real estate

12 reliable real estate tips for 2012

Steve McLindenTo buy or sell in 2012, what with Armageddon coming and all? Absent any ancient Mayan wisdom on real estate strategies, let's just hope the real cataclysmic event in the real estate market already has passed, even if the rubble from the bubble remains.

A stubborn overstock of households with loans higher than their value will continue to restrain prices and create some major obstacles for sellers in 2012, a year that's shaping up to be another homebuyer's market. In fact, recent studies indicate that more than 20 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage are still underwater, hinting that many foreclosures and workouts are still to come.

However, even the most conservative forecasts call for growth in home sales in 2012, with some select pockets around the country already busting out where there are competitive offers on new listings. More than one-third of home resales were made to first-time buyers in 2011 -- another good sign.

Meanwhile, here are 12 tips for 2012, aimed largely at the group that needs the most help -- home sellers.

Tip 1Price it right from the get-go

The old-school strategy of real estate sellers crossing their arms and holding out for a better offer will be brushed off by most homebuyers. Consider that of the homes that took four months or more to sell in the past year, almost half of their owners accepted less than 90 percent of the asking price, according to the National Association of Realtors. For a gauge, have your agent produce the latest comparable sales including short sales and foreclosures as well as a recent summary of sales prices versus original list prices. But be wary that such information doesn't reflect the homes that failed to sell.

Tip 2Put your best footage forward

Prep, paint, stage, scrub, improve, repeat. Efforts can include caulking, plastering, planting flowers, adding potted plants, making the windows spotless, pressure washing that oily driveway, edging the walks, trimming the bushes and trees, and mending the fences. None of these is excessively capital-intensive, but when applied en masse, they say "buy me."

Tip 3Be flexible

I'm not saying bend over backward to accommodate real estate buyers. Bend forward and sideways, too. Be ready to negotiate and offer extras such as closing costs, paid property taxes, remodeling work (or a cash credit), appliances, paid condo association/homeowner association dues, a few months of mortgage payments or even seller financing. Home sellers who've been on the sidelines and who advised their agents to ignore offers by lowballers don't have that luxury now. Instruct your agent to listen intently to prospective homebuyers' misgivings about the home and adjust accordingly and immediately.

Tip 4Trump your techno-fears

Hire a listing agent steeped in mobile platforms. Sellers and buyers are routinely using Facebook and other social media to sell and seek, not to mention dozens of online selling sites. Some owners are even making YouTube videos to showcase their homes, making it easier to quickly link to potential buyers via email. There's also an abundance of smartphone apps cropping up to review real estate listings and refine searches. 

Tip 5Don't fall prey

Fraudsters are targeting distressed homeowners with "deals" that can sound perfectly legit. Some offer loan modifications for upfront fees while others offer fee-based "help" in navigating government housing assistance programs, sometimes claiming they're attorneys.

There are also con-artist "investors" compelling desperate owners to sign over their homes with quitclaim deeds in return for a typically empty promise to remain there indefinitely. Others are telling former owners they can get their homes back for a lump sum. Be forewarned: Never sign blank documents or documents with blank lines.

If you're unsure of an offer, have an attorney or other trusted adviser look it over. Keep in mind that a law barring firms -- except attorneys -- from charging upfront fees for mortgage relief or mortgage modification took effect in 2011. It's called the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule.

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