Abraham Lincoln is credited to have said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” While this is not a post about improving your landscaping through tree removal, it is, however, an outline of how you can take advantage of the current real estate market with a little bit of prep.

When the Clemson University Tigers won the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 9, each of those players had spent a lifetime practicing for that moment. They performed countless drills, ran plays over and over, and spent unending hours in the film room. Those were not glamorous moments, but they gave the players the confidence and abilities necessary to make quick decisions come game time.

Nothing about preparing for a real estate transaction is glitzy or glamorous. Likely, none of it is an earth-shattering revelation. Still, many people fail to line up their ducks before they start the homebuying or selling process and end up blind-sided by unexpected costs or feel forced into making uninformed decisions. If 2017 is the year you decide to buy or sell a home, follow these basic guidelines to help ensure a smooth transaction.

[See: 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast.]

BUYING

Get preapproved. You’ve likely heard it a million times, but meeting with a lender is an absolute must when getting ready to purchase a home. If W-2s, pay stubs, two years of tax returns and a credit check are not asked for, the lender is not doing its homework and you should move on.

On Jan. 9, the Federal Housing Administration announced their Title II forward mortgages with a closing or disbursement date of Jan. 27 or later will have a 25-point reduction in monthly mortgage insurance, leading to increased savings for borrowers. It’s an excellent idea to compare different loan programs with your lender to find out which makes the most sense for your specific situation.

Preview the neighborhood. With the proliferation of online marketing, previewing homes through pictures and virtual tours makes narrowing your home search much easier. Once you have an idea of the style and features you can afford and that meet your wants and needs, it’s time to make sure the neighborhood meets your expectations as well.

When it comes down to it, nothing beats an actual drive through your prospective area. That said, this is the 21st century and we now have tools to aid us when that’s easier said than done. Sites like instantstreetview.com allow users to view specific addresses from the street, or you can use Google Earth for a satellite image of where the house is located.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

SELLING

Pre-listing prep. The spring market is going to arrive early this year. Inventory levels are low nationwide and buyers are already scrambling to find a house following the jump in mortgage rates after the presidential election. Meet with your agent now to determine what projects need to be taken care of to prepare your house for listing. By tackling these items sooner than later, you’ll be ready to put your house on the market when the time is right and before everyone who is waiting for the spring market to ramp up, thus eliminating the bulk of your competition.

Visit open houses. Most articles you read will discuss the importance of buyers visiting open houses to gauge the market, but it is just as vital for sellers to preview them as well. When listing your house, it’s important to have an idea of what kind of competition you’re up against and, as we all know, pictures can never compare to real life perspective.

Have your agent set you up on an online search which automatically updates you to new listings and status changes to houses in and around your neighborhood. This will ensure you’re constantly educated on the current state of the market and should also alert you to any upcoming open houses and when they are being held.

BOTH

Select an agent. Your real estate agent fills one of the most integral roles in your homebuying and selling process, and selecting who you work with should be a decision into which you put a lot of thought. Selecting an agent now will give you the opportunity to get help tackling key tasks, like selecting a lender or preparing your house for market.

The only source better than a referral from a trusted individual who had a great experience with an agent is multiple people praising that same agent. This shows consistently great results and not just a lucky break. Still, you need to make sure that agent will work well for you personally.

Three key aspects to look for are experience, communication and time. Make sure your agent has the experience to not only prepare you for the selling or buying process, but to help you handle any situation that arises. He or she should recognize a transaction will have its moments of difficulty, but should have the knowledge to handle those moments well. If he is a newbie, having an experienced agent watching his every move is vital to keep him from having that “oops” moment during your transaction.

Communication doesn’t just mean keeping you updated about new listings or what’s going on throughout the transaction, but doing so in a way that makes sense to you. From the time you sit down for that first meeting with your agent, you should feel engaged, educated and energized.

[See: 10 Unorthodox Ways Your Real Estate Agent May Market Your Home.]

Finally, make sure your agent isn’t overburdened with other clients so much so that your needs are not met. While you should understand you can’t give an agent one two-hour time window a week that works for you to look at houses, the same goes for that agent. Don’t be afraid to ask agents you interview about their current workload and what you can expect as far as how much time they can dedicate to you.

Tags: real estate, housing market, home prices, new home sales, existing home sales, pending home sales, housing


Ray Boss Jr. is a full-time, licensed Realtor for Re/Max Realty Group in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with over 11 years of experience working with clients ranging from first-time homebuyers to investors, sellers and renters. You can learn more about Ray by connecting with him on LinkedIn.

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