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Buying or selling a home? Off-season can be prime
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Buyers

  • There's less competition. How many times did that darling house you had your eye on in May get bought out from under you while you and your spouse talked over making an offer the very next day?
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  • Sellers are often pressured. Motivation is critical in any real estate situation. Find out how long the house has been on the market. If it's been hanging around awhile, there's a good chance the seller is getting antsy. Sellers frequently drop their price -- especially as Christmas draws near -- giving buyers lower down payments and closing costs. If it went on the market after the peak season ended, the seller may have a pressing reason to sell, such as a job transfer, financial problems, divorce or illness to name just a few.
  • Tax considerations. When you buy a new home before the end of the year, you'll be able to report items such as mortgage interest, points, closing costs, property taxes and more on your tax return.
  • Interest rates. If you're ready to buy, waiting until next spring can spell disaster. Many experts think we've seen the end of record-low interest rates and that mortgage rates will only go up from here.
  • Beating price hikes. As high as the prices may seem to you now, chances are they'll only be higher when a new real estate season starts in March.
  • Dils and Hankner offer these other cool-weather tips for fall/winter buyers and sellers:

    Sellers:

    • Make sure your home is priced right. Many real estate professionals think price, price, price is just as important as location, location, location.
    • Take advantage of the lack of competition and work with your real estate agent to make sure your home makes a great first impression.
    • Go the extra mile to make sure exterior landscapes are well maintained. Gardens tend to look a bit bare in the cooler months. Brighten up bare garden spots with seasonal plants. Rake leaves, prune back spent plants and shrubs and keep sidewalks and driveways clear of snow or ice.
    • Check your heating system as part of your pre-sale inspection. Does it make strange noises, emit odd smells or simply not work very well? If you can't afford to make repairs in advance, get written bids and share them with potential buyers. It takes away a lot of 'unknowns' about potential expenses.
    • Repair or reinstall storm windows, if you have them. A warm house is a definite asset during the fall and winter.
    • Don't skimp on holiday decorations. Autumn wreaths and holiday lights make homes look great at this time of year.
    • Bring in the light. Wash all windows, open drapes or blinds, and turn on lamps. Buyers are attracted to light-filled homes during the darker months.
    • Keep small valuables out of sight, but don't fret too much about holiday packages disappearing from under a Christmas tree. Agents keep a close eye on prospective buyers who tour homes. Their reputation hinges on keeping your home safe.

    Buyers:

    • Keep in mind that days run shorter during the fall and winter. Plan on allowing more time to tour homes during the day and on weekends, rather than in the evenings after work.
    • Take time to visit the local schools, once you find a home you like. It's much easier to get a sense of the schools and talk to administrators and teachers while school is in session.
    • Watch for signs of basement water damage or foundation drainage problems. Some areas have basement flooding in the spring, so you won't see actual water in the basement in fall or winter, but you'll see the effects of damage, such as discolorations on ceilings, walls or flooring.
    • Keep an eye out for good deals, especially if you're looking at houses in popular warm-weather spots, such as the coast. Some buyers forget that it's easier to get a good look at a house, and feel less pressured to make a quick decision, during the off-season.
    Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Updated: Nov. 14, 2005
     
     
    More stories by Teri Cettina
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