It’s a tough time to buy a house. Nationwide U.S. house prices rose to their highest levels ever in November and have stayed elevated, according to the Case-Shiller Index tracking single-family home sales. Residential inventories also reached their lowest levels on record during the first three months of 2017, the real estate data site Trulia reported.
With high prices and low supply, homebuyers have to tackle the buying process differently than they would in a flat or down market. If you can, it may be worthwhile to wait to buy a house until the market cycle changes. However, that’s not always an option.
Preparation is key
In a seller’s market you’ll be competing with other motivated buyers for the house you want, so there’s a benefit to acting quickly. If you take these steps to prepare, you can be fast and competitive without being frantic.
- Have your finances in order. Repair any issues to your credit rating; save as much as you can for down payment; and apply for a preapproval from your mortgage lender. If you can come to the negotiating table with a large down payment (20 percent or more is ideal) and your financing secured, you will be able to close your purchase more quickly.
- Research. Investigate the kind of houses you are interested in and the price range you can afford. Know your target neighborhoods before you start looking. When you search, start below your minimum range, with the expectation that you may have to make a better offer if there are competing bids.
- Get a good agent. In a tight market, having a reputable real estate agent with a good track record can give you an edge. Spend some time finding an agent who knows your target neighborhood and who can lend their expertise in closing a deal in a competitive marketplace. Now may not be a good time to work with someone new to real estate.
Land your dream home
Your finances are ready; you’ve researched what you want; and you secured the help you need. Here are the next steps to landing your dream home in a tight market.
- Be nimble, be flexible. Now you should be primed to quickly investigate new listings within hours of their first posting, if possible. If you’re interested in a house but an inspection finds a few flaws, you may have to be flexible about accepting a house with a few quirks or in need of some repairs.
- Make a strong offer. A seller’s market isn’t a time to lowball your first offer on a house you want. If you’ve prepared and set your expectations below your minimum price range, you should be able to make a strong offer to make sure you are among the most attractive bidders. You shouldn’t wildly overpay, but making a strategic offer above the listing price may sweeten the deal enough to close quickly.
- Earnest money. You may consider offering an “earnest money” deposit to show you are serious. Just understand that you may forfeit your deposit if you later change your mind.
- Few strings. Try to make your offer as simple as possible. The more contingencies, the more room for someone else to sneak in and snap up your target home. Flexible move in dates may help the seller navigate their purchase. Having to sell your home before buying theirs may create a snag versus another offer.
There are many resources available to you to navigate the home-buying waters. Spend some time finding the resources that work best for you and your situation.