6/3/2008 - Destress Homebuying- The Zen of Real Estate
With falling prices and a lot of inventory to browse, its a hot buyers market. But that doesnt mean the process will be less stressful. Here are tips that can help you stay calm.
If you're a home buyer, you're probably looking at the housing market through much rosier glasses than the rest of the country. Prices are generally down and you have a backlog of homes to choose from.
"I would definitely say it's a buyer's market. There's no doubt about it," says Jim Stangler, a sales consultant with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Fridley, Minn., just outside Minneapolis/St. Paul.
"Two years ago it was a seller's market, and if you wanted a house you had to move quickly and probably had to overpay for it," adds Jim Curotto, broker-manager for Century 21 Gemini, in Upper Montclair, N.J. Now, Curotto says, "The buyers have a multitude of properties to choose from, and they can be very picky about what they want." Houses that used to sell in two weeks are now staying on the market four to six months, he says.
But does typical home-buyer stress drop with the prices? Not necessarily. "In this 'buyer's market' there can be greater stress than during normal times," says Peter Schkeeper, co-author of "The Smart Consumer's Guide to Home Buying." All the normal anxieties of home buying still exist, and they're compounded by the danger of getting suckered in by a seemingly sweet deal.
So how can you minimize anxiety in the home-buying process? How do you keep your Zen, as it were? Here, several experts offer their best tips:
Before you start your home search in earnest
Define your goal. Before you dive into buying a home likely the biggest purchase of your life you should ask yourself a basic question: "What are you trying to accomplish here?" says Diane Brennan, president of the International Coach Federation and a master certified coach. Refine your idea of what you're looking for, says Brennan, so you know exactly what you're after and you don't fret and waste time later. As the old saying goes, says Brennan, "'You can't get there if you don't know where you're going.'"
Drill down to what's crucial for you in your new home (number of bedrooms, great school district, garden) and discard things that you identify as not so important (impressing the in-laws, a fireplace). Make a list. "People become too preoccupied with multiple objectives," agrees Gary Eldred, author of "The 106 Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)."
"Then they become confused and lose sight of what they're trying to accomplish."
Readjust expectations."In past years we've always been schooled to think of a home as an investment," says Ilona Bray, co-author of "Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home." To reduce stress, Bray says people need to change their mindsets to think of their homes as, first and foremost, a comfortable place where they want to live, and "not sweat the fact that it may not be the place that may skyrocket in value."
Do your homework. "Inner calmness will come as a result of being better prepared," says author Schkeeper. "The smart consumer is going to have done their planning and their homework." This applies on a number of levels, say the experts:
Finances. Know your financial worth: your sources of income, expenses, assets and liabilities. Get your credit report. The three big credit firms are Experian, Transunion and Equifax, and most provide a free copy once a year, says Shelley O'Hara, co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying and Selling a Home." Correct any errors in your report before you apply for a loan. "By having done their financial evaluations early on," Schkeeper says of would-be homeowners, "they're going to be able to determine how much they're going to be able to afford for a house."
Your local market. After identifying an area you'd like to live in, go there and walk around and check it out. Look in the local newspaper to see what homes in that neighborhood sold for. "I would actually recommend to people getting to know the market as much as they can before they get ready to buy," says Bray. She advises going to open houses looking at houses both larger and smaller than you expect to buy so that you're really comfortable with what a neighborhood or area offers.
On these fact-finding forays, don't take the sales pitches at face value, cautions Eldred. "If someone says, 'Oh yeah, homes in this neighborhood are selling for such and such, or schools in this area are really good,' check it out from a number of good sources and see if the information really aligns."
Use the Internet to your advantage, says author O'Hara. Sites such as Realtor.com a nd Sperling's Best Places provide crime rates, school information and more about the city or area of interest. You can even see what sex offenders are living in your area on the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry.
This is a huge purchase you're about to make, and the more confident you can be in your data, the better you'll sleep at night, says Eldred.
Real-estate agents. "It's also good to have chosen a real-estate agent" before you begin, says Bray. People often think the selling agent of a home you're looking at will do just fine but that can be a conflict of interest, since that agent's primary loyalty is to the home seller. But a number of real-estate agents now specialize in representing just buyers. Interview a few of them before you start your home search in earnest. (For ideas on specific questions to ask, read ("How to find a superstar real-estate agent.")
Get pre-approved. "It's good to be pre-approved for a mortgage, because that's going to be a big thing for a seller," says Bray. Take care of that now, so you know how much home you can buy, and can act decisively when it's time.
Prepare for the what-ifs. Being prepared for unforeseen situations can really reduce stress, says Schkeeper. But how to do that? Anticipate the "what-ifs" that could cause headaches in the upcoming home-buying process, and then think through how you'd deal with them, he says.
An example: "A very stressful thing is when people have a house to sell before they buy a new house," he says. "The sale of the house might get delayed." Anticipating how you would weather this awkward scenario before it actually happens will go a long way toward preventing you from pulling your hair out, should it actually happen.
During the home-search and -buying process
Tote your wishes. When you're out looking at homes, carry with you the list of what your truly need in a home, "so that you don't get caught up in the moment" by a home that has amenities you can't afford, says Bray. Getting attached to homes you don't need or can't afford willBottom of Form
Make the time work for you. With the home-buying frenzy cooling, "you can take it slower, now. That's an important thing," says Bray. "Now you have the chance to do that home inspection, and that's a big stress reducer" a step people often agreed to skip during the frenzy. Take the time to make sure you get a well-respected inspector, cautions Bray. "I have met plenty of savvy buyers of nice homes who simply have a home inspector who maybe overlooked something or who maybe doesn't want to annoy a real-estate agent in the process and therefore not get referrals, and so maybe didn't look as hard at the home as he should've," she says. How to find a great inspector? Get in touch with some real-estate agents (though probably not yours), and ask, "Who's the deal-killer in this area?"
Alert yourself. A big part of a homebuyer's stress can stem from the feeling that you're missing out on new homes just hitting the market. Eliminate that by signing up for e-mail alerts with real-estate Web sites; they'll send you an e-mail of newly listed homes in areas you designate. You'll usually hear about homes coming on the market even before your real-estate agent can pick up the phone to tell you about them.
Walk away your anxiety. Once you're seriously considering buying a home, plan at least two visits before purchasing it, advises Schkeeper. And have a walk-through before closing, to avoid any misunderstandings or problems, he says. This gives you time to see a house with a sense of calmness.
"When you're visiting a house you may be pressured; you may be traveling in from another part of the country, and you only have one time to see a house," Schkeeper acknowledges. If so, try this, he says: Walk into the house, take a thorough look around, then go out to your car, close your eyes, clear your head and step back inside and view it anew.
Find your support and use it. "Look at what kind of support you have" the friends or family members whom you can talk to about your fears and concerns during the home-buying process, says coach Brennan. "Often people are happy to help; people are happy to give advice," she says. "Know that you can accept it" or choose not to. Just having people to talk to can be a big stress reliever.
Now breathe deep and get going. You've got nothing to lose but your anxiety.