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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
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Make many offers
Bargain-oriented buyers should also plan to make offers on several homes, says Irwin. An investor who makes lowball offers on 10 houses is more likely to find a willing seller than one who pursues only one or two properties.

That said, Irwin doesn't see much point in making wildly underpriced offers. They're rarely accepted.

Find a guide
When you see a great-looking house in a real estate circular, you might be tempted to call the agent listed by the photo. That could be a mistake.

"A lot of buyers think that 'If I call the listing agent, I'll get a better deal.' That's not true," said Bob Wilson, an agent with the Guiltinan Group in San Diego County. Because listing agents have a duty to get the best possible price for the seller, they're not suitable advisers for crafting a lowball offer.

Buyers need someone to represent their interests. Typically, that person is a buyer's agent, who researches listings exclusively for a home seeker. When a purchase closes, the buyer's agent normally splits the sales commission with the seller's Realtor. In most states the buyer's agent is required to deal with the seller honestly but, unlike the listing agent, is under no obligation to get the highest possible price for the seller.

A good buyer's agent earns much more than the 2 percent to 3 percent commission, says Glink. That's because buyers don't have the deep knowledge of neighborhoods, comparable homes and current prices of an experienced agent.

"Your agent is more than just someone who drives you around," says Glink. "Your agent is supposed to be your eyes and your ears, helping you sift through what information is valuable or not when constructing an offer."

Look for motivated sellers
The more desperate homeowners are to sell, the more likely they are to accept discounted offers. Therefore, bargain hunters should be on the lookout for homeowners anxious to unload their properties.

One strategy that broker Chris Edwards of Raleigh, N.C., recommends is to look for listings that have been on the market longer than normal. In Edwards' market, a well-kept home in a good neighborhood typically sells within a month. Sellers with homes on the market two months or more are probably more receptive to lower offers.

Another tactic Wilson suggests is to keep watch for announcements of large-scale company layoffs, closures or relocations. In the months to follow, large numbers of affected employees are likely to be selling their homes. This could provide a buying opportunity.

Offer incentives
This strategy works best for people with some experience in real-estate investing. The basic premise: If you offer a lower price than sellers expect, you need to give them a reason to take your offer.

Darragh's favorite incentives include offering to close quickly, to pay in cash and to attach few contingencies to completing the deal. Such offers, he says, are particularly attractive to homeowners under duress, who might be facing foreclosure, struggling with debt or forced to relocate.

Don't fixate on list price
The true value of a home might not be reflected in its listed price. A property's listed price simply reflects what a seller hopes to get, usually based at least in part on selling prices of similar homes.

Glink cautions buyers against taking too much glee in getting a property substantially below list. In some cases, initial list prices are so inflated that even a buyer who negotiates a substantial discount still overpays.

"It's no indication of what you should pay," says Irwin. "You have to do your own analysis."

Joanna Glasner is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

-- Posted: March 1, 2006
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