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The Insane Juggling Act of Trying To Buy and Sell a House During a Pandemic

July 27, 2020

buying and selling a home

John M Lund Photography Inc / Getty Images

Buying and selling a home simultaneously is a stressful juggling act at any point. So what’s it like to simultaneously buy and sell real estate during the coronavirus pandemic?

In April, my husband and I found out just how arduous this process could get when we decided to put our Chicago condo on the market. Our goal was to move out of state to live closer to family, and we’d hoped to time our property sale and purchase around the same time.

But the novel coronavirus quickly threw a wrench in these plans—and taught us a ton in the process. Here’s what we learned, which we hope will help other buyers and sellers navigate this process as smoothly as possible.

Vacate your house if you can

home selling
Our condo building in Chicago, where we lived for four years

realtor.com

The best thing I can recommend if you’re trying to sell your house right now is to try to stay elsewhere for the time your house is on the market. We decided to vacate our Chicago condo, and move into an apartment above my in-laws’ garage in Alabama.

Although it was a hassle to move out, it was crucial because our real estate agent was then able to schedule showings freely without having to work around our schedules—and there was less fear on both the buyer and seller ends about sanitizing home surfaces.

I believe moving out was key to our selling our home in less than two months. We officially closed the deal on July 8.

Be OK with not saying goodbye

The strangest thing about selling our home during the coronavirus pandemic was abruptly closing a chapter and beginning a new one without having those goodbye moments.

I’d hoped our last hurrah in Chicago would be filled with last meals at our favorite restaurants, going-away parties with our friends, and visiting all of our favorite coffee shops one more time. Instead, we spent our last days in Chicago packing up our place and eating microwave popcorn when we had an empty fridge and weren’t able to dine out.

While we were excited for what lay ahead, I grieved that old life that the coronavirus had caused to abruptly disappear before my eyes.

Selling during coronavirus
My office all cleaned out except for the rug, which the buyers negotiated to include in the sale.

Kelsey Ogletree

Expect the unexpected

After moving in above my in-laws’ garage in Alabama, we hit our new house hunt hard, and started shopping for a home in the area. We assumed we wouldn’t be living with my in-laws for long.

Alabama home
We’re staying in the apartment above the garage of my in-laws’ home in Alabama.

Kelsey Ogletree

At first, our timing seemed phenomenal: A few days after the contract on our condo in Chicago came through, we put in an offer on a home in Alabama.

Originally, we’d planned to close on our Chicago home sale and our Alabama home purchase back to back, a day apart. But our purchase fell through for a variety of reasons, including inspection and loan approval issues.

We were crushed, but realized that closing on both homes within a 24-hour period would have involved an insane amount of stress and paperwork.

House that fell through
The home we’d planned to purchase had a beautiful backyard.

Kelsey Ogletree

Look at the big picture

I struggled emotionally with uprooting my family and moving in with my in-laws. We went from living states away to seeing them nearly ’round the clock. Even though we had our own tiny kitchen above the garage, we ended up eating most meals at their house, and it’s by far the most time we’ve ever spent together.

It was a difficult adjustment for the first month or so, as I mourned our former life as a busy young couple in Chicago. Our nights dining at buzzy restaurants and walking along the riverfront were replaced by family dinners around a kitchen table. I just wasn’t ready for so much togetherness.

However, now nearly five months into this living arrangement, I’ve become more appreciative. I’m embracing this time spent with family. Even if this arrangement continues a few more months, in the scheme of our lives, it will just be a blip on the radar.

Garage apartment
We’ve living and working in the same tight space for now.

Kelsey Ogletree

Accept that things might not work out perfectly

We thought we had it all figured out: selling one home and buying another that we’d move straight into after closing. When that didn’t work out, we struggled with feeling “homeless” and not having a place to actually move our things to.

But we’ve now learned that things happen for the best, and that there’s no reason to stress about finding a new place. Our things are in storage nearby, ready to go when we are. We’re taking our time figuring out the next best move for our family. Meanwhile, we are fortunate to have a place to stay, and a rare opportunity to spend a lot of time with family.

Garage kitchen
I learned to love washing dishes in this tiny apartment kitchen.

Kelsey Ogletree

The post The Insane Juggling Act of Trying To Buy and Sell a House During a Pandemic appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

6 Reasons Why This Is Actually the Best Time in Years To Sell a House

July 9, 2020

Reasons to sell a house

alexsl / Getty Images

Talk about a strange summer. Between the continued threat of the novel coronavirus, a wobbly economy, and layoffs happening left and right, it’s no surprise that many who may have hoped to sell their home this season are wondering whether to put those plans on hold—or they’ve already thrown in the towel.

Such hesitancy is understandable. Yet the irony is that, after closely examining the current housing market conditions, many real estate experts believe this summer could be one of the best times to sell a home in years.

“Given the pandemic and uncertainty it’s caused, the general sentiment [among some owners] is that now is not a good time to sell your home,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. “Yet so far, the data suggest the opposite—that buyers outnumber sellers in the housing market, which means it’s better to be a seller than a buyer.”

So if you’re a home seller who assumed they should write off this summer’s home-selling season as a lost cause, it’s time for a reality check! Here are a few reasons why the market could actually be moving strongly in your favor.

1. Home buyer demand is back with a vengeance

Granted, in the spring, when COVID-19 was spurring many states to enforce quarantine and ban open houses, home selling understandably went dormant for a while. But now that lockdown restrictions are loosening up in some states, home buyers are out with a vengeance—and many of them are eager to make up for lost time.

Indeed, the real estate market is already seeing strong signs of a rebound, according to the National Association of Realtors®‘ Pending Home Sales Index (a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings). In May, after two months of decline, pending home sales shot up 44.3%—the highest month-over-month jump since 2001, when the index began.

“There’s very significant demand,” says Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate. He adds that demand is strongest right now in the suburbs and in smaller, cheaper cities—as buyers look to escape the biggest metros and more companies follow tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

“If we continue to see an increase in working from home, people can move farther away, where they can get more bang for their buck,” Gardner says.

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Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

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2. Home inventory remains low

Yet amid this glut of home buyers, the number of homes for sale to actually meet this pent-up demand is at an all-time low.

“There was insufficient supply last year,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the NAR. “This year during the pandemic, the shortage has intensified.”

According to realtor.com’s market outlook, housing inventory in June was 27% lower than a year earlier.

And some reasons for the shortage of available homes have little to do with the recent coronavirus crisis. The number of homes for sale is at a “generational low,” says Gardner, because people are living in their homes longer than they used to. In fact, NAR data shows that Americans are spending an average of 13 years in their homes before moving.

The lower inventory is also the result of fewer distressed properties on the market, “due to the massive government stimulus support, including mortgage forbearance and generous unemployment benefits,” Yun explains.

3. Home prices are up

With demand for homes up and inventory down, the conditions are perfect for home sellers to get high prices.

“Many sellers can get top dollar in the current market conditions,” says Yun.

According to NAR , single-family home prices increased in most markets during the first quarter of 2020, with the national median single-family home price increasing 7.7%, to $274,600.

This good news may come as a surprise to sellers, since it was expected that the housing market would take a hit and home prices would drop because of the pandemic. That’s quite the contrary.

“Home asking price growth is actually higher now than it was before the pandemic,” Hale explains.

4. Mortgage interest rates are low, too

Another factor pushing home buyers to shop are the historically low mortgage interest rates.

According to Freddie Mac’s July 2 report, average interest rates recently reached a new record low of 3.07% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Given this means homes could cost potentially tens of thousands less over the lifetime of the loan, it’s understandable that mortgage purchase applications have jumped since last year.

5. The economy is showing slow signs of recovery

While the pandemic led to record high unemployment rates in March, these levels have recently fallen slightly, which could be a good sign that people are still eager and able to buy a home.

Continuing spikes in COVID-19 infection rates may have a negative impact on employment numbers in some areas going forward, but for now the national trends are heading in the right direction.

“The pandemic sharply curtailed economic production and consumer spending in March, April, and part of May. As a result, joblessness soared,” Hale explains. “But data from May and June suggests that businesses are adding back jobs as consumers get back to spending, and some companies are now scrambling to keep up demand. Some speculated that we’d see a sharp bounce back in activity, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what we’re seeing so far.”

6. Home buyers’ needs have changed

Along with working remotely, people have been spending more time at home in general—and this, in turn, has sparked a fresh deluge of home buyers whose current homes no longer seem as comfortable or roomy as they were pre-COVID-19. That is, if your dining table now doubles as your “office,” you might be tempted to trade in your short commute for another room or two so all can work from home in peace.

“People are looking at their existing home and saying, ‘If I have to work from home, then maybe my house just doesn’t work,’” Gardner says.

“Spending three months locked up at home taught a lot of people that where they live is important,” agrees Jed Kliman, managing broker at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle. “Clients I’ve been working with recently are trading up because they’ve spent more time in their homes and realized it didn’t meet their needs.”

Home offices, more privacy, outdoor spaces, and just more room are becoming more important to homeowners. Kliman says playing up these features and amenities when you sell your home can attract buyers. Home staging and visually appealing listing photos, though always important, are especially crucial in today’s market.

“Staging, professional photos, even video and 3D virtual tours—those are all really important because people start their home search online, and they have to be moved and captivated to go see a house,” Kliman says.

In addition to understanding market conditions, home sellers will want to know that the process from offer to closing may work a little differently today.

For example, social distancing may mean home inspections and repairs take a little longer. Kliman says some of his sellers have been doing their own pre-inspections and making reports available to interested buyers to speed up the process.

The bottom line: “You want to make it as easy as possible for a buyer to make an offer,” he says.

Just be prepared for the unexpected, Hale says.

“The time it takes to sell a home does seem to be shrinking, as states lift restrictions on business and consumers feel more confident and comfortable,” she says. “But depending on how infection rates evolve, this could change. This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods completely.”

The post 6 Reasons Why This Is Actually the Best Time in Years To Sell a House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Want an RV as a Home This Summer? The Benefits and Costs of Recreational Vehicles, Revealed

June 8, 2020

RV

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

If you dream of hitting the open road with a house on wheels, you may be thinking about buying an RV, or recreational vehicle. It’s an especially alluring idea these days.

According to the RV Industry Association, between 9 million and 10 million people in the United States own RVs—1 million live in them full time. And the demand for RVs has substantially increased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Not only are we hearing from RV dealers across the country that their sales are up compared to last spring, but new research shows that 1 in 4 Americans intends to take some kind of RV-related action in the next 12 months—such as taking an RV trip, buying or renting an RV, even visiting an RV dealership,” says Craig Kirby, president of RVIA.

Plus, he says, 20% of respondents are more interested in RVs as a recreational travel option in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Part of the draw of RVs is that they allow people to vacation with their families without risking exposure to COVID-19 by boarding a plane or entering a hotel.

“We are also hearing that people [now] are more likely to stay close to home on vacations and take road trips,” Kirby says. “An RV trip is the logical extension of that trend. Still able to stay close to home and drive, but also able to bring your bed and food along with you.”

And the good news is that even in light of recent demand, there is plenty of inventory at RV dealerships to meet interest, according to Kirby.

But is RV life as dreamy as it sounds? Well, here are the factors to consider.

How much money can RV living save on vacations?

If wanderlust is fueling your decision, an RV can help cut costs associated with traditional travel. With an RV, you don’t need hotels or plane tickets, and the ability to cook your meals means you’re not bound to expensive restaurant fare.

In fact, studies show that a family of four (two adults and two children) saves between 21% and 64% by vacationing in an RV rather than booking plane tickets and hotels.

And if you want to live in an RV full time, you’ll enjoy additional savings—like an absence of property taxes, lawn care costs, and other homeowner headaches. In addition, the ability to just move on if you don’t like the weather, your neighbors, or the scenery is priceless.

How much does an RV cost?

Like houses, RVs come in a wide range of prices depending on their size and features. According to RVIA, the cost of an RV can range from $6,000 on the low end for folding camping trailers and truck campers to between $60,000 and $500,000 for motor homes. You can also buy previously owned models at a significant savings.

GoRVing.com has a tool that lets you explore various types of RVs and their costs so you can see what you can get for your money.

While it may be tempting to buy the biggest RV you can afford, consider how much space you really need.

“Many newbies buy too much RV in size, drive-ability, park-ability, tow-ability, and maintain-ability,” says Janet Groene, author of the blog SoloWomanRV and book “Living Aboard your RV.” “Remember that you are now maintaining your own plumbing, water and sewer supply, gas supply for your stove and furnace, your own electrical systems, and all the expenses that go with vehicle maintenance.”

Another ongoing cost of full-time RV life? Fuel. RVs typically get between 10 to 20 miles per gallon of gas. How far you’re driving, how big your RV is, and the price of gas are all factors that will affect the amount you spend on gas.

RV insurance and maintenance costs

As with any vehicle, you’ll need insurance on your RV. The average annual cost for full-time RV insurance is $1,500, but that can vary substantially depending on the type and size of your RV. Note, however, that most policies won’t cover the belongings inside your RV, so you may need to take out a separate policy for them.

In general, RV repairs are more expensive than automobile repairs. How much you will spend on repairs depends again on factors such as the age and type of your RV as well as how many miles you put on it.

But even a new RV isn’t immune to problems.

“Just because it’s new doesn’t mean your RV won’t need repairs,” warns Becca Borawski Jenkins, a full-time RVer since spring 2017. “After three years on the road, I haven’t met a single RVer who bought a brand-new RV who didn’t have some sort of mechanical or structural issues arise in those first few months.”

Instead of taking off for lands far away right away, she suggests starting out by taking short trips before you jump into full-time life on the road. That way as issues arise, you can bring it back to the dealer, and many of the issues may be covered by the warranty.

“Buying your RV early and testing it close to home will ultimately save you time, money, and stress,” Borawski Jenkins says.

How much are RV parking fees?

You can’t just park your RV at any old place, and most of the time you’ll want to find an RV park with amenities such as power and water. Prices can range from $35 to $100 a night. Even at the low end, those costs can add up. For example, $35 a night for 365 nights comes to $12,775 annually.

Groene says while it’s less expensive, and sometimes even free, to stay at government campgrounds (e.g., state and national parks and forests), they typically have fewer facilities, and there is usually a limit on how long you can stay.

She also notes that “boondocking,” a term referred to parking for free, is dangerous at best and increasingly illegal.

What are taxes on an RV?

Taxes are included in the rates you pay to stay at commercial campgrounds and RV resorts. You’re also responsible for paying state income tax and sales tax in states that charge them.

Note too that even if you live in an RV full time, you still must have a physical address, which determines the state where you pay income tax and insurance, vote, and exercise many other legal rights and obligations.

Does an RV appreciate over time?

While homes typically appreciate in value over the years, the opposite is often true with RVs. So you have to consider what it means to you to have what is likely your largest asset steadily depreciate over time.

“While a house and land generally continue to appreciate, RVs begin to lose value the moment it’s driven off the lot,” Groene says. “Many people spend far too much on an RV, often one that is far too big and complex for them to drive and maintain. But by the time RV owners are ready to hang up the keys, the nest egg that was their home on wheels is worth little or nothing.”

RV life is full of amazing opportunities and presents many perks financially and otherwise. It’s not, however, without speed bumps (both literal and figurative), and you should carefully consider and weigh your options before making this investment.

The post Want an RV as a Home This Summer? The Benefits and Costs of Recreational Vehicles, Revealed appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Selling Your Home in the Age of Coronavirus? Here Are All Your Top Questions, Answered

June 4, 2020

Selling FAQs During Coronavirus

Melpomenem/Getty Images

With every day of this pandemic feeling like it brings a fresh batch of news, you’d be forgiven for feeling confused about the actual state of things now. While many cities start to reopen—and some continue to experience a high volume of new COVID-19 cases—it’s hard to know how any sector of the economy is doing, especially the real estate market.

Are things getting back to normal? Is now an OK (or even appropriate) time to consider selling a home? Whether you’re curious about the timing of a sale or the nitty-gritty details of how it will all go down, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve gathered advice from the real estate experts to answer your most pressing questions about selling a home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Can I sell my house during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Selling a house should always be based on a number of factors, particularly with regard to your family’s health and financial situation. But to cut to the chase: Yes, you can still sell a home during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly now that states are beginning to reopen.

In most markets, inventories are low and prices are high—which means you can still make a profitable sale.

“Now’s a great time to sell,” says Michelle Sloan, a broker and a Realtor® who’s with Re/Max Time Cincinnati. “With low inventory and high buyer interest, many homes are selling very quickly—within days or hours in some cases. Interest rates are also low, and there’s serious pent-up demand for homes, especially in lower price ranges.”

Is it safe to sell your home during such an outbreak?

Home selling safety during coronavirus
Selling your home during a pandemic means extra precautions.

Siriporn Carrelli/Getty Images

You might be asking yourself if it’s safe to go through the traditional home showing and selling process. Assuming your family members are all in good health, there are several precautions your real estate agent can take to safely show your home to interested buyers.

“We’re allowing showings, but with safety in mind,” Sloan says.

For her team, that means no overlapping showings, no children in the house, masks on, shoes off, and hand sanitizer at the door. She also recommends people leave all of their lights on and doors open (even for closets), since this translates into fewer surfaces being touched.

Are houses even selling now?

Yes! The fact is that people still need to move, pandemic or no pandemic. For instance, in Austin, TX, at least 400 homes “and counting” are closing every single week, reports Regine Nelson with Wealthward Realty.

“Austin is low on inventory; we still have more people moving here than we have housing available,” she says.

Other markets, like Tampa, FL, are seeing a similar trend in sales.

“Houses are definitely selling now,” says Nadia Anac, a Realtor with Reagan Realty. “In my market, I’ve even been in multiple-offer situations.”

The key to these kinds of numbers seems to be in the inventory: Markets with low inventory are seeing houses sold quickly. As always, we’d recommend chatting with a local real estate agent to get the pulse on exactly how your market is performing.

Should I sell my house during a recession?

Since this recession is largely dictated by the pandemic, it’s almost impossible to keep the two separate. But if you do decide to sell during this period of economic downturn, take the time to consider your own financial stability, as well as the conditions of the market you’re moving to.

“If you planned to sell your home due to relocation, a short sale, or moving for larger space, then I would recommend proceeding—but with caution,” says Nelson. “Do you have another home or area in mind? Always be sure to see if what you are seeking is available or will be available when you’re ready to find a property to purchase.”

And while the buyer pool has undoubtedly shrunk in the past few weeks, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Homes are still selling, but lending requirements have tightened, meaning buyers are more qualified and ready to move forward,” says Karen Parnes, owner of NextHome Your Way.

Will I have competition if I try to sell my house right now?

home selling competition
Even during a pandemic, you can expect some competition from other sellers.

georgeclerk/Getty Images

“You’re likely to have much less competition as a seller right now,” Parnes says, since potential sellers are still wary about putting their homes on the market amid a pandemic. (These conditions are expected to change as summer ramps up; more on that later.)

But Nelson advises her clients to avoid getting caught up in the competition, and focus instead on the things they can control—like competitive pricing, getting their home in a good state, and having a solid marketing strategy.

Another point to remember? Competition happens on both sides of the street.

“Once you sell, you’re way more likely to have competition as a buyer,” says Parnes.

Should I expect to sell for less right now?

Not necessarily. Although the economy’s experiencing a recession, that doesn’t mean prices are going down.

“There are less buyers, but there are also a lot less homes on the market,” says Parnes. “The old rule of supply and demand still holds.”

While some predicted a price drop for 2020, experts now expect the summer home-buying market to be much hotter than expected, as many Americans feel more secure in their jobs and can physically step into the homes they are considering.

While you might not have to drop your price, Anac reminds her clients that they may need to be more patient in pursuing a good sale.

“If your house is priced correctly, and depending on your market, it may just take a little bit longer to sell,” she says.

How can I sell my house without allowing buyers to walk through?

virtual tours
If you’re selling, now’s the time to make the most of virtual tours.

dem10/Getty Images

It may be the safest option, but it’s not the easiest to pull off. Understandably, buyers want to see the home they’re buying in person. And no, telling them they can walk the property without entering won’t help matters much.

“It’s mostly impossible to sell your home with no showings or [prospective buyers] in the home at all,” says Parnes, although she admits “real estate transactions are still happening in states where showings are not allowed and being done completely virtually.”

If you have special health concerns or live with someone who’s considered high-risk, talk with your real estate agent about the possibility of virtual showings. Otherwise, consider just cleaning up thoroughly after would-be buyers leave.

Should I stage my house?

virtual stage kids room after
This room was virtually staged with furniture for adults.

VHT Studios

“Staged homes always sell faster,” says Anac, “but especially in times like these.”

The real question isn’t whether you should stage your house, but how you should stage it. With more tours and showings happening online, you might consider having your home virtually staged rather than actually inviting people into your home to decorate it.

How can I prepare my home for a virtual tour?

A virtual tour can run the gamut from a live walk-through with an agent on FaceTime to a sophisticated 3D rendering from companies such as Matterport. But for the most part you want to prepare for a virtual tour the same way you would for a still-photo shoot—by decluttering it, upping the curb appeal, and making sure nothing is broken or an eyesore.

“Make sure everything is clean, all lights are turned on, fans are off, blinds are open, surfaces are cleared, and everything is put away,” advises Anac.

How can I close remotely?

States are handling remote closings a little differently, so the short answer is to ask your real estate agent. The long answer: The way settlements are being handled varies quite a bit.

“Some, but not all, states have remote settlements,” says Parnes. “Some have approved it temporarily, and those that don’t are typically splitting the buyers and sellers at settlement and having only the essential people involved at the table.”

Looking for more advice on selling your home in the age of COVID-19? We’ve got you covered.

The post Selling Your Home in the Age of Coronavirus? Here Are All Your Top Questions, Answered appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

When the Outside Matters More Than Ever: 6 Curb Appeal Tricks To Attract Buyers During Coronavirus

May 11, 2020

hikesterson/Getty Images

Curb appeal: It’s the make-or-break first impression of your home. It either beckons a second look or turns buyers off entirely. And now, in the age of the coronavirus, curb appeal is more vital than ever—since buyers might not be able to tour your home and are placing more weight on the exterior, or might be limiting in-person tours to only their top choices.

If you’re trying to sell your home during this pandemic—and the facade is a little worse for wear—don’t panic! We consulted with Clint Robertson and Luke Caldwell of HGTV’s “Boise Boys” to steal some tricks for curb appeal that’s so irresistible, buyers will be clamoring to know what’s inside.

1. Keep the yard green and pristine

Photo by Benjamin Silver Design 

The lawn is one of the first things buyers notice, whether they are pulling up to the curb or looking at an online listing. When it’s lush and green, it creates a favorable impression.

“One of the cheapest things you can do to enhance curb appeal is to keep your yard mowed and groomed,” says Robertson, who also partners with Caldwell at Timber and Love Realty. “Hire someone to mow it and keep it tidy, or take the time to keep it pristine.”

You don’t have to have a green thumb to get a lush lawn when you know these lawn care secrets.

2. Mind your driveway and walkway

curb appeal
Hose down the driveway and walkway before showing your home or taking photos.

Timber and Love Realty

You might be inclined to overlook the driveway and front walk—how much can you really do to make concrete look good? But, truth be told, these areas are like the red carpet of curb appeal: They lead buyers to the main event, the inside of your home.

A driveway and front walk with minor cracks and weeds popping up through the expansion joints (the straight lines that divide the driveway and walkway) are an eyesore.

Luckily, it’s an easy fix.

Remove the weeds, and patch the concrete with caulk, Robertson suggests. Hose it down or power-wash it. For extra pizazz, finish a concrete driveway or walkway with a clear, glossy sealer. (You can give faded asphalt driveways a face-lift with asphalt sealer.)

At the very least, hose down the driveway and walkway before photos, or a video or in-person tour, to give it a fresh look.

3. Flaunt your nighttime appeal

Photo by SINGLEPOINT DESIGN BUILD INC.

Prospective buyers might be driving by after dark see what your house looks like at night. Turn on the charm with a warm glow from exterior lighting.

“I like to do a 60-watt clear lightbulb on both sides of the door, but one that has a warmer tone so it doesn’t feel like you have that overly LED blue light,” Caldwell says.

All exterior lighting on the house and garage should match or have the same style for continuity, if possible.

Caldwell’s partial to clear-glass fixtures.

“I love having glass fixtures flanking the door because it’s more welcoming when you see the actual light,” he says. “Just make sure that all exterior lights—including the ones on the garage—have the same type of bulb for a unified glow.”

4. Don’t forget the garage

curb appeal
Match your garage door color to the trim.

Timber and Love Realty

The garage is a key component in curb appeal, too, especially if it’s attached to the house. But how do you spruce up this often dull space?

Caldwell suggests painting the garage door the same color as the trim on the house. Garage doors with a row of windows are pleasing to the eye, too.

“Sometimes garages feel dark and scary,” says Robertson. “The light allows it to make it feel like it’s more part of the home.”

DIY garage window kits are available for most newer garage door models and allow you to remove a row of existing panels and add glass inserts. If you’re adding windows where people can see in, don’t forget to stage inside the garage, too.

5. Replace outdoor accents and give your landscaping some love

Photo by David Morello Garden Enterprises, Inc.

A shabby doormat, dingy house numbers, and a rusty old mailbox are hardly deal breakers, but they do leave a stale impression. If your outdoor accents have seen better days, replace them.

Then make sure your landscaping looks lush for any passersby. Prune overgrown shrubs and trees. Weed flower beds, and spread a layer of fresh mulch.

“It’s like getting a new haircut for your house,” Caldwell says.

Add pretty-looking annuals if your yard is lacking color. Plant a Japanese maple to fill a bare spot and create symmetry.

“It’s low to the ground and doesn’t require much light,” notes Caldwell.

Then wrap up by cleaning the windows and sweeping the cobwebs from the front porch. Tidy up and stage the front porch so buyers can imagine themselves relaxing there on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

6. Give your front door a face-lift

Would a shabby door with peeling paint, rusty hardware, and scuff marks entice a buyer to go inside?

“If you’re going to spend money on one thing to add curb appeal, make it a new door,” says Caldwell.

Front doors with glass inserts evoke a warm and welcoming feeling. If there isn’t room in the budget, rejuvenate your existing door with a fresh coat of paint and hardware.

“A fresh pop of color in red, yellow, or blue can bring life to your house immediately and catches people’s eyes as well,” Caldwell says. “It feels like thoughtful consideration has been put into the home, and ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do—to let the home feel like a home that’s been loved and cared for and thought about. A home that’s been cared for stands out.”

The post When the Outside Matters More Than Ever: 6 Curb Appeal Tricks To Attract Buyers During Coronavirus appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

My House Sold Faster Than Expected—Was It a Blessing or a Curse?

April 22, 2020

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It took two years for my husband and me to come to the decision to sell our home in St. Petersburg, FL. We went back and forth on the idea for a few reasons. A big one? One of our sons had a lot of friends in our neighborhood, and we didn’t want to uproot him.

Even so, the market was hot in our area, and we knew we could make a decent amount of money if we sold our home.

In November, we were ready to sell. We wanted to pay off some debt, build up a savings account, and buy a new car.

Our real estate agent advised us to list right after the holidays. In the meantime, we made a few cosmetic upgrades, added fresh paint, and installed new fixtures.

We listed our home on Jan. 7, and our agent scheduled an open house for the following weekend. During the open house—just five days after listing—we received an offer.

We accepted the offer, but it fell through. No time for dismay! We scheduled showings the following week, and our agent scheduled another open house. Then, 11 days after listing our house, we received another offer, which was right at our asking price.

Everything looked great on paper, and we eagerly accepted the offer. At first, we were thrilled. Our plan worked! And then we took a look at the timeline for closing and freaked out just a bit. If all went well, we’d hand over the keys to our home in 28 to 30 days.

Here’s what I learned from selling a home in rapid fashion.

We needed a new place to stay

For our next move, my husband and I decided we were going to rent a house instead of buying a place right away. There were two main rationales at work.

One, we wanted to pay off more debt and raise our credit scores to obtain the best mortgage rate possible.

Two, we weren’t 100% sure where we wanted to set down roots in St. Petersburg. The city is really spread out, and one of our kids is headed to high school in a year. It made sense for us to wait before we bought again. In hindsight, the wait makes even more sense.

That said, the market here was hot earlier this year—for both home sales and rentals. The majority of the homes in St. Petersburg are older and small, and just about everything is expensive.

This meant few options that suited our needs and were within our budget. The market was moving quick in January so our family of four had to act fast when we found a place we liked.

Inspection and appraisal in a tight timeline

During the inspection and appraisal steps of the home-selling process, the buyer has the right to cancel the contract if either report comes back with red flags.

Our timeline was tight: The buyer’s appraisal was due just eight days before closing. We didn’t want to sign a lease, move, and then have our buyer back out of the deal. So, to be prudent, we decided to wait until both the inspection and appraisal were done.

Paying rent plus a mortgage if the buyer backed out simply wasn’t in the cards. However, waiting to sign a lease until just over a week before the closing date was also a risk. The odds of finding a viable rental and moving in that tight time frame didn’t seem possible—but it’s the path we chose.

I attempted to calm my inner voice, and we plowed forward to find a new place to live. We started looking for a rental well before the appraisal date.

We’d listed our house at a reasonable price, so any discrepancies with the appraisal were a long shot. Though our house needed a little work, the inspection wasn’t likely to yield anything substantial.

All of the pieces came together, but we were prepared to undergo undue levels of stress as we waited for the final steps of the sale process. Especially since we were also planning a move.

Packing under pressure is a whole new level of torture

We both work full time and have two kids—a 3-year-old and a 13-year-old.

My husband and I began to pack the nonessentials once the offer came in. We still needed to purge unnecessary items and pack the rest, which is a trying task when four people have lived in one place for seven years. It’s amazing what you can accumulate.

We spent every spare minute packing up, tossing out, or giving away things. It was its own nightmare in an already stressful situation. Even though we knew it was a temporary inconvenience, the process was overwhelming. Packing is tough, but when the clock is ticking, it’s even tougher.

And just like that, it was over

The one big positive about a short timeline between offer and close? All of the chaos lasted only a short period of time.

Although my husband and I reached peak stress levels, the madness truly lasted for just over a month. By the third week in February, we were settled in our new rental home, and all was said and done with the sale of our first home.

Would I do it again? Yes! If the timing and the money were right, I most certainly would. Except for possibly the packing part.

The post My House Sold Faster Than Expected—Was It a Blessing or a Curse? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’

April 21, 2020

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When Doreen Smith listed her house in Castle Rock, CO, in February, the coronavirus was on her radar, but didn’t seem like a serious problem at the time.

“COVID-19 was on my mind because I teach high school social studies, and we’d discuss it when talking about current events,” says Smith. “But I certainly didn’t think that this would be something to have to consider when selling my home.”

When Smith was about to list her home, she asked her real estate agent if she should be worried about selling because it was an election year. Her agent assured her that January 2020 had been a terrific month for home sales. So Smith decided to move ahead and put her house on the market on Feb. 27.

“It was supposed to be a gorgeous, sunny weekend, so we put the ‘For Sale’ sign in my yard on Wednesday to be ready for my home to hit the MLS on Thursday,” Smith recalls. “My agent immediately started getting calls, including one on Wednesday night. I had five showings on Thursday, and I got three offers Friday morning.”

Smith decided to sell to a couple who lived in California.

“When I took their offer, it came with the contingency that they must be able to sell their home in order to buy mine,” Smith says. “I accepted the contingency because their house was already under contract, through inspection, and had a closing date of March 23.”

So Smith planned to move out on that same day, and move in temporarily with her sister in nearby Littleton, CO, while shopping for a condo. (Both of her boys were out of the house, so she was downsizing.)

All went according to schedule at first. However, in the ensuing weeks as news (and cases) of COVID-19 swept the nation, Smith saw much of what she knew about her home closing change.

Here’s how she survived closing a home sale during this pandemic—and what she learned in the process.

Why the coronavirus can delay closings

On March 23—the day of her scheduled closing and move—Smith got a call from her agent telling her there was a potential snag.

“Around 9:10 a.m. I got a text from my real estate agent: ‘Hi! Are you home?’ I texted ‘Yes! Movers are here, hope this is still a go?’ with a nervous emoji. Two seconds later I got a call,” says Smith. “My buyer’s buyer in California had a tax issue with their property and needed some form from the IRS. The IRS said due to the coronavirus, they were delayed in response times, and were not able to get the letter in time for their scheduled Monday closing.”

This snafu led to Smith and her buyer amending their contract to extend the closing by two weeks, and making it official with an electronic signature. So now she was set to close on April 7, but still moving on March 23.

Although Smith’s move went smoothly, more paperwork delays caused her closing to hit another snag, bumping her closing date to April 10. But the paperwork was procured faster than planned, and the closing date moved again, to April 8.

“Apparently my buyers were really frustrated, as they were homeless and all of their stuff was on a moving truck with no house,” says Smith. “At this point I was just trying not to freak out.”

Inside a ‘drive-through’ closing

When closing day finally arrived on April 8, Smith braced for more changes—and they arrived right on schedule. For instance, while most home closings involve all parties gathering to sign paperwork, the coronavirus had upended this tradition, too.

“Because of the crisis, real estate agents were not supposed to attend closings in order to minimize exposure to all parties,” says Smith. Furthermore, “the governor of Colorado had also passed a law saying that virtual closings were acceptable at this time. But my lender, like many, said no way. Lenders were trying to be careful about who they loaned money to.”

So, rather than conduct a virtual closing, Smith ended up doing the next best thing: a “drive-through closing.” She was told to drive to the title company’s parking lot, then call the title agent inside, who popped out of her office building wearing a mask and walked toward Smith’s car.

Smith (who was wearing a bandana mask) cracked her car window to hand her ID to the title agent. After verifying Smith’s ID, the title agent handed Smith a clipboard with the paperwork and a blue pen in a plastic bag.

The title agent told Smith to take her time and sign the highlighted sections of the paperwork. If Smith had any questions, she was urged to call her real estate agent, who was also keeping an eye on her phone in case there were any issues.

“It took me about 10 minutes to sign everything,” Smith says. “Then the title agent came back and reviewed everything while I remained in my car, and while we chatted about how strange this all was. The agent admitted they’d only been doing ‘drive-through’ closings for a week. The reason the title company required someone to show up in person was they wanted the seller’s account information of where they’d wire the money delivered in person—I assume that’s to avoid mistakes for the transfer of such a large amount.”

Despite this strange setting, the money was immediately wired to Smith and her sale was finally finished.

Now settled in at her sister’s home, Smith is going to hold off on looking for a condo for now.

“I asked my real estate agent when we could start hunting; she said maybe June,” says Smith. “But I am getting my mortgage pre-approval paperwork completed this week, so I am ready to buy when we are up and running again.”

The post ‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’ appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

‘Why We’re Selling Our Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic’

April 20, 2020

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On March 10, my husband and I decided to list our home this spring—smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

This was not a decision we took lightly. Derrick and I had been thinking about putting our Chicago condo on the market for a while. Having lived in our two-bed, two-bath home for four years, 2020 was going to be when we’d finally “settle down” somewhere quieter and closer to our families.

Plus, we figured at the time that getting in on the spring buying season would be key.

home selling
Our condo building in Chicago, where we’ve lived for four years

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On March 11, we emailed a local real estate agent, Paul Barker of Barker Group, who specialized in our Northside neighborhood and had sent us a marketing flyer last year. We made plans for the three of us to meet at our condo a few days later.

But that week, as things began to really get weird in Chicago—like panic shopping at grocery stores and sports seasons canceling­—we questioned whether we’d need to meet virtually instead. Barker assured us we’d be fine, however.

“I need to do a walk-through, but we will keep our distance, and I won’t have to touch anything,” he told me. “Then, after I’ve researched and put together a plan, we can have a virtual meeting to go over the marketing strategies and pricing.”

We met in our living room, and I had to silently reprimand Derrick for reaching for Barker’s hand as he opened the door. (Barker politely declined.) Social distancing was a new concept at that time, and we were still figuring out the new social norms.

After doing a walk-through, we sat at opposite ends of our sectional in the living room and felt confident we were doing the right thing by listing our condo now. At the time, home buyer traffic online was still at a relatively normal level, Barker assured us, and he’d be able to schedule a photographer in the next few days.

‘I could tell things had changed’

But a week later, we hadn’t heard from him. I followed up and learned he’d like to meet with us over Zoom to discuss our listing. From the minute we connected, I could tell that things had changed—even the tone of his voice was different.

We could still go ahead with the listing, Barker said; however, it was going to be a little more trouble than expected. For instance, only one of his regular photographers was still working; the others were refusing to go into other people’s homes and potentially be exposed to the virus. Showing requests had now dropped to 10% of their normal level.

Things didn’t look good. Once our call with our agent was over, Derrick and I talked through our options.

While we were both nervous at the thought of having strangers tour our home, Barker had assured us they were taking precautions to keep both homeowners and buyers safe during the process. For one, there would be no public open houses. To lower his exposure risk, Barker would not be present for showings, instead allowing the buyer’s agent to tour the home with buyers.

Plus, if we decided to close our home for showings, our agent said, it wouldn’t count against us. This is why: In the past, multiple listing service regulations required a listing to be removed from “active” status if the home couldn’t be showed for an extended period of time. But this has been changed for the time being, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, listings without showings can remain active.

In addition, if your listing has the “temporarily no showings” status, the market time will also be frozen. This means it wouldn’t accrue days on market—which can count against sellers because they can make a listing seem stale.

Finally, while showings were down, they were in fact still happening—so there was a chance we could still sell our home during this crazy time, and be able to move out of Chicago in the time frame we’d planned. In the end, we concluded that we really had nothing to lose by going on the market now.

A home seller’s new secret weapon: 3D virtual tours

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Our living room

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The good news with moving forward as planned, our real estate agent told us, was that online traffic was actually up from the previous month. But with showing requests down, we’d have to up our game online. How? By adding a 3D virtual tour to our listing. Creating a virtual tour would entail hiring a specialized photographer and equipment—which our agent’s firm would provide.

We were told that a still photographer was available to come March 31 and a 3D photographer on April 1. Both appointments would take an hour or less. So, before each appointment, we loaded our cat, Monty, into his carrier and went for a drive while the photographers did their work.

A couple of days after both appointments, Barker sent us links to view both the photos and the 3D model—and we were thrilled by how they turned out.

3D home
My home in 3D “dollhouse” mode

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Our listing finally went live on Saturday, April 4, and within two hours of posting, Barker already had a showing request for the very next day. A couple had loved our condo from what they saw on the 3D tour so much that they wanted to see it in person.

“Hoping this could be a one-and-done situation,” Barker added.

We’d been thinking of getting out of Chicago for a while, as the coronavirus pandemic was predicted to peak there soon, so when our agent said he wanted to schedule the showing for the following day at 11 a.m., we figured now was as good a time as any to temporarily relocate. We spent Saturday packing the car and departed Sunday morning, making the 10-hour drive to Alabama to stay with Derrick’s family.

We figured this temporary move would not only be a good opportunity for a change of scenery, it would also help our agent sell our place. He said it would be more appealing to do showings if he could tell potential buyers that we were not home—which would allow buyers faster access to the place while posing less of a health risk.

3D view of office
3D view of our second bedroom, used as an office

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While we felt very hopeful that morning, the one-and-done situation hasn’t exactly materialized—so far.

Barker said the couple who came for the showing were looking for a condo with two parking spaces (a near impossibility in Chicago; our place has only a single garage space) and decided for the time being it was priced too high for them.

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The kitchen

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However, Derrick and I remain optimistic that we’ll be able to sell soon, based on the online traffic we’ve seen. By Barker’s calculations, listings with 3D tours are seeing about 250% more online views right now than listings without.

Overall, it was a pleasant surprise to see how many people are still shopping for homes during the coronavirus outbreak. We guess time will tell whether we’ll be able to sell and move on permanently in the near future, so stay tuned for updates!

If you want more guidance for your own situation, check out our series on “Home Selling in the Age of Coronavirus.”

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Our outdoor space

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The Home Closing Process Amid Coronavirus: The Seller’s Guide to How Long Will It Take

April 17, 2020

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Selling your home during the coronavirus outbreak is no easy task. So if you’ve managed to find a buyer and accept an offer despite these challenging times, congratulations! You’re almost there. All that’s left is to close the deal.

Yet not surprisingly, COVID-19 has thrown a few wrenches into the home closing, too. That’s why, in the final installment of our series “Home Selling in the Age of Coronavirus,” we’re offering guidance on what home sellers should expect as they close on their home, and how to navigate these hurdles to stay safe and keep the deal on track.

How long will it take to close on a house now?

Not surprisingly, home closings are taking longer now. At the end of March, closing times averaged 60 days from the time an offer is accepted, up from 43 days in February and 26 in January, says Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree. They’re likely to take longer still in April.

Why the holdup? In part, lenders have been swamped with processing refinancing applications due to the historically low mortgage interest rates.

“Generally speaking, most lenders are very busy with refis and enjoying record months in closings,” Kapfidze says. “Record closing months will typically lead to delays in days to close. Underwriting turn times are longer today.”

In addition to a backlog in refi underwriting, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are delaying and complicating every step of the home closing—including home inspections, appraisals, and walk-throughs.

In some cases, home buyers are adding addendums to contingency timelines to account for these holdups, says Tomer Fridman, luxury and celebrity real estate expert at Compass.

If you’re a home seller who’s eager to close the deal or nervous it could fall through, here’s more on what could hold up the various stages of home closing, and why.

Home inspections

Typically, once a deal is reached, home buyers will send a home inspector to the seller’s home to vet it for any flaws. Typically, home sellers are present during inspections, but if this prospect makes you nervous, you can ask for a “remote home inspection” instead.

“We are offering clients the option of doing a ‘remote inspection,’ where we inspect the house alone and review the findings with buyers and sellers via a videoconference,” says Welmoed Sisson, a home inspector and author of “101 Things You Don’t Want In Your Home.”

Furthermore, “while we’re at the house, we use gloves, wash our hands, and wipe down things we touch with antiseptic cloths,” Sisson adds.

“We’re anticipating the need to do this for six months at a minimum, and probably longer,” he says.

Home appraisals

Traditionally, home appraisals—where an appraiser visits the house to assess its value—are required by lenders for any buyer who needs a mortgage. But to keep home sellers safe, the Federal Housing Finance Authority has instructed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to temporarily allow exterior-only appraisals or desktop appraisals during the COVID-19 crisis.

These appraisals use public records, multiple listing service information, and other data sources to identify details about the property—and don’t require going inside the home. That’s good news for sellers, although the process could end up taking longer as a result.

Walk-throughs

Social distancing is also affecting buyers’ final walk-throughs, with some being done virtually on FaceTime and others not happening at all.

“The majority of buildings in New York City are not allowing anyone other than owners to enter or exit,” says Peggy Zabakolas, real estate broker at Nest Seekers International in Bridgehampton, NY.

Home closings

Last but not least, social distancing may also delay closings, because some title company offices are closed and in-person gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, says Matthew Myre, CEO and lead agent at Berri Properties in Asheville, NC.

The way around this is, rather than having everyone gather in one room, various parties might sit in separate rooms and shuffle papers between them. Some closings are even taking place outside on sidewalks.

Are remote home closings possible?

States such as Georgia announced that, as of March 31, video closings are temporarily permissible—and more states may follow suit. However, remote or virtual closings are possible only in some places and cases, such as for cash transactions and when lenders allow it, Zabakolas says.

For instance, remote online notarization is allowed in just 23 states, but the National Association of Realtors® recently sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to expand it nationally to speed up real estate transactions during the pandemic while limiting in-person contact.

Just keep in mind that most of the delays in selling a home during the COVID-19 outbreak are beyond anyone’s control—and are a good thing in that they’re meant to protect home sellers (and buyers) from unnecessary exposure risks that might come from in-person meetings.

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The Home Seller’s Guide To Striking the Right Deal Today—Despite the Pandemic

April 17, 2020

The Home Seller’s Guide to Striking the Right Deal Today—Despite the Pandemic

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The coronavirus crisis has thrown a number of wrinkles into the home-selling process. Stock market fluctuations and job layoffs have some buyers rethinking whether to commit to a property purchase. Meanwhile, social distancing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 has put many in-person open houses and home showings on hold.

All of which would seem to suggest that the strong seller’s market where sellers enjoyed bidding wars and top dollar for their home are over. But is this true?

Not necessarily. Even today, there’s room for sellers to negotiate. In the fourth part of our series “Home Selling in the Age of Coronavirus,” we offer insight into what sellers should know about getting the best deal for their home.

The coronavirus effect on housing supply and demand

For starters, sellers should take heart that buyer interest may not be dwindling as much as they might think.

“While some agents have reported diminished interest from buyers and sellers, there are still buyers and sellers who either want or need to buy or sell now,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®.

Your own situation will hinge greatly on where you’re selling, and how far along your area is in its COVID-19 contagion cycle. If cases are peaking, that’s way different from an area where cases are dwindling or near nonexistent.

“Real estate is always a local business, and that’s going to be even more true now,” Hale adds. “The impacts of COVID-19 on the housing market are going to hit each area slightly differently, and with different timing.”

So far, nationwide, housing inventory remains low. The number of homes for sale in March fell 15.7% compared with the same time a year ago, according to realtor.com’s March Housing Trends Report. During the week ending March 28, the number of newly listed homes dropped 34% compared with a year earlier.

Ordinarily, fewer homes on the market means less competition for sellers, which is a good thing for people who’ve listed their property.

Should home sellers reduce their price?

Some buyers may look for deals, thinking all sellers are desperate to sell. But if this isn’t you, there’s no reason to cave or whittle down your home’s price. In fact, the median home price increased 3.8% in March, to $320,000, according to realtor.com’s trends report.

“Regardless of the events, there will always be buyers who will write a lowball offer,” says Ressie Krabacher, a residential broker with the Chicago Home Partner team of At Properties.

Meanwhile, a report by the National Association of Realtors® in March found that 72% of agents surveyed have noted no reduction in seller’s prices.

But even if you think you need to take any offer and sell soon—due to job loss or other economic hardship—make sure you explore all your options first.

“Banks have rolled out mortgage forbearance programs, so most sellers are not in immediate danger of losing their home, even if they just lost their job or their income has been significantly cut,” points out Caleb Liu, who flips homes in Southern California with HouseSimplySold.com. “Other sellers have opted to pull their listings and wait for better market conditions, so inventory remains tight.”

Another option if you need to sell quickly is to entertain offers from iBuyers—companies that can buy your home quickly, although typically for a bit less than you’d fetch on the open market. Bottom line is, options abound that could fit for you depending on your circumstances.

“I would advise sellers to step back and figure out their situation and timeline,” Krabacher says. “I would challenge and encourage them to look at the big picture, and we’ll figure out if it makes sense for them to take the offer now or to sit tight.”

How to negotiate an offer on your home today

Now is the time for home sellers to get their priorities in order. How low are you willing to go? What counteroffer strategies make sense based on your individual financial situation and motivations for selling your home? In the current market, you can—and should—get creative.

“Maybe you can negotiate a more extended closing date ideal for buyers to get your price, or agree to a lower price with the condition of a quick closing or that buyers take the place as is rather than make repairs,” Krabacher says.

Another good thing to ask for during such touch-and-go times? A solid earnest money deposit from buyers to show they’re serious.

“I also advise sellers to negotiate on higher earnest money between 3% and 5% of purchase price to ensure the buyer has more skin in the game,” adds Krabacher.

Depending on your individual market and its balance of buyers and sellers, you’ll want to at least be open to all offers on your home, even if they aren’t as high as you’d like.

“As a seller, if buyers in your area have decided to put the brakes on their home searches, you may want to entertain offers that you hadn’t previously considered, especially if you need to sell quickly,” Hale says. “However, it may be that buyers are still shopping in your market, but other sellers have decided to hold off on jumping into the market now. In that case, you may still see strong offers.”

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