One of my favorite Disneyland experiences was the time I went with a neighbor who worked there. Although it was a crowded Fourth of July evening, my neighbor knew how to navigate around the park to avoid the crowds, and the best, secret spot for watching the fireworks. All because of his insider knowledge.
Insider advice can also be a huge plus when you're house hunting. We asked a range of pros, from agents with experience selling homes in Austin, TX, to experts working in the Seattle, WA, real estate market, about their top real estate advice. Keep these tips in mind before you begin your search, and you'll find yourself ahead of the game and in a great spot when it's time to place an offer.
1. Look for flaws in the foundation
When I was recently looking for investment property, I lost count of how many houses I saw that had stunning kitchens with new appliances. But often, underfoot was a creaky, unleveled floor, cracks in the foundation walls, or backyards with water drainage issues. The kitchen remodel in these cases was, as the saying goes, "like putting lipstick on a pig." Many sellers hope you'll fall for this ploy by not looking past the shiny stuff. Be smart by hiring a home inspector to help you avoid possible costly repairs down the road. You can also do some screening on your own by looking for common problem areas. Structural engineer Adam Green, CEO of Crosstown Engineering, suggests looking for the following foundation flaws: cracks in the walls larger than 1/8 inch, doors and windows that stick, sloping or uneven floors, and noticeable damage to the exterior.
2. Think strategically to land a house in a hot market
Nothing can be more frustrating than looking for a house in a popular area during a seller's market. But there are ways to gain an advantage over the competition. Austin, TX, has consistently been named one of the hottest markets in recent years, and according to Trulia's market trends, the city is likely to hang on to that hot market status through 2016. Justine A. Smith, an Austin real estate agent, suggests two strategies to land your dream home. First, have your agent pull tax records of sellers to get information to use to write a personal note. And second, ask your agent to share your needs on social media and with other agents to get the scoop on properties that haven't yet hit the market.
3. Get the inside scoop
It's second nature for journalists and detectives to go below the surface to ferret out information. But even amateurs can discover some useful dirt. Kate Shields, a board member of MORe, a real estate organization in Illinois, says to go out in "stealth mode." Look for a garage sale in your desired neighborhood and casually "ask the homeowner questions as you're shopping." No nearby garage sales to shop? Ryan J. Halset, a Seattle, WA, real estate agent, says you can often find "neighbors out watering their lawn just hoping you'll come talk with them." Halset has uncovered issues with a home just by starting a conversation with a neighbor.
4. Use pricing psychology
Pricing strategy becomes important when you're making an offer to a seller in a competitive market. You've probably heard that people are more likely to buy something that ends in a "9" instead of a "0," such as being more willing to shell out for an item that costs $59 instead of $60. That's house numerology at work. Brian Horan, a Los Angeles, CA, real estate broker, says not to "leave a '5' or a '0' at the end of a price." If the property is listed at $325,000 and you know there are already three offers, you might be tempted to go about 3% higher and offer $335,000. "Don't do it," says Horan, who recommends an offer of $336,000, or even better, $341,000, instead. The important thing is to go one number over "5" or "0" to be the highest bid by just a little bit more.
5. Be the likable buyer
A seller attached to a home is typically more inclined to accept an offer from a buyer they like. Ryan Halset says to look around the home for "a shared area of interest." Your agent can then personalize the offer cover letter from you this way: "I noticed that you have several books on Ireland, and I just recently visited there for a family reunion." "
Be genuine," says Halset. "A small connection can go a long way." In addition, Horan suggests that buyers have their picture taken in front of the house they wish to make an offer on. "When you submit a photo with you in front of the seller's house, it psychologically allows the seller to picture you living there."
6. Keep an open mind
Do as Jenelle Isaacson, owner of Living Room Realty in Portland, OR, suggests and don't rule out a home just because its owner passed away. "If you see original wallpaper, pink Formica, and vinyl, pounce on it!" she says. Her logic? "Seniors usually take better care of their homes," says Isaacson. "Quality finishes and maintaining the property always make a better home long term, even if you remodel after purchase." Bonus? If other buyers aren't giving the home a second look, in a hot market, being open-minded could give you a better chance at success!
What insider tips have you learned during your home search? Share your real estate advice in the comments below!