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The Real Estate Adviser

Top 10 resolutions for home buyers and sellers

Planning to buy or sell a home in the New Year? Then there's no time like the present to gyrate into action.

True, the peak home-selling/home-buying season starts around early April and ends in July, say the folks at the National Association of Realtors. That's when the most home inventory is available and when most buyers are looking.

But there's plenty of prep work to do in the meantime that can spare you a lot of stress, and maybe even spare you some extra bucks come spring. So make your New Year's resolution to be ready for the selling or buying process, or both. Be that first robin in the winter. Some early-bird spoils may await you!

If you're selling, resolve to:

Clear. That lived-in look makes your home feel comfy. But chances are, you've accumulated a lot of "stuff" that may detract from its presentation when potential buyers are touring the place. Do a pre-spring cleaning -- in January or February. Put unneeded items and attic fodder aside for an early spring garage sale. If your place is "generously" furnished, shop around for a self-storage unit and plan to put some of the bigger pieces there before your home goes on the market -- ideally, using the proceeds from the garage sale to pay the storage fee. Buyers want to see space and envision what they can do with it.

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Clean. Spruce up the oven and other appliances, windows and window treatments, overhead fans, bathtubs, commodes, sinks and other fixtures. Clean smudges around door knobs, door handles and light switches. Replace, or at least clean, old carpets. If you're going to paint or wallpaper (and you probably should), go white or light if possible. And replace burned-out bulbs inside and out. Brightness emphasizes space. A new exterior paint job might be in order, too. Know that most of your fix-up investments will be recouped in a higher sales price.

Clip. Trim the trees and hedges, rake the leaves and remove other lawn debris. When it gets closer to "show time," cut the lawn frequently and plant some new flowers near the entryway.

Give your house curb appeal. First impressions are huge in the home-selling game.

Contact. Secure a real estate agent weeks in advance of your market debut, and have him or her tour your place and make suggestions. But interview several first before you pick a real estate agent. That is, if you plan to use a real estate agent.

If you're going the "sell-owner" route, consult the various sell-owner Web sites for tips or call their local offices for helpful materials. Ask a friend (or maybe just an acquaintance) for an objective perspective on your home's marketability. Ask if there are any noticeable lingering odors or other detractors. Hire your own home inspector, who can point out any unseen major flaws in your property, particularly with plumbing, heating or your foundation.

Consider. Realize your local taxing district's appraisal value of your place may not reflect its true market value. A professional real estate appraiser might give you a better frame of reference to determine your asking price by factoring in the home's condition and recent "comps," or sales of comparable residences. A good agent might have the same "comp" data.

If you'll be buying a house in 2004, resolve to:

Set priorities. Ask yourself questions about your basic needs to build a solid home-search foundation. What parts of town would you live in? Would you consider an older home in the right part of town, even if you had your heart set on a new one, or vice versa? Do you need to be near public transportation? What school district would be the most advantageous for your kids? What style of house appeals to you most? Do you need a fenced yard for your dog(s)? How much square footage do you need and how many bedrooms and bathrooms would you prefer? What community amenities would you like? It all sounds perfunctory. But write it down anyway. This is helpful data you can quickly offer to an agent or refer to yourself. And it can be the beginning of a journal you can keep to help organize the process.

Examine your finances. See where you stand. Get a copy of your credit report and correct any errors on it. Establish how much you can afford to spend, based on your income, debt, assets and any equity you may be getting out of your current home, if you currently own. Familiarize yourself with the fees involved in home buying (appraisal fees, application fees, points). Then do a little preliminary comparison-price shopping for a mortgage loan, either through local lenders or the Internet or both.

Do your homework. Know what you're getting into. This is especially important if you're moving to another city. If you're being transferred, and you have some buffer time, make more than just a cursory visit to the city where you'll be living. Research neighborhoods, schools and crime rates. Talk with a few residents in your target subdivision or community. You might even put your belongings in storage and rent a place for six months while you scope out a new town's offerings.

Find an agent. If you'll be using an agent, interview several before you pick one. A buyer's agent, you can be assured, will be representing your needs only, and not another party in the transaction. But you needn't wait for agent. Get a head start by checking out the dozens of Web sites that have photos and information of hundreds of available homes in virtually any market.

Get loan approval. Get pre-approved -- not just pre-qualified -- for a mortgage amount in your desired price range well before you make an offer to buy a home. This way, your credit, down payment, and employment history have all been checked and you won't be wasting anyone's time, including your own, when you're ready to wheel and deal.

-- Posted: Dec. 29, 2003

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See Also
60 money resolutions for 2004
First time home buyer guide

Give your house curb appeal

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