Figuring out how much to offer on a home you’d like to make your own is never easy. A complicating factor is that although it appears that the housing market may be stabilizing, there is no guarantee that prices won’t slip further.

With this in mind, don’t buy for the short term. Don’t buy betting on future appreciation. Buy a home that will work for you long term, at the best price you can negotiate, using financing you can afford.

To avoid paying too much, hook up with a real estate agent who will educate you about how much you’ll have to pay for a home that works for you. The Internet is a great resource to help you learn about neighborhoods, current listings and past sale prices.

However, a diligent, knowledgeable real estate agent who has experience helping people buy and sell homes in the area where you want to live can get you up to speed on what’s happening in that niche market now.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Ask your agent to give you a summary of all listings that you might have been interested in that sold during the last three months to six months, including list price, sale price and how long they took to sell. It’s also useful to have information about the change in average sale price over the past year. Have prices declined? Are they flat? Or are they rising?

Also, ask for a list of properties currently available and pending sale. A pending sale is one where the sellers have accepted an offer, but the sale hasn’t yet closed. Significantly more active listings than pending sales in an area suggests a high-inventory market where buyers have an advantage. Few active listings relative to pending sales is characteristic of a low-inventory market.

During your house-hunting education, make sure your agent reports back to you about day-to-day changes in the market. If an overpriced listing has a price reduction and is now in your price range, make a point of looking at it as soon as possible. A new price can attract other buyers’ interest.

When listings you’ve seen sell, your agent should let you know the sale price. This will help you develop a sense for when a listing is priced too high, or priced at or under market value. How well a listing is priced for the market affects your offer strategy.

A well-priced listing in a low-inventory market is likely to sell quickly. There could be more than one buyer making an offer. If so, you may need to make an aggressive offer near, at or over the asking price. However, multiple offers don’t always result in a sale price higher than the list price.

Becoming savvy about local market pricing enables you to know when to make a strong offer on a new listing, even though the overall market may be lagging.

It’s a different story in segments of the market where there are plenty of listings that take months to sell. In this case, you have choices, making it possible to offer less than the asking price and negotiate. If this one doesn’t work out, you move on to the next. You should be prepared to walk away rather than pay too much.

Buyers making offers that are contingent on the sale of another property usually have to pay more than all-cash buyers who can close quickly. If you’ve already sold your home and are waiting for the sale to close, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate on price.

THE CLOSING: The best bet is to have your home sold and closed. It removes uncertainty in the sellers’ minds and may make them more receptive to a lower price.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."


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