 percent of mortgages held by homeowners ages 30 through 34 -- it helps to look before you leap this fall.

With help from the National Association of Realtors and Zillow, we put together the following checklist of items to keep in mind when approaching the autumn real estate market:

1. Go bargain hunting.

According to NAR numbers, home prices tend to plummet by an average $7,000 once Labor Day passes. That's not always the case out West or in the South, where prices level off or even jump a bit during the cold months, but Midwest home prices fall by an average of $10,000 between August and September, while Northeast prices plummet by nearly $20,000 by October.

2. Know your market.

If you're hunting around Stowe, Vt., or Coral Springs, Fla., for deals around this time of year, you may as well be pricing out Caribbean vacation homes in winter. Ski resorts, popular leaf-peeping spots and permanently warm climates in Florida and Southern California just aren't going to come through with fall discounts. Know why folks in less-scenic Northeast and Midwest towns drop prices so quickly? Because winter's coming and they don't want to spend another year digging out the place. Use their years of snowbound misery to your advantage.

3. Sniff out desperation.

Does the photo of the house you've been pining over all summer on MLS look exactly as it did when you first saw it Memorial Day? Has the price dropped without eliciting so much as an "under contract" update? Is there yet another open house coming up in a few weeks? That all works in your favor. If a buyer hasn't budged after one of the hottest real estate summers since the housing crisis began, chances are there's room to negotiate. If they want the house sold more than they want a tidy profit, that's how deals are born.

4. Kick the tires.

Fall may be a lovely corridor of copper leaves and crisp temperatures in some areas, but it's also the time of year the weather takes a turn. When you're buying a home, the leaf litter and returning rain provide ample opportunities to see where the current homeowners have done work and what they've neglected on the way out the door. For the most part, there shouldn't be leaves piled up in the gutters in late September or early October. There also should be decent gutter drainage that doesn't involve water spewing from where a drainpipe once was.

5. Remember, you'll have help.

Census Bureau numbers indicate that fall, and September in particular, is a bit of a rough patch for contractors and home and garden stores such as Home Depot and Lowes. If your dream house could use a kitchen upgrade or central air through its heating ducts, home stores and builders usually start discounting inventory around this time of year and can help you make changes on the cheap. Of course, if you're looking to build from scratch, those discounts not only add up, but bring in business for a homebuilding industry that's grown 25 percent since last year but is still building less than half than the "normal" number of homes it completes in a year.

See more on TheStreet.com:
How to Tell If You Have Too Many Credit Cards
10 Best Family Cars of 2012
The Unheard-Of Financial Plan Every Would-Be Parent Needs to Hear About

32 PHOTOS
Home Inspection Nightmares
See Gallery
Buying a House in Fall? Avoid These Pitfalls

It's a scary housing market out there -- and not just because of home values. In this slideshow from This Old House, home inspectors from across the country sent some of the funniest, most eye-popping sights they've ever had the misfortune of stumbling upon. Click through to share their grief!


Photos courtesy of the ASHI Reporter

Whoops! Who moved the house?


Bill Camosci
National Property Inspections of Central CT, Inc.
Cromwell, Conn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Taking showers in front of an electrical panel box is not recommended.


Thomas Sanson
National Property Inspections
Rochester, N.Y.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

If this isn't a set up for a Jeff Foxworthy joke, I don't know what is. Click the next image to see just how much faith this homeowner has in his plumbing skills.


Chris W. McDougall
Apex Home Inspection
Santa Cruz, Calif.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Shows how much faith this homeowner had in his plumbing skills. Rather than test the leaky faucet, he opted to wash the dishes in the bathtub.


Chris W. McDougall
Apex Home Inspection
Santa Cruz, Calif.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

This basement toilet seat is 48 inches above the floor. Hand rails are recommended.


Steve Anderson
Anderson AmeriSpec
Germantown, Tenn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

If you tilt your head, it looks just fine. Unless, of course, you're into the Tim Burton look.


Rich Madore
Pillar To Post Home Inspections
Newington, Conn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Ever heard of water hammer? It's that banging sound caused by air in the pipes. Well, this family used an actual hammer to cancel out the noise.


Eric Mills
E&E Inspect
Oreland, Pa.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Do you think this is what the civic inspector had in mind when insisting that the electrical panel be labeled?


Kevin Hawes
Assured Home Inspections
Calgary, Alberta


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

"Sure, we can put a window there! All we need to do is remove the post from under that big beam and then nail a 2x6 to the wall so the beam doesn't fall down—and take the house with it."


Dan Chapleski
True North Inspection Services
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

What man cave would be complete without a makeshift urinal? You should see his other funnel -- it looks like a toilet.


Thomas Sansone
National Property Inspections
Rochester, N.Y.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

So, is the cottage cheese container holding up the shelf or is the shelf holding the cottage cheese container tight so sewer gas does not escape? Or is it both?


Dan Howard
Home Inspections by Dan Howard
Freeport, Pa.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

The seller kindly left the dog in the back yard during the inspection, with me all alone. I was supposed to talk sweetly to it. It did not work, and I did not enter.


Brandon Dyles
Picture Perfect Inspections
Bartlett, Tenn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Try as I might, I haven't been able to find a reference to frogs in the National Electrical Code.


Bryant Warren
HouseMaster Inspections
Broken Arrow, Okla.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

I think it is safe to assume that this furnace is not venting properly. I inserted a smoke emitter into the burn chamber and all of the smoke backed up into the attic. A rain cap that was installed on the chimney exhaust left little room for venting.


Brandon Dyles
Picture Perfect Inspections
Bartlett, Tenn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Ranger Rick was none too happy when we asked him to pay his share of the mortgage.


Dan Gartrell
Homestar Real Estate Services, Inc.
Gainesville, Va.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

The furnace thermostat wire had shorted out on a new, still-vacant house, and this was the inside temperature reading I got. Laminate counter tops were de-laminating.



Alvin C. Miller
Hawkeye Home Inspections LLC
Wellman, Iowa


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

What was the builder thinking ending the downspout right above the electrical panel? After 15 years, guess what the inside of this panel looked like.


Scott Stegall
Carolina HomePro Inspections
Rock Hill, S.C.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

This is a car battery jumper cable attached to the main electric utility service line. The cord leads back to the electric panel for a house with no power. Why pay for electric when you can do this?


Gary Kershaw
Pillar to Post
Philadelphia, Pa.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Why screens on dryer vent backdraft dampers are frowned upon. I found this in a 3½-year-old house.


G. Gilbert Engler
Master Home Inspectors, Inc.
Annandale, Va.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

This liquid propane tank is being used inside the house to operate a gas stove—a big no-no.


Andy Moore
American Heritage Home Inspection
Seminole, Fl


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

That sheet metal should hold up the rafters at least until we get it sold! This house had an attic fire and was supposedly repaired. The whole roof will have to be rebuilt again.


Alvin C. Miller
Hawkeye Home Inspections, LLC
Wellman, Iowa


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Looks like this little guy wasn't licensed to work around electricity. Next time, call in the professionals.


Jeff Leighton
Inspect-It 1st Property Inspection
Scarborough, Me.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

During our unusually cold temps in January, this unfortunate squirrel thought that he'd be OK if he just went down the chimney and followed the source of the heat. He ended up inside the furnace cabinet and got caught between two sections.


Rick Michalicek
Moore Home Inspection Services
St. Louis, Mo.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

I don't believe this tackle box meets the electrical code in any state or province.


Alden Gibson
Inspections by Gibson
Breslau, Ontario


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

One of the many reasons why Santa needs life insurance.


Rich Madore
Pillar To Post Home Inspections
Newington, Conn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Not the greatest use for an old bicycle inner tube, but at least they're recycling: This is a steam pipe in a 4-unit apartment building.


Stuart Keeshin
Keeshin Inspection Services
Chicago, Ill.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Quite a two-fer! This doorstop also makes water.


David Grudzinski
Advantage Home Inspections
Cranston, R.I.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

Rust, corrosion, and a gaping hole in a vent pipe that angles downward (hot air rises, you know). Sometimes, you just have to wonder.


Clay Ridings
Preferred Home Inspections
Wilmington, Del.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

They don't build 'em like they used to. This 100-gallon electric water heater was built in March of 1938 and is still delivering hot water like it was built yesterday!


Rich Madore
Pillar To Post Home Inspections
Newington, Conn.


More Home Inspection Nightmares


World's Wildest Houses


Skills You Need to Survive Ownership

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to
calculate mortgage payments.
Find
homes for sale in your area.
Find
foreclosures in your area.
See celebrity real estate.

Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.
Read Full Story

Find a New Home

Buy
Rent
Value
Powered by Zillow

From Our Partners