Calling all HOUSE HUNTERS!!!

Before you go house hunting, arm yourself with some secret insider tips.

One of my favorite Disneyland experiences was the time I went with a neighbor who worked there. Although it was a crowded Fourth of July evening, my neighbor knew how to navigate around the park to avoid the crowds and the best spot for watching the fireworks.

That’s because he knew all the insider secrets.

Insider info can also benefit you greatly when house hunting. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you begin:

1. Look beyond the upgraded kitchen

When I was recently looking for investment property, I lost count of how many houses I saw that had stunning kitchens with brand-new appliances. But underfoot was a creaky unleveled floor … or the house had cracks in the foundation walls … or the backyard had water drainage issues.

The kitchen remodel in these cases was, as the saying goes, “like putting lipstick on a pig.” Many sellers hope you’ll fall for this ploy by not looking past the shiny stuff.

Be smart by hiring a home inspector to help you avoid possible costly repairs down the road. You can also do some screening on your own by looking for common problem areas.

Here’s what structural engineer Adam Green, CEO of Crosstown Engineering, says to look for:

  • Cracks in walls larger than ⅛ inch
  • Doors and windows that stick when opening
  • Sloping or uneven floors
  • Noticeable damage to the exterior (which indicates the property has been overlooked)

2. Land a house in a hot market

Nothing can be more frustrating than looking for a house in a popular area during a seller’s market. But there are ways to gain an advantage over the competition.

KXAN News of Austin, TX, reported in August 2014 that Austin was the “hottest real estate market in the country.”

Justine A. Smith, an Austin real estate agent, shares two strategies she uses to help her clients land their dream homes:

  • Smith pulls tax records of sellers to get information to use to write a personal note.
  • She also shares her buyers’ needs on social media and with other agents to find property not yet on the market.

3. Get the inside scoop 

It’s second nature for journalists and detectives to go below the surface to ferret out information. But even amateurs can discover some useful dirt.

Kate Shields, a board member of MORe, a real estate organization in Illinois, says to “go in stealth mode.” Look for a garage sale in the area and casually “ask the homeowner questions as you’re shopping.”

No garage sale? Ryan J. Halset, a Seattle real estate agent, says that “many neighbors are out watering their lawn just hoping you’ll come talk with them.” Halset has uncovered issues with a home just by starting a conversation with a neighbor.

Shields also recommends that buyers return to a property they like at night. “Those light-up billboards certainly aren’t that bright during the day.”

4. Use pricing psychology

You’ve probably heard that people are more likely to buy something that ends in a “9” instead of a “0,” such as being more willing to shell out for an item that costs $59 instead of $60.

Pricing strategy becomes important when you’re making an offer to a seller in a competitive market.

Brian Horan, a Los Angeles real estate broker, says not to “leave a ‘5’ or an ‘0’ at the end of a price.”

He gives this example: If the property is listed at $325,000 and you know there are three offers and that you will be offer number four, you might want to go about 3% higher and offer $335,000.

Don’t do it,” says Horan, who recommends that instead you offer $336,000, or even better, $341,000.

The important thing is to go one number over “5” or “0” to be the highest bid by just a little bit more.

5. Be the likable guy or gal

A seller attached to a home is typically more inclined to accept an offer from a buyer he or she likes.

Ryan Halset says to look around the home for “a shared area of interest.” Your agent can then personalize the offer cover letter from you this way: “I noticed that you have several books on Ireland, and I just recently visited there for a family reunion.”

“Be genuine,” says Halset. “A small connection can go a long way.”

Horan suggests that buyers have their picture taken in front of the house they wish to make an offer on. “When you submit a photo with you in front of the seller’s house, it psychologically allows the seller to picture you living there.”

6. Don’t be “afraid of no ghosts”

Channel your inner Ghostbuster for this tip, and do as Jenelle Isaacson, owner of Living Room Realty in Portland, OR, suggests: don’t be wary of homes where the owner passed away.

“If you see original wallpaper, pink Formica, and vinyl, pounce on it!” she says.

The reasoning is that “seniors usually take better care of their homes,” says Isaacson. “Quality finishes and maintaining the property always make a better home long term, even if you remodel after purchase.”


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