Open house dos and don’ts

open_houseOpen houses are a great opportunity for buyers to just look at houses.  Here are some tips about how to do it right and even though lists should always be in multiples of 2 or 5 I decided to break the rules.

1. Take your shoes off. Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off.

2. If asked to sign in do so, you are in someone else’s house and they make the rules. If you do not want to leave an email address don’t.

3. If you are working with an agent let the agent at the open house know even if he or she doesn’t ask. Give the agent at the open house the name of your agent.

4. Keep an eye on your children do not let them run around the house unaccompanied.

5. Be careful what you say. Giving a the real estate agent too much information can hurt later on if you want to buy the house or another that the agent has listed. However it can be fun to listen to what other buyers are saying. 🙂

6. The agent at the open house may be very nice to you but they do represent the seller and are supposed to act in the sellers best interest.

7. The main reason an agent has an open house is to meet potential clients and that is why they may recommend other houses if you don’t like the one that is open.

8. The agent at the open may not be the listing agent. Sometimes it is another agent in the same office. That agent may or may not know the house.

9. If at all possible if you decide to buy the home you saw at the open get assistance from a buyers agent to avoid dual agency.

Keep in mind that only a very small percentage of the homes for sale have open houses. It is important to search for homes for sale on the internet and to view as many as possible on line.  Make appointments for private showings to see the homes that are the best fit. Don’t wait for an open house because there might not be one and some houses sell the day they go on the market of sooner.

Home Buyers should verify measurements

tape measure

Our MLS shows the measurements for homes that are on the market. Including room sizes, which floor the room is on, the foundation size, the total finished above and below ground square footages.

There are some things home buyers should know:

1.   Not everything you read in the MLS is 100% accurate, which is why if you read the fine print it will say the information is “deemed reliable but not guaranteed”.  We strive for accuracy and there are checks and balances, but mistakes are made. Total square footages and room sizes are not always accurate.

Generally agents do not deliberately misrepresent room sizes or square footages but sometimes they make mistakes and sometimes they just use the last set of measurements that were in the MLS without verifying them.

2.   Finished Square footage is not equal.  What I mean by that is that below ground square footage is not as valuable as above ground square footage is so when looking at the totals check to see how much is above ground and how much is below.

3.  Property tax records do not always show an accurate square footage and the square footage is used in the record to calculate the value of the home.  Sometimes buyers like to use tax records as a source of information about property values.  If the square footages are wrong the value could also be wrong because size matters.

There are rules about what can be included in finished square footage. Certainly closets, hallways and bathrooms are included even though we don’t see measurements for them separately in the MLS.  If there is a finished room that is surrounded by unfinished space we can not include it in the finished square footage.  Sometimes there will be one room finished in the basement but the space outside the room is unfinished.

It isn’t always easy to get accurate measurements.  Some rooms have irregular shapes and we are only allowed to put two measurements in the MLS for each room.

It should be noted that the source of the information about homes for sale is the Northstar MLS which feeds data to sites like Zillow and the web sites of real estate companies. MLS online is not the MLS but a real estate company. Confusing I know but it is what it is. 

**real estate is local if any of these rules apply outside of Minnesota it is purely by chance. 🙂

Also see Legal Bedroom

Homes for sale . . or not

Homes for sale in St. Paul

There has been a shortage of homes for sale for a few years now. It takes awhile for trends to reach the mainstream media, which is why real estate bloggers are important. 🙂

I read all sorts of reasons for this phenomena. There were a few years during the housing crash and great recession when the inventory of homes for sale was abnormally high. There isn’t any point in comparing 2008 and 2009 to 2017.

A normal number of homes for sale would be somewhere between 3 and 4 times as many as we have on the market right now.

There are several reasons why we are seeing fewer homes on the market. Here are a few:

  1. Baby boomers own a lot of homes and are in an age group that is more likely to stay put than move.
  2. There are people who are hanging onto homes because they are still underwater or are waiting until their home is worth a certain amount.
  3. People who want to move to another house are holding off putting theirs on the market until they can find a home to buy.
  4. During the housing crash investors bought up a lot of homes, especially starter type homes and small condos. These homes have become rental properties and will not be going on the market anytime soon.

We could build our way out of this, yet there isn’t a lot of new construction. There are still vacant buildable lots left over from the recession and vacant houses too. The new construction and in fill building I see is expensive housing.

Local building codes do not allow for a lot of creativity. What we need the most is affordable housing, maybe tiny houses and micro apartments. Builders tell me that luxury housing is more profitable to build.

Eventually there will be a kind of sell off when large numbers of baby boomers put their homes on the market. Experts were predicting that the great sell off would start in 2020. Now some are predicting it will start in 2025.

Home buyers need to be patient and somewhat flexible. Houses are being sold every day. They are not just for sale in May either.

It is a great time to be a home seller but there are limits to how much sellers can get for their homes. Sellers who are willing to negotiate will get the best terms and the fastest sales. Finding a buyer for a home for sale is fairly easy but is just one part of what it takes to close a sale.

Also see Home seller expectations sky rocket

Tips on how to win in a multiple offer situation

Windowbox
Spring

Yes you can survive a multiple offer situation and be the winner. Be realistic about the value of the home you are making an offer on and understand that sometimes in multiple offer situations the highest offers are below the asking price or maybe at or slightly over. Also know that if it doesn’t work out a better house will come along.

Occasionally I work with buyers who are concerned about the amount of work I have to do to write an offer. That is my job and I am always happy to write an offer even if it seems to be a long shot, so bring it on.

Serious buyers will need to put their best foot forward and make their first offer their best offer in a multiple offer situation because they may not get the chance to negotiate. Often buyers imagine scenarios where they offer X amount and sellers counter at X amount and they end up getting the house for the amount they had in mind. In todays market the seller is calling the shots.

The best offer isn’t always the offer of the most money. Financing is important too. Buyers who are putting more than 5% down may have an advantage. More cash in the mix means that there is a greater chance that the loan will close.

Closing dates matter. Buyer who are inflexible will have less negotiating power. The best strategy is to ask your agent to find out what the sellers have in mind for a closing date. Sellers who need to move into a home that they have an offer on may have to pass on an offer that is 110% of the asking price with a closing in 90 days or maybe the offer is perfect for them.

Flexibility on possession date and time can be important. I have seen situations where sellers need to move out of one home and into another on the same day that they are closing on both the sale of their home and the purchase of another. Not an ideal situation but it happens. Buyers who can allow the seller a little more time to move out can have an advantage in a multiple offer situation that doesn’t cost them a dime.

The amount of the offer is important. I have never seen a lowball offer win in a multiple offer situation. If the home just came on the market today the seller may not be ready to consider a less than full price offer. Buyers sometimes offer less because that is how much they can afford. That strategy mostly isn’t going to work.

When the perfect home comes on the market it may be sold by the weekend, be ready to make an offer now.  Have a pre-approval letter ready. See the home as soon as you can and make an offer or let your agent know you want to make an offer as soon as possible. Sometimes sellers will wait a few hours or even a day for an offer even though they have others if they know the offer is coming and the reason for the delay.

Assuming that the sellers have a lot of money that they can contribute to closing costs is a mistake. Sellers who owe a lot of money on a home may not have the resources to pay the buyers closing costs. An offer that does not require a seller contribution may be more attractive to a seller even though it is for less money.

Do not and I repeat DO NOT skip the inspection – do make your offer inspection contingent. Some buyers are making offers that are not inspection contingent in hopes that the seller will consider it a better offer. Sellers with half a brain should know that the inspection protects them too. Please have a complete home inspection before purchasing a home.

Work with an agent who is prepared and who can quickly write an offer and one with a lot of experience in multiple offer situations.

The lost art of negotiation

It seems like people have forgotten how to negotiate. Homeowner has home listed. Buyer makes offer for less than asking price, seller rejects it without negotiating. Homeowner has home listed, buyer makes offer that is less than asking price, seller decides to counter at the asking price. Buyer goes up a little higher, seller stops negotiating and moves on but also reduces the list price.

There are so many opportunities to negotiate when buying or selling real estate. Successful negotiations require some give and take. I have noticed that the slower negotiations are and the longer it takes each party to respond the less likely it is that parties will reach an agreement.

Low offers can be negotiated up and high asking prices can be negotiated down but it takes some effort. It is part of the home buying and selling process. I guess what I am saying is expect to negotiate and maybe even learn a little about how to negotiate. Here are some simple tips from LifeHacker. I particularly like tip number 5 about broadening the pie. Negotiations don’t have to be just about one thing like money. They can be about other terms like closing dates and who gets the swing set.

Often one party assumes if they offer X the other party will offer Y. Sometimes people behave as predicted but not always. It is important to keep an open mind, and to listen to what the other party really wants and keep going back and forth.

apple blossom
apple blossom

Even after one party says no, there is still room for negotiation, yet some people just don’t negotiate, which is a shame and a missed opportunity.

That low offer could end up being a higher offer and it could save the expense of holding a property for an extra six months only to get a similar offer on it.

Not all houses get offers the first day on the market

screen print from the NorthstarMLS - all current active listings

Home buyers are getting a bit frustrated. A home they are interested in comes on the market and before they can even go to see it the home is sold, yet there are homes on the market for a month or longer that are just as desirable. Often they go unnoticed because they are priced a little high or they need a little work.

The house that already had three offers on it might not be the best buy.

There are a couple of strategies home buyers can use in what continues to be the strongest buyer’s market we have ever seen.

  1. Look at houses that have been on the market for 10 days or more.

The reason for looking at homes that have been on the market for awhile is because the owners might be willing to accept the asking price or less.

2. Look in a price range that is slightly lower than what you can afford.

Buyers who look in a slightly lower price range are able to outbid buyers who are stretched to the limit as buyers often are in multiple offer situations.

Another tip is to continue looking in the late summer through the end of the year. There are fewer homes on the market during that time but there are also fewer buyers out making offers.

The graphic is a screen print form the MLS.

DOM = days on market

PDOM = days since price change

CDON = cumulative days on market and counts the days on market each time the home is listed in a 12 month period.