Get the Edge in a Sellers Market
Stephen Hussey, a Boston-area home inspector and real estate agent, sees it too often: home buyers blowing deals because they simply weren't ready to compete in today's fiercely competitive housing market.
Up against five or more bidders for the same home, these slow-off-the-mark shoppers did not prepare well, and then blamed themselves or others for not nabbing the dream home that seemed within their grasp.
"When it comes time to pull the trigger, you have to know what to do and move fast," said Hussey, a home inspector at JMC Associates in South Boston and a real estate agent at Meridian Realty in the Back Bay. "You have to be as proactive as possible." At a time when sellers are gladly fielding multiple bids, real estate specialists say the edge usually goes to those who have done their homework, nailed down financing, screened and hired a trusted real estate agent and home inspector, written advance purchase-offer letters, and mapped out a clear, disciplined bidding strategy.
Here is a quick guide to moving fast...
See how fast homes are selling in your target market -- and how much above asking price. Then once you get over the shell shock, think about expanding outward to other communities -- and do your homework there, too. Sarno said he has seen people with their hearts set on living in trendy Cambridge, Somerville, or Arlington, only to be overwhelmed by the mass of buyers at open houses and the high bids offered right away.
When Sarno suggests those buyers widen their search to less expensive communities -- in this case, Medford, Melrose, or Malden -- they usually haven't researched those markets properly and their slow reaction can cost them even more deals.
There are a lot of pitfalls in getting a mortgage, and even the most careful buyer can overlook something as simple as an expiration date.
First, understand that being "prequalified" doesn't mean you are ready to close fast. Prequalified is usually an informal, tentative agreement from a lender that establishes the rough parameters for a future mortgage, said Vincent Gregory, a vice president and regional sales manager at Rockland Trust.
Being "preapproved" is a more rigorous process and puts a buyer in a better position to move fast. This entails providing the gamut of financial info -- pay stubs, tax returns, etc. -- so lenders can calculate what they might offer, Gregory said. During this process, lenders will also check your credit history, so it makes sense to beat them to it and review your credit records for accuracy.
Even then, some people with preapprovals forget the offers are usually good for only 90 days. Banks also reserve the right to change terms if interest rates rise, as they have in recent months, Gregory said.
Those changes can slow the bidding and closing process, so stay in close contact with the lender that provided the preapproval.
Kimberly Allard-Moccia, a broker at Century 21 Professionals in Braintree and president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, said she has seen buyers blow last-minute deals because they weren't aware their mortgage agreement was either inadequate or expired.
"Many sellers in this market don't even want nonapproved people in their homes," said Allard-Moccia.
To speed through the shopping part, buyers should have a firm idea of "must-haves" and "desirable but not critical" items that they can quickly check off while touring homes. Also expect most homes to attract multiple bids -- often 5 percent or more above asking price -- so make sure you know beforehand what your absolute limit is.
Allard-Moccia said it helps to have cash handy for an immediate deposit -- usually about $1,000 upfront and an agreed-upon additional amount within about 10 days. A deal can fall apart over deposit mishaps, she warned.
Real estate specialists said buyers can move more quickly if they already have a polished letter drawn up, that includes polite, flattering things about the seller's home. Faced with similar bids, a seller may well go with someone they like.
One real estate agent knows of a buyer who won a bidding contest because she mentioned in an offer letter that she was a single mom, while another bidder landed the purchase because he had mentioned he was a war veteran.
Make sure you have a home inspector lined up before making an offer.
Buyers should never waive their right to have a home inspected before a purchase, even if the seller is pressuring you to do so. Instead have an inspector at the ready, who is willing to show up right away. You can head off trouble by including a clause in the offer letter that you won't renegotiate if the inspection finds less than, say $5,000 in potential repairs.
The bottom line is that sellers are in the driver's seat in the current market, and they tend to want organized, disciplined, and serious buyers who can distinguish themselves from the pack if all bid offers are roughly equal.
"People are going up against veteran buyers who have bid on a number of homes already," said Sarno. "You have to be prepared."