If you are a serious home buyer, the absolute best time of the year to buy is between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, even extending through Super Bowl Sunday in many cities. The reasons are (1) few home buyers are in the market during the holiday season so competition is low and (2) house and condo sellers who have their homes listed for sale now are usually highly motivated to sell and will listen to any reasonable purchase offer.

There is an additional special reason the 2006 holiday season is a great time to be a home buyer: it’s a home “buyer’s market” in most communities. That means even during this slow holiday season, when most unmotivated sellers take their listings off the market, there are more homes listed for sale than there are qualified buyers searching for homes.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

However, thousands of home sales take place during this “slow season.” New-home builders are anxious to close sales by Dec. 31, 2006, so they are offering amazing sales incentives such as (1) no mortgage payments for several months, (2) free upgrades, (3) no closing costs, (4) 100 percent mortgage financing, and (5) even reduced sales prices.

But sales incentives for buyers of resale homes are different. Motivated sellers (and their anxious listing agents) are willing to listen to all reasonable purchase offers. Buyer negotiation strategies include asking for the seller to pay the mortgage loan fee and/or nonrecurring closing costs. In other words, it’s a great time to be a home buyer.

HOME SELLER BENEFITS OF SELLING DURING THE SLOW SEASON. If you are a motivated home seller, especially in the lower price ranges in your community, this can be a superb time of year to sell.

Buyers who are in the market now are usually very anxious to buy, perhaps motivated by a job transfer, marriage or divorce, birth or death in the family, down-payment gift from parents, year-end salary bonus, or other buying incentives.

As a home seller, you won’t have as many prospective buyers as during the peak home sales season of March through June in most communities, but home buyers at this time of year are usually very serious.

For example, many home buyers want to close their purchases by Dec. 31 to claim the extra tax deductions, such as for loan fee points, pro-rated property taxes, and prepaid mortgage interest. However, if you can’t move out by year-end, you can probably rent-back for a month or two from the buyer providing the sale is recorded before New Year’s Day.

An extra seller bonus is if the home was your principal residence at least 24 of the last 60 months before the sale, Internal Revenue Code 121 gives you up to $250,000 tax-free capital gains (up to $500,000 for a qualified married couple filing a joint tax return).

HOW TO EARN TOP DOLLAR FROM YOUR HOME SALE. To earn top dollar from your home sale requires making your residence show its best. Although the weather outside might not be perfect, the interior of your home can sparkle.

The most profitable but least expensive home improvements include painting, cleaning and repairing. Fresh interior paint is, by far, the most profitable improvement. Other profitable moneymakers that add more market value than they cost include new light fixtures, new carpets and flooring, and new plumbing fixtures. Your goal should be to make the residence as close to a “model home” as possible.

A recent innovation for home sellers who want to sell for top dollar is to “stage” the residence. That means a professional decorator or “stager” refurbishes the residence, often removing the seller’s dingy old furniture and bringing in rented furnishings to show prospective buyers how desirable your home really is. Spending several thousand dollars for home staging usually pays off with a faster sale for top dollar.

HIRE THE BEST LISTING AGENT. If your home is not already listed for sale, interviewing at least three successful local real estate agents can pay off in many ways. Even if you think you can sell your home alone (called “for sale by owner,” or “FSBO”) without a professional agent, interviewing three or more agents will show you the market value of your residence.

The agents you interview won’t mind. The reason is they know most FSBOs decide within 30 to 60 days to hire a professional agent, usually one of the agents already interviewed.

Five key questions to ask each interviewed agent include:

1. HOW MUCH CAN YOU GET FOR MY HOME? This is a trick question. Ask it anyway. After inspecting your home, each agent should prepare a written CMA (comparative market analysis). Disregard any agent who doesn’t give you a CMA.

Each CMA form shows (a) recent sales prices of comparable nearby homes within the last few months; (b) asking prices of similar neighborhood homes (your competition); and (c) asking prices of recently expired listings in the vicinity (usually overpriced). Based on the CMAs, each agent should then give you his/her opinion of your home’s market value. Beware of any agent who either estimates an abnormally high asking price (called “buying the listing”) or recommends a very low asking price (called “low balling”).

The key reason to interview at least three successful agents who sell homes in your vicinity is to compare their CMAs, their recommended asking prices, and their client references.

2. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE YOU TO SELL MY HOME? The best agents will recommend a 90-day listing. That is plenty of time for a successful agent to sell your home. If your listing doesn’t sell within 90 days, but you are pleased with the agent’s service, you can always renew. However, if you selected a “bad agent” then you are not stuck for a long term.

Some agents, when begging for a longer listing, will point to “average days on the market” your community, which might be 110 days. If an agent says that, your instant reply should be, “Well, I don’t want to hire just an average agent. Do you know any superior agents?”

However, if the best agent interviewed insists on a listing term longer than 90 days, be sure it contains an unconditional cancellation clause after 90 days. Then you won’t get stuck with a lazy or incompetent agent for a long time period.

3. WHAT IS YOUR MARKETING PLAN FOR MY HOME? The best agents will anticipate this question and hand you a prepared marketing plan for your home.

Such a plan should include at a minimum use of the local MLS (multiple listing service), listings on Internet Web sites including www.Realtor.com, advertising in newspapers and local home sales magazines, weekend open houses, and special broker agent tours.

4. HOW MANY LISTINGS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE AND WHAT PERCENT OF YOUR LISTINGS SOLD IN 2006? The answer will reveal a “numbers agent” who has lots of listings but sells only a low percentage.

Ask how many assistants each agent has and if you will be dealing with the agent or an assistant. Inquire how often you will hear from the agent with progress on the sale of your home. The answer should be “at least once a week.”

Solo agents without assistants can usually handle 15 to 20 listings at most. New, inexperienced agents might have only a few listings, but perhaps they can devote more time to getting your home sold. However, be wary of any part-time agent unless that agent comes very highly recommended by a trusted friend or relative.

5. WHAT ARE THE NAMES AND PHONES OF YOUR LAST FIVE HOME SELLERS? The best agents will anticipate this key question in their listing presentations. Before signing a listing, take time to phone each agent’s seller references to ask, “Were you in any way unhappy with your agent and would you list another home with the same agent again?”

COUNTEROFFER EVERY OFFER. Especially during this slow holiday home sales season, when you receive a purchase offer, if it is not acceptable be sure to make a written counteroffer. Many buyers love to negotiate and test home sellers (and their agents). A counteroffer will keep negotiations open to show if the buyer is serious and if there is any possibility of a sale.

But bear in mind an old real estate motto: “The first offer is often the best offer.” If the first purchase offer you receive is acceptable, grab it rather than risk losing that buyer during this slowest sales season.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center
).

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