Today is the biggest shopping day of the year, and almost everyone will be filling malls and stores to hunt down Black Friday deals. Not so many, though, are shopping for homes this time of year, and prospective homebuyers who don't have their head in the game during the holidays could be missing out on some serious real estate steals.
Of course, the question is: Is there such a thing as a Black Friday for real estate? Well, not officially, but many sellers and Realtors have found a way to capitalize on the Black Friday phenomenon -- and the spirit of holiday sales in general -- to offer serious incentives to homebuyers. And you won't believe some of the things you could score with your home purchase.
"Sellers will be a little more aggressive with price drops," said Sunny Banka, a Denver-area Realtor with Metro Brokers.
She said that over the holidays, it's typical to see some sellers drop the asking prices on their homes by $2,000 to $10,000. That's because, since homebuyer traffic is so low in winter, it's usually only the very serious sellers that keep their homes on the market over the holidays. And they're so serious that they're willing to go the extra mile -- including lowering their asks -- to sell their homes, Banka added.
In a recent Realtor.com survey, 67.7 percent of Realtors who responded said that they perceived Black Friday sellers to be serious to very serious about selling their homes; 40.1 percent of respondents said that those sellers would likely accept an offer during that time. That may be a sign that buyers have some serious bargaining power.
"This is a great time to be looking," Banka said.
There are also some extra goodies you could score with your holiday home purchase. It's not terribly uncommon for sellers to throw in bonus items with the purchase of a home -- to entice buyers. Some of them can be big-ticket items (a pre-paid $1,000 bar tab, perhaps?).
Banka said that she has seen cases in which sellers include washers/dryers and refrigerators with a home purchase. But it only gets crazier from there. She recalled one seller throwing in a car, and others have handed over big-screen TVs at no extra cost. But the one that takes the cake, she said, was a seller who offered a weekend time-share for ski trips.
Throwing in extras with a home purchase isn't a practice that's exclusive to the holiday season, but the gift-giving spirit likely holds more sway for buyers during this time.
Banka warned, though, that getting "gifts" as part of a home purchase is tricky: Lenders often look down on such freebies when it comes to their underwriting guidelines.
Still, Sean Schellsmidt, a RE/MAX agent who sells homes with his wife, Blanca, in Minnesota, tempts holiday homebuyers with all kinds of extras. (Separately, he owns an electronics company which carries most brands, and he offers a customized electronics package to buyers who purchase one of his homes -- at deep discounts.) Recently, he's been giving away a Sonos music system and a Samsung tablet for free with the purchase of a home that costs at least $200,000. (A couple of his clients are pictured above using a tablet.) But it can get way more elaborate than that.
For his last client who bought a house, Schellsmidt threw in a complete home theater package -- surround sound speakers, TV wall mount, high-quality receiver, cables and Blu-Ray DVD player (installation of all items included) -- for $1,200 less than the going retail rates.
Even though that would excite any buyer, "the value is not that I give away a bunch of stuff," Schellsmidt said. "The value is that I make buyers excited about my listings."
There are other less obvious ways that homebuyers could save money on a Black Friday home purchase. As online listing site Trulia notes, snapping up homes at a "holiday discount" price translates into lower property taxes, which are often determined by the amount you pay to buy the home. Also, lenders may be willing to offer a discount on closing costs, and some sellers might splurge and offer to cover some or all of the buyer's fees.
It's clear that some serious Black Friday deals can be had on real estate purchases, so if you're in the marker for a home right now, you might want to skip the mall and go to an open house.
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No one ever walked out of an open house thinking, "Nice place, but too many closets." On the other hand, a good staging job can disguise that a home has precious little storage.
This is where it pays to use your X-ray eyes. Visually strip away the furniture in a for-sale home and place your furniture and belongings. Or simply measure both the rooms and the closets, and compare it to what you have now, says Eric Tyson, author of "Home Buying for Dummies."
Ditto for kitchen cupboards, pantries and counter space, says Michael Corbett, author of "Before You Buy." Those countertops may look spacious until you get out all of your kitchen toys and discover there's not enough room, he says. Really look at a kitchen in terms of what you need when you cook to make sure the home offers the counter space you need.
You're only 15 miles from work. How long is that in traffic time? That daily commute factor is "a really big one that a surprising number of people don't properly research before they commit to a house," Tyson says. He advises trying the commute a few times, driving both ways, before you buy.
"If you wait until you move, it's kind of too late," Tyson says. "You're stuck with the house at that point." Instead, "do the actual commute during the actual time of day -- to and from -- that you'd be doing," he says. And talk to people with similar commutes. You may discover that it ebbs and flows at various times of the year.
Some buyers shop for homes where "commute" doesn't automatically mean "car," says Ron Phipps, immediate past president of the National Association of Realtors and principal broker with Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.
"We're seeing a lot more urbanization and a lot more people moving toward public transportation links," he says. One college professor wanted a home that was a comfortable walking distance from campus, he adds. "Five years ago, that wouldn't have been a priority."
It could be the Saturday night party house, the guy who believes Sundays were made for leaf blowing or the kid who practices the tuba 24/7. Every neighborhood has its eccentrics, and you need to know if you can live with them.
One of the best ways to find out what's going on in the neighborhood is to chat up the neighbors, Corbett says. "You must find out if there are any existing neighborhood problems."
From the minor issues (such as one neighbor's casual mechanic "shop") to the major (a string of crimes in the area), you want to know the concerns of the people who live there. "It's really about asking questions upfront," Corbett says. Ask the seller, and do your own research, too.
One smart move is to visit during morning rush hour, afternoon and evening rush hour, adds Corbett.
One prospective buyer who planned to work from home even toured a home with a phone app that measures ambient noise, Phipps says. The place was quiet, "so it wasn't a problem," he says.
Most people flip lights and faucets on and off when they tour a home just to make sure they get the expected result.
But that's hardly the test of whether the water pipes or electric wiring will meet your needs, Corbett says. You'll need to determine if the plumbing and wiring can accommodate your lifestyle.
Flipping a bedroom light on and off doesn't compare to a busy morning with two blow-dryers and an electric shaver running while the microwave heats breakfast, the air conditioning clicks on and the TV blasts the traffic report.
And if you are showering while someone does laundry and a third person flushes the toilet, will you feel a drop in pressure or a blast of cold water? With water, you can run a few things at one time and see how the home handles the pressure, Corbett says.
As for the electrical systems, you might want to talk to your home inspector, he says. Just explain that there are X number of people in the family who may use electricity simultaneously and ask if it will hold up, Corbett says.
It's a great home for you, but does it fit your car? Tyson remembers one home he owned came with street parking. It was great, but simple errands such as a trip to the market required a little more planning and a few extra steps. "In retrospect, we wouldn't have done it differently," he says. "But you have to make sure you understand the ramifications of not having a garage in the city."
Likewise, Corbett has seen buyers in condos or town houses realize they don't have a space usable for their car. Especially if the designated spot is against a wall or post, he says.
Some neighborhoods have rules about parking in the driveway or on the street. So if you have a preference or other plans for your new garage, it's smart to check any covenants before buying.
Privacy is a factor that some buyers overlook until it's too late. "If you're in the bathroom, are you staring into your neighbor's shower?" says Corbett. "You really have to be smart. Try to spend some time in the house." The goal is to get the feeling of what it's like to really live in the house before you actually buy it, he says.
Do a quick test run and think about the home and what you plan to do there. Then take an hour and "walk through your experience of how you live in the house in a day," he says. You should ask yourself if the home suits both you and the way you plan to live.
"I think the biggest mistake that people make is they have to see not only do they fit," says Corbett, "but does their lifestyle fit?"