Real Estate Bargains: Getting the Best Buy Possible

Reflecting on the Real Estate MarketsYesterday we highlighted four common myths that sometimes lead buyers to believe they’re getting a better deal than they really are. Today we’re sharing some thoughts about finding true real estate bargains.

Let’s just get this first point out of the way early. If you’re looking for a ridiculous value – a complete steal – then a real estate agent probably isn’t going to find it for you. You need to start pounding the pavement to track down leads on your own. You need to find sellers who are (1) just starting to think about selling their home, and (2) completely out of touch with the approximate value of their home and the real estate market overall. Because once they talk to a real estate agent, or begin to look at what similar homes are selling for, the pricing is going to be far more rational and efficient. You are effectively competing with agents for listings.

Okay, so if we agree that your buyer’s agent is not going to find you the deal of a lifetime, how do you find a good real estate deal?

1. Look at what everyone else is ignoring.
Buyers are currently fixated on fully updated homes. This is a big change from the middle of the decade when sweat equity was all the rage. As a result, there are some interesting opportunities in homes that are in desirable locations but need some work. Sometimes these homes can be money pits, but other times the main issues are cosmetic. Differentiating between the two can lead to very good investments.

2. Be flexible in your requirements.
The wider the range of possibilities that you are considering, the more likely you are going to find a seller willing to compromise on price. Consider multiple towns. Consider different house styles. Consider different bedroom and bathroom configurations. The more options you are open to, the more likely an opportunity will come your way.

3. Be ready, willing, and able to react.
Every now and then we come across a property listed in the MLS that’s a good buy. We tell as many of our buyer clients about it as possible, but most of the time it’s not a good fit for their needs or the timing isn’t right.

For example, last year there was a home in a popular neighborhood in West Hartford that turned out to be a very good buy. According to the group of agents who visited it with us on broker’s tour, it was initially listed about 10% too high. It was also listed late in the spring market. The sellers quickly lowered the price to the point it was fair, but nothing happened. Buyers had checked out for the summer and there were no offers. After lowering the price to about 8% below was we all initially agreed was fair, they got an offer. The property ended up closing more than 12% below what we thought it was worth, and more than 20% below the initial asking price. It was not a distressed home, just one that got lost in the shuffle due to poor timing and pricing.

4. Focus on more than just the price.
Most of the homes in Greater Hartford are more than 25 years old, which means that their original mechanicals are approaching the end of their useful lives. Time for a quiz! You have the choice of buying two houses that are virtually identical. Choice A is a home with fresh, tasteful paint, but older mechanicals. Choice B is a home with hideous wallpaper and shag carpet everywhere, but new windows, roof, and furnace. Both have dated, but functional, kitchens and baths. Both have the same number of bedrooms, baths, and total rooms, and both have the same asking price. Which do you prefer?

Most buyers gravitate towards the tasteful and pretty. They overestimate the amount of time, effort, and money needed for cosmetic issues and underestimate the value of the mechanicals. Not only will newer mechanicals allow you to avoid the cost of replacing them, they will also operate more efficiently and save you money every month.

The average real estate buyer and seller is much more knowledgeable today than ever before. Information available via the internet and traditional media sources help them understand the sales process and pricing, which in turn makes the overall market more efficient. Finding an unbelievable bargain is a real challenge. Most buyers are focused on making sure that they get a good buy if a property needs work, and at least pay a fair price if the home is in move-in condition. The key is to know what else is on the market, so you know if the price is right.