3 Secret Strategies to Nabbing Your Dream Home

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Ever wonder how those hotshot real estate agents on "Million Dollar Listing" manage to get their clients into the perfect house just in time for the commercial break? If you said "clever editing," you are only partly correct. Knowing how to select a great real estate agent and teaching her exactly what type of house to look for is one of the secrets to success, and something that can give you an advantage over your competition.

And don't be mistaken, it is a competition. You are competing against everyone else out there that wants to find the perfect house at the best price. Yet prospective buyers can be lazy when it comes to choosing an agent, often using familiarity as their only criteria, thus frequently ending up with a "friend of a friend" or the agent who has the most prolific marketing. Consider these ideas:

1. Sometimes Bigger Really Is Better

A top producer with an intimate knowledge of the local market should be everybody's first choice to represent them. However, all things being equal, it is most important to choose an agent who works in the largest office in the area where you want to buy.

Despite the fact that technology now allows housing information to be distributed in a much wider fashion, the vast majority of ultra-prime properties get snapped up before they ever hit the local multiple listing service or public real estate sites. And often on Monday mornings.

That is when real estate offices gather their agents together over coffee and doughnuts to talk about their new listings, and more importantly for you, the ones they have coming up -- meaning those where their client has committed to selling but is not quite ready to have their listing activated on the MLS.

The best properties will never see the light of day because savvy agents will alert their buyers to these private listings, often getting them access to view the properties before anyone else knows they are going to market. Having an agent with this type of inside track to new listings allows you the best chance to find a truly hidden gem before anyone else.

2. Clients Are from Venus, Agents Are from Mars

But having a good agent -- no matter how plugged in he is -- is not enough if you can't communicate not only about what you want, but why you want it. That second part is by far the most critical.

When you first sit down with your agent, he will probably ask you a series of questions or maybe even have you fill out a form listing the requirements for your dream house. Do you want a big back yard? Pool or no pool? Near the city or out in the suburbs? These questions are designed to help your agent narrow down potential candidates.

But this is where the "why" comes into play. Say that you tell your agent that you want a large back yard. In fact, it's a deal killer. What if the reason you want a big back yard is because you have a dog that needs room to run? And what if there is a house listed for sale that by every other measure is your dream home? And there also happens to be a dog park just down the street?

If your agent knew the reason you wanted the big back yard was for your dog, he might then show you this house, reasonably assuming the adjacent dog park would make it work for you. By telling your agent, in as much detail as possible, what the reasoning is for your must-have list, he might find a perfect home for you that otherwise may have eliminated.

3. Specialization Is Your Best Friend

The vast majority of real estate agents will take either side of the home transaction process, representing both buyers and sellers. In some states, like California and New York, an agent can represent both the buyer and the seller of the same house.

Though organizations like the National Association of Realtors will tell you this can be done impartially, those who live in the real world know that claim is suspect at best.

Buyer's agents specialize in only representing clients who are purchasing a home. Using this type of dedicated agent minimizes the possibility that she isn't working in your best interest. And because she has eliminated the ability to make money selling homes, it is that much more critical to her that she complete a transaction for every client she has. This ensures that she will go the extra mile and turn over every stone in order to find you the perfect home.

The Lund Loop is a free once-weekly curated slice of what I am writing, reading and hearing about in finance, tech, music, pop culture, humor and the good life. But not sports or knitting ... ever!

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3 Secret Strategies to Nabbing Your Dream Home
In 2013, the median lot size of a new sold single-family house was 8,596 square feet, or just under 0.2 acres. While that might not seem like a lot for you suburban homeowners, a regional breakdown shows that the small average size isn't due to urban inhabitants alone. The Northeast enjoys the largest average lot, at 13,052 square feet, while the less densely populated South and West lay claim to just 8,649 square feet and 6,796 square feet, respectively.
From a footprint of 1,650 square feet in 1978, the average American home has grown 50 percent, to 2,478 square feet. Yet tough times seem to be squeezing our expansionary attitude. Although new single-family homes sold in 2013 clocked in at a median 2,478 square feet, single-family homes completed in 2013 amounted to just 2,384 square feet. Homebuilder confidence has plummeted into pessimism in the last few months, hinting that the housing market's road to recovery might be rougher than expected.

While birth rates have held relatively steady for the past 40 years, everyone apparently needs more elbow room. The share of homes with four or more bedrooms has jumped from 27 percent in 1978 to 51 percent in 2013. And where would a bedroom be without a bathroom? While just 8 percent of 1978 homes had three or more baths, 37 percent of homes now fall in that category.

From 2008 to 2013, both the share of homes with four or more bedrooms and the share of homes with three or more bathrooms have jumped 10 percentage points, while median square footage is up 10.9 percent for the same period.

If there's one strong sign of new housing demand, it's home prices. After nose-diving during the Great Recession to a median sales price of just $216,700, home prices have been roaring back up. In 2013, the median sales price for a new single-family home was $268,900. But for those on the housing hunt, don't be discouraged. Home prices today still don't hold a candle to costs in 2006, according to the well-regarded Case-Shiller Home Price Index. In 2006, the index topped 200 before plummeting to less than 140, and current rates put the index just above 170.
It is America, after all. Our industrialized nation was built on the back of Henry Ford, and America is in no danger of breaking its automobile addiction. In 2013, a whopping 300,000 of the 429,000 new single-family homes sold included a two-car garage. And 98,000 new homes included a three-car garage -- the highest amount since 2007. Of all new homes built, only 10,000 failed to include a garage or carport.
American homebuyers are building bigger homes than ever before. But if there's one thing the recent recession has shown us, bigger isn't always better. Although 30 percent of Americans believe real estate is the best long-term investment, homeownership isn't for everyone. There are plenty of reasons to spend less or invest elsewhere -- and leave keeping up with the Joneses to Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
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