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Moves to make


Always dreamed of being in the right place at the right time? You may be right now.

As real estate market cools, 'buys' return

After five years of sizzling growth, U.S. home price appreciation is showing signs of cooling.

Pending home sales -- a leading market indicator -- are down from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. In many of the nation's hottest markets, brokers also are reporting a growing gap between sellers' asking prices and what purchasers are willing to pay.

For prospective home buyers, the market shift provides a chance to remaster an old negotiating tactic: the art of the lowball offer. Strategies for securing a below-market price vary by locality. In any region, however, experts say bargain-hunting buyers can close favorable deals by applying a few basic principles.

The art of the lowball offer
As real estate markets change, you've got a better chance to buy at lower prices. Here are eight tips to maximize your chances of having your lowball offer accepted.
8 bargain-hunting tips
1. Shop in the off-season.
2. Accept imperfections.
3. Rejection is healthy.
4. Make many offers.
5. Find a guide.
6. Look for motivated sellers.
7. Offer incentives.
8. Don't fixate on list price.

Shop in the off-season
The best time to buy a house is the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, says Robert Irwin, a real estate author and investor. Why? No one is looking.

"The only ones out there are people who desperately need a home or investors looking for a bargain," says Irwin.

By the same logic, early spring ranks among the worst times to make a deeply discounted offer. It's a popular time for sellers to put homes on the market, taking advantage of pleasant weather, longer daylight hours and heightened interest among buyers.

That seasonal pattern applies to most of the country. But warm climates might be the exception. Florida, Arizona and other locales popular with sun-seekers are likely to see high levels of home-buying activity in winter.

Accept imperfections
Lots of buyers are looking for spacious, well-maintained homes in upscale neighborhoods. Few will find bargains meeting that description.

To secure a low price on a home, buyers ought to accept a few shortcomings, says Ilyce Glink, a real estate writer and talk show host. This might mean a property that needs repairs or faces a busy street. It could also be a home in a more run-down neighborhood that appears to be improving.

Just don't be reckless. Buyers might be tempted by the price of a local "handyman's special." Such homes can be quite profitable for do-it-yourselfers or investors with experience in renovations.

But if you're not handy and don't know any reliable building contractors, it's probably wise to pass, says Curt Darragh, president of the Mid-Hudson Valley Real Estate Investment Club. If you do pursue the purchase, Darragh recommends getting a professional estimate for the cost of repairs and upgrades.

Rejection is healthy
Unless it's truly the house of your dreams, don't be upset if a seller turns down your initial offers. Rejection is a normal part of the negotiating process. Some would even call it essential.

"Never make an offer you think they will accept," says Thomas Early, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, who lists rejection as his first rule of savvy home buying.

His second rule? More rejection.

"Make the seller say 'no' at least twice. It's too easy to say no the first time."

Granted, that strategy doesn't work everywhere. Early wouldn't recommend it for competitive real estate markets like San Francisco or Boston, where it's been common in recent years for sellers to get multiple offers above the asking price. But for Early's practice in Columbus, Ohio, where homes sell for an average of 94 percent of listing price, he finds the method works well.

-- Posted: March 1, 2006
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