At the end of every December, people make all kinds of resolutions for the coming year. Typically, these are things they want to improve about themselves, ways to make their day-to-day personal or work life better, or ideas to put them on track for a change. Many times these surface as a result of mistakes made in the past 12 months.
When it comes to real estate, resolutions don't necessarily apply as it's unlikely that you do a real estate transaction each year. Furthermore, you can't actually resolve to buy your neighbor's house or sell your $350,000 home for $1 million. Well, you could, but you'd probably be setting yourself up for disappointment right from the start.
Some things are simply out of a would-be buyer or seller's control. But, as a would-be buyer or seller, you can learn from and make resolutions based on those who have gone before you. There exists a former buyer who, if he could, would resolve to have done more legwork before buying. Conversely, there's a current seller who resolves to take the next under-asking-price offer from a buyer more seriously.
Whether you plan to buy or sell, there are some real estate resolutions that buyers and sellers can -- and should -- make. Here are five to get you started.
Buyers: Resolve to Get Your Financial House in Order
Planning a home purchase takes time and effort, so you should consider meeting with a mortgage professional early in the year. Know your credit score and understand what your financial situation looks like from a lender's perspective. If you have credit issues, identify what they are and the necessary steps to correct them. Sometimes, it can take six months to see your FICO score move up the much-needed 20 points to get you a better mortgage rate. A good real estate agent can recommend an experienced, local mortgage professional. Local is always important, because many real estate deals are made on relationships, and being able to meet face-to-face with your mortgage professional can be a big plus.
Sellers: Resolve to Think of Your Home as a Product
Start clearing out old stuff now. If there are things deep in your closets that you don't think you'll use between January and the time you move, consider a storage locker or making space in the garage. Does your real estate agent suggest that the basement needs a paint job? Get some painting bids now. Have you always hated how the bathroom vanity takes up so much space? Consider changing it now so buyers will perceive your bathroom as bigger. This will also help you spread out the costs of home repairs and changes over several months.
Buyers: Resolve to Start Feeling Out the Market Early
You may think you only need to go to open houses once you're ready to buy. But in reality, a buyer needs a couple of months learning the marketing, understanding home values, the prices per neighborhood and the market in general. Going to open houses in the neighborhoods where you want to buy will allow you to start feeling out the market. It may also be the best way to meet your future real estate agent. Many agent/buyer relationships are forged at open houses.
Once you engage an agent, you may make several offers before you get into your dream home. Having your agent along for the ride will allow you to compare and contrast homes you've visited to the home you eventually buy. The homes you see and your experience feeling out the market will serve as the building blocks toward becoming an informed buyer and making your best offer.
Sellers: Resolve to Understand Your Timing and Exit Strategy
One of the biggest stresses on a seller is trying to plan a purchase and a sale at the same time. Can you afford to close on the new home before selling? If so, for how long? Do you need to sell the property first? If so, will the potential sale price support a home purchase in the neighborhood you want to be in? If not, what other areas should you be looking in? Selling and buying at the same time brings up all kinds of financial, emotional and physical stress.
Uprooting yourself from your home is not easy. What if you have to go into short-term housing? How will you get that set up and how long would you need to commit for? If you can afford to purchase and then sell, do they need to happen quickly? Are there things you can be doing in your current home so that once your new home closes, you'll be ready to list? It's a lot to think about and plan for, and it helps to have a strategy in place well before you have to take action.
Buyers and Sellers: Resolve to Engage a Real Estate Agent Now
Planning a home purchase or sale takes time. Engaging a real estate agent early in the process will allow you to have an expert on hand as you start to put the pieces together. A good real estate agent doesn't just show and sell homes: They can be your strategic adviser, even well in advance of any actual transaction.
On the seller side, if you pulled a permit to install some new windows or replace some dry rot in 2005, likely the contractor issued a permit. But did he close it out? A good agent will figure that out and clean it up before it becomes a transaction issue. You should use your agent to literally get your house and listing in order.
For buyers, having an agent with you from the start is like having an experienced second set of eyes and ears. Having so many transactions under the belt and years of market knowledge in their head, a real estate agent's opinions, thoughts and ideas can save you a lot of time and money. What's more, they can keep you on the right path toward identifying the best home, and they'll see you through the process all the way to the closing.
See more on Zillow:
Ways to Get Creative in a Real Estate Transaction
Is Pricing Low the Way to Go?
5 Mistakes Sellers Should Avoid in Today's Market