In my new book, "Buy Close, Move IN!" which will be published by Harper Collins in April, 2010, I discuss the myriad of changes in the world of real estate due to the housing and credit crisis.
But in the midst of new legislation, new attitudes, new verifications and new documentation, there are a few timeless rules of real estate, my so-called "Old Rules of Real Estate," that continue to be guideposts for the way we purchase property.
Sometimes, when everything else seems so fluid, it helps to know what you can count on. The next time you buy real estate, count on my seven Old Rules of Real Estate:
- Educate yourself on the process. If you don't know how to buy real estate, or if you're buying in a new state or municipality that has different customs, you'll need to brush up. There are good books to read, including my own 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, and websites like Zillow and Trulia that offer information and an open forum of ideas.
- Learn the true value of homes in your neighborhood of choice. You can't make a savvy offer if you don't get out there, see what's available and understand how price, location and condition are related in your area.
- Don't look at homes you can't afford. This has always been classic advice. But now, if you look at homes you can't afford, there aren't any exotic mortgages to help you buy them. All you're looking at is a broken heart.
- Hire a great agent. If you're going to buy a foreclosure or short sale, or if you just want someone to guide you along the way (and even hold your hand), you'll want to hire a great agent. I get some flack from new agents for suggesting that you hire an agent with years of experience. But only agents who have been in the business for awhile can give you the experience and perspective you need to make a savvy offer.
- Build a great home-building team. In addition to a great agent, you'll need a professional home inspector you can trust, and a mortgage lender. You should also hire your own real estate attorney (even if you live in a state where attorneys are not commonly used to close deals) to help walk you through the paperwork, check on liens and (if you're buying a foreclosure or short sale) help you negotiate with the lender(s).
- Make a fair offer. As bad as the housing crisis as been, and as beaten up as sellers are, no one likes to be taken for a fool. You can offer any price you want - just bring along some comps so you can make your case to the seller.
- Be a good neighbor. Once you close and move into your new home, you'll need to start thinking like a homeowner rather than a home buyer - and that means being a good neighbor. Start out on the right foot by introducing yourself to your neighbors. Keep your grass mowed, your yard trimmed, your exterior siding painted, tuckpointed or power-washed. Remove your holiday lights before the spring thaw. And, offer to host a block party!