Lower prices and potential housing market deals alone shouldn't be enough to commit you to buying a home. Get to know your home-buying self first.
More home buyers have a better chance now than at any other time in nearly a half decade to negotiate a home-buying deal that costs less and comes with some concessions thrown in.
In many locations, buyers will find a glut of new homes, more motivated sellers, foreclosures, auctions, short sales and other market conditions that can make it a really good time to buy.
That doesn't mean throw caution to the wind.
The same conditions that lure buyers to market also lure misfits looking to cash in on your unfettered haste and the waste left from a boom market gone bust.
No matter what the market conditions, it's also always a buyers' beware market, now perhaps more than ever.
Here's how to begin to navigate today's housing market, step-by-step, and make a good deal without getting taken.
Begin with making a personal "right-time-to-buy" decision
If you stretch financially beyond your means to go after lower-priced homes, foreclosures or short sales, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Today's housing market is littered with home owners who borrowed more than they could afford.
On the other hand, if you wait for prices to fall further you could miss out on a good deal. No one knows when the market hits bottom until it begins a sustained upward turn and you can look back and actually see bottom.
Buy now because it's the right thing to do for you, because you need a roof over your head, because it's more affordable than renting and because you plan on sticking with the home long enough to make the deal pay off. Buy because homeownership is integral to your budget, your lifestyle and your goals.
Get to know the many facets of home buying
You've got a lot to learn, but obtaining a broad base of knowledge about the home-buying process is a relatively easy task, requiring only your time and attention. A glut of information is available on the Internet, from real estate industry-sponsored seminars and workshops and through a vast library of real estate guide books.
You can also sit down with real estate agents (including exclusive buyers' agents, who never represent sellers), mortgage brokers, loan officers and accredited home ownership counselors. Post-secondary education at colleges and universities is also available.
Get to know your local market
Accept national news for what it is, a broad brush stroke of current events. You want housing news and information that really hits home. Get your housing market information from credible publications and broadcasts covering your market.
Part of your homework should include learning the boundaries of your buyer's market. Your market can be designated by a ZIP code, a small neighborhood, a greater community or some larger region.
Learn your property's true value
Whether it's a new home, resale property, foreclosure or short sale, learn the true value of any property you are considering. Uneducated buyers tend to lowball sellers and ask for too many concessions. That can alienate the seller, especially those less motivated with top-value homes. Likewise, knowledge helps prevent you from spending too much.
In both cases, use a real estate agent schooled in the history of local market trends and statistics. See comparables, track sale prices in your shopping area, use the local newspaper, online listing and for sale sites and other sources, to keep tabs on asking prices. Also visit open houses.
Check your credit
Your credit report is free from AnnualCreditReport.com, the only federally regulated source. You may have to pay a nominal fee for your credit score (a numerical scoring of your creditworthiness) depending upon your state law and other factors. But see both your score and your report. You may need to request corrections or adjust your credit habits to generate the best report and score -- before you start home loan shopping.
Get your cash in the pipeline
Get approved -- in writing -- for a mortgage. Use your newly gained knowledge to shop around -- a lot -- for a home loan. Shop online and off. Shop mortgage brokers, loan officers, credit unions and other lenders. Shop where you bank, shop where you don't. The key is exhaustive comparison shipping to get the most money at the cheapest rate.
Broderick Perkins parlayed 30 years of old-school journalism into a digital real estate news service, the DeadlineNews Group, offering "News that really hits home!"™. The Silicon Valley bootstrap includes the Web site DeadlineNews.Com and the back shop Deadline Newsroom. Contact him at email@example.com.