Buyers and real estate agents alike have discovered that fall can be a great time for buying a home. Sellers are more willing to negotiate, and the combination of eager sellers and bargain-hungry buyers has created a home buying season that rivals the active spring season.
This year’s fall season is shaping up to be one of the best in years. After double-digit price increases over the past two years at the national level, prices for the rest of 2014 are expected to moderate. A more robust inventory means buyers should see better options than they did in 2013.
Here are five tips to help you find the perfect house at the best price during the 2014 fall season.
1. Keep an eye out for new listings. Compared to the spring and summer, fewer fall listings will be fresh. Buyers should carefully monitor the neighborhoods where they want to move to find the newest listings by using two or three different kinds of sites, including national sites such as www.realtor.com, sites of the top local brokers, and a regional site such as MLS.
2. Beware of re-listings. Market times, or the actual time a property is listed on an MLS, can be longer in the fall than in the spring or summer months. If you are looking at a house that exceeds the median market time for your area, make it a priority to find out why it hasn’t sold. You can find your median market time on well-known national real estate websites, or your agent can find out from the local MLS.
Some sellers will make their listing look new by pulling it from the MLS and relisting it after a period of time. While a house that has been listed, pulled, and re-listed isn’t by itself a red flag, you should find out why the house hasn’t sold. On a more positive note: You might be looking at a seller who is more eager to negotiate.
(Read more: Buying a Home? Know What it Really Costs )
3. Remember that listing photos paint a seasonal picture. Many sellers dedicate significant financial resources on photography and videos to make their houses sparkle in online listings. Few sellers change their photographs with the changing season. Typically the seller will show the property as it appears in the spring or summer, when flowers and trees are blooming. Keep in mind that these exteriors might look very different and privacy considerations may change once leaves fall.
TIP: Before touring a home, it’s a good idea to drive by to see what it looks like in the fall. After you’ve done this for all of the homes in which you are interested, you may be in a position to narrow your selection.
4. Be ready to move quickly. With winter around the corner, many sellers are in a position to negotiate quickly, and you should be, too. Be sure to get pre-approved for a mortgage, and once your offer is accepted, be prepared to have an inspection done soon after. Real estate service providers, including inspectors, will be less busy in the fall —some may even be less expensive.
Find a lender who can move fast to get an appraisal and do the underwriting. If your appraisal comes in lower than the sale price, consider asking the seller to lower the price of the home in order to make the deal work
TIP: Consider a quick closing. By closing prior to year end, you can apply to your 2014 tax return the mortgage interest deduction, property taxes, and other fees or taxes associated with the purchase. It’s also in your best interest to lock in a rate on a mortgage sooner rather than later.
5. Look for remodeling deals. Growth in home improvement activity is expected to peak during the second half of 2014 and then begin to ease this fall and winter, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. That means remodeling contractors will be less busy and more eager to negotiate a price at about the same time you’re moving into your new home and need some work done.
Before you begin your fall house hunt, put together a timeline for every step in the process: pre-approval, search, offer, inspection, appraisal, loan approval, title search, closing, remodeling, and moving. Review your timeline with your real estate agent to make sure that your timing is realistic and your plan is complete.
Steve Cook is executive vice president of Reecon Advisors and covers government and industry news for the Reecon Advisory Report. He is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate companies, financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.