1. Don't buy if you can't stay put.
If you can't commit to remaining in one place for at least a few years, then owning is probably not for you, at least not yet. With the transaction costs of buying and selling a home, you may end up losing money if you sell any sooner - even in a rising market. When prices are falling, it's an even worse proposition.
2. Start by shoring up your credit.
Since you most likely will need to get a mortgage to buy a house, you must make sure your credit history is as clean as possible. A few months before you start house hunting, get copies of your credit report. Make sure the facts are correct, and fix any problems you discover.
3. Aim for a home you can really afford.
The rule of thumb is that you can buy housing that runs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. But you'll do better to use one of many calculators available online to get a better handle on how your income, debts, and expenses affect what you can afford.
4. If you can't put down the usual 20 percent, you may still qualify for a loan.
There are a variety of public and private lenders who, if you qualify, offer low-interest mortgages that require a down payment as small as 3 percent of the purchase price.
5. Buy in a district with good schools.
In most areas, this advice applies even if you don't have school-age children. Reason: When it comes time to sell, you'll learn that strong school districts are a top priority for many home buyers, thus helping to boost property values.
6. Get professional help.
Even though the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings, most new buyers (and many more experienced ones) are better off using a professional agent. Look for an exclusive buyer agent, if possible, who will have your interests at heart and can help you with strategies during the bidding process.
7. Choose carefully between points and rate.
When picking a mortgage, you usually have the option of paying additional points -- a portion of the interest that you pay at closing -- in exchange for a lower interest rate. If you stay in the house for a long time -- say three to five years or more -- it's usually a better deal to take the points. The lower interest rate will save you more in the long run.
8. Before house hunting, get pre-approved.
Getting pre-approved will you save yourself the grief of looking at houses you can't afford and put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house. Not to be confused with pre-qualification, which is based on a cursory review of your finances, pre-approval from a lender is based on your actual income, debt and credit history. This is important whether you're looking for a modest home or a luxury home in Vero Beach.
9. Do your homework before bidding.
Your opening bid should be based on the sales trend of similar homes in the neighborhood. So before making it, consider sales of similar homes in the last three months. If homes have recently sold at 5 percent less than the asking price, you should make a bid that's about eight to 10 percent lower than what the seller is asking.
10. Hire a home inspector.
Sure, your lender will require a home appraisal anyway. But that's just the bank's way of determining whether the house is worth the price you've agreed to pay. Separately, you should hire your own home inspector, preferably an engineer with experience in doing home surveys in the area where you are buying. His or her job will be to point out potential problems that could require costly repairs down the road.
The costly mistakes home sellers often make:
Mistake 1: Putting the home on the market before it's ready. This often happens because the seller gets impatient or is a procrastinator and has pushed himself up against a moving deadline without getting the pre-sale work done. Presentation is everything -- so get the work done before marketing the property.
Mistake 2: Over improving the home for the neighborhood. Additions, bump outs, and upgrades that make the home stick out from its competitors make it an anomaly, instead of a nice addition to the community.
Mistake 3: Pricing the home based on what the seller wants to net. This pricing strategy always ends in failure. Sellers can control the "asking" price, but they don't control the "sales" price. The market does. It doesn't matter what the seller wants, the price is determined by the black-and-white, matter-of-fact reality of the market.
Mistake 4: Hiring an agent based on non-business factors. Make sure you're hiring a professional with a proven track record. It might be nice to hand over your largest asset to your nephew who just got his license -- but make sure he has a mentor to keep your deal from going south.
Mistake 5: Getting emotionally involved in the sale of the home. This is one of the biggest challenges home sellers face. Once you decide to sell your house, it's no longer a home, but a commodity. It needs to be prepared as a commodity, marketed as a commodity, and priced as a commodity. It doesn't matter what you "want," only what the market can bear on pricing.
Mistake 6: Trying to cover up problems, or not disclosing them. Most states have a property disclosure form -- use it wisely. Just because you disclaim doesn't mean you cannot be sued later for something that's discovered 30 days after closing.
Mistake 7: Not getting each item lined up before trying to sell. This would involve financing, reading the fine print on your current mortgage to ensure no pre-payment penalties, not listening to the particulars of your local market, etc. If your local market is dictating lower home prices, then lower it early, not later -- it will cost you more if you wait. If the local market dictates selling your home first, then buying second, do it in that order.
Avoiding these mistakes is not that difficult. There are plenty of resources (like this publication) and professionals, who are there to help you step over the pitfalls. Do the research early, and listen to that voice in your head (it's probably the whispers of the finance, real estate, insurance person who's warning you of a hole you're about to step into). Sell well. Sell wisely.
If you have questions about short sales in Vero Beach, please visit our Short Sale page.