After the real estate market crash, housing prices have finally recovered, according to the Case-Shiller Housing Index. Although that's good for the economy overall, it can make it difficult to get a great deal when buying a house.
"Buyers want to comparison shop, but there's not as much to look at as there was during the big downturn," said 2016's National Association of Realtor's treasurer Michael McGrew, a realtor in Lawrence, Kan. "It's tougher now to squeeze nickels out of deals than it was a few years ago when the market was just beginning to recover." It might be tougher, but it's not impossible.
Click through to find out what it will cost you to close on a new home — and how to get the best deal.
1. Find a Great Lender and the Right Mortgage for You
The best lender will have access to grant programs, including first-time homebuyer programs and those for special down payment options, said Mark Ferguson, a real estate agent and creator of Invest Four More, which provides investing information.
Shopping around for the perfect lender could mean the difference between a great deal and a mediocre one — possibly costing a buyer thousands of dollars over time, according to tips from the Federal Reserve. A home loan might be the biggest financial commitment a person ever makes, so Ferguson suggested you do your homework to be sure the type of loan and lender are right for you.
2. Find a Good Real Estate Agent
A good agent could be the answer to finding the right price for your next house.
"A realtor constantly works through the inevitable bumps and humps of a home purchase," McGrew said. "These are complex, emotional transactions, and a realtor has the perspective and wisdom of doing this on a daily basis. It's invaluable."
If paying a full 3 percent more in commission might send you over your budget on the perfect deal, consider asking your real estate agent to give up part of the commission.
"If a buyer and seller are stuck over a couple thousand dollars, it's worth it to throw in some of my commission to make the deal happen," said Brad Pauly, a real estate broker and owner of Pauly Presley Realty in Austin, Texas. In most cases, agents are only paid when a deal goes through, he said.
3. Don’t Use a Real Estate Agent at All
In 2017, 8 percent of homes were bought through direct sales, meaning buyers purchased their homes without a real estate agent's help, according to the 2017 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. In that same year, 42 percent of homebuyers searched for their homes using a website or online application.
"The internet, the greatest democratizer of our time, is changing how homes are bought and sold," said Sissy Lappin, co-founder of for-sale-by-owner site ListingDoor. Through internet research, buyers and sellers can find their own data and get an unbiased sense of what a home is worth, Lappin said. That can mean big savings, especially on commission.
But buyer beware: "While you can find lots of do-it-yourself advice, that doesn't mean it's the best way to go," said McGrew. "When it comes to getting serious about buying a home, you want a realtor who knows the differences and nuances on deals because they do this every day."
4. Find the Lowest Interest Rate
Interest rates will depend at least partially on the lender, Ferguson said. If a buyer only goes to Wells Fargo, for example, they'll only be offered Wells Fargo rates. A mortgage broker could help the buyer get a better rate by becoming a one-stop shop for interest rate offers from many different banks.
"For the most part, they're going to be pretty similar rates based on your financial situation, but it all helps when you're wanting to get your total price down," Ferguson said.
5. Ask the Seller to Pay Closing Costs
Sellers don't like to sell their houses for less than they expected to get — particularly if it means their home sale was less successful than that of a neighbor's comparable sale, McGrew said. Instead of negotiating the price down, he suggested paying full price or maybe even a little more, then negotiating the less public numbers — like closing costs.
"It's a good way to get a few bucks back in your pocket and still give the seller that ego boost of getting the price they're asking," he said.
6. Get Your Money’s Worth in Extras
When it comes to a home sale, almost anything is negotiable, Pauly said. From appliances, like refrigerators and dishwashers, to furniture and potted plants, sellers might be willing to part with some of their belongings to make the home sale more appealing for the asking price.
"Everyone should always try to negotiate for these types of things once it's under contract," Pauly said. "You've got nothing to lose."
That goes especially for one of the most common "extras" — a one-year home warranty plan to cover parts of the house that could go bad right after purchase, like the air conditioning or the hot water heater. Although relatively inexpensive, warranties tend to make buyers feel more secure in their purchase and therefore feel that they're getting a better deal, Pauly said.
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7. Consider a Fixer-Upper
Some houses have lots of potential but almost no pizzazz. Those houses might offer the best deals. If buyers are willing to do easy cosmetic tasks — paint, for example, or fix a few broken floorboards — they might be able to get quite a deal, Ferguson said.
However, if the house is in too much disrepair, the price will be right, but getting approved for a loan for the home could prove impossible. Lenders have requirements for home condition, according to SFGATE.
8. Consider New Construction
If you don't want to deal with an old fixer-upper, go the opposite route and seek out new construction, said Collin Bond, an associate broker at Triplemint in New York.
Particularly in the case of new-construction condo buildings, developers might be looking to sell a certain percentage of units in the building. This makes it more appealing to other buyers and allows the developer to get construction loans to build more properties.
"The developers are often heavily leveraged, and this creates situations that allow buyers to capitalize, especially if you are one of the earlier purchasers in the building," Bond said. Less prime units — those on lower floors, with shared balconies, without great views — are also ripe for deals in new construction buildings, he said.
9. Buy During an Off-Peak Time
Even in places where bad winter weather isn't a factor, spring and summer are peak housing sales seasons, Pauly said. That's when the most homes are on the market and the most people are looking, according to Realtor.com.
If you can switch to an off-season home search, you could net an excellent deal, especially over the holiday season when only the most serious, or desperate, home sellers are listing, Ferguson said. Fewer buyers, after all, mean less competition.
It also means the challenge of a much smaller inventory of available homes, McGrew said. "You're not going to be able to comparison shop like in the high peak season," he added. "You might find something that might work, but the odds of you finding what you really want are going to be much slimmer."
10. Make Yourself an Ideal Buyer
Although most sellers look first at a buyer's initial offer, sellers also want to be sure they're dealing with a solid candidate, Ferguson said. Cash buyers have an extra advantage, as do buyers with great financing lined up.
"It's a very competitive housing environment, so if you don't have financing in hand, you're at a disadvantage," McGrew said. "The seller is going to be receiving more than one offer, and you're not going to be the one they'll consider most even if you offered more money. They want more money, but they definitely want less hassle and less stress, no strings attached."
Get your finances in order before looking to purchase. Then, be proactive in quickly putting an offer in on a house you love, he said.
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