To sort out what you can expect in real estate this year, MONEY zeroed in on four markets: upscale neighborhoods, new investor favorites, booming growth cities, and once-busy areas that have quieted down. Whether your local real estate market is heating up or cooling off, here’s what you need to know about buying, selling or renovating your home.
NEW INVESTOR FAVORITES
Investors are draining out of formerly foreclosure-torn cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning real estate altogether. Instead they’re relocating to cheaper, less competitive locales, a trend that’s expected to continue.
Areas with a median home price of $195,000 or less will be major draws, says RealtyTrac’s Daren Blomquist. But once the buying starts to pick up, don’t expect prices to stay that low.
How you’ll know: Check Realtor.com’s Trends page to see whether your city fits the price profile. Foreclosures are another indicator. Compare the number of homes in all stages of foreclosure with for-sale listings in your city on the Stats & Trends page of RealtyTrac.com (enter your city in the box). Areas with at least a 1:1 ratio are likely to draw investors, says Blomquist.
Avoid the big guys. Shoppers looking for a property priced at $200,000 or less will most likely be competing with investors. One way to go around them is by searching Fannie Mae foreclosures at homepath.com. Non-investor buyers have dibs on these listings for the first 20 days.
New construction is another good bet. Investors are after deals, and builders won’t negotiate. To find developments, narrow your search on sites like Realtor.com and Trulia to “new home communities.”
Get the right help. A creative, aggressive agent can also help you find the right home before cash-toting investors swoop in. Ask candidates to walk you through their tight-market tactics. Find out whether they offer services like direct-mail solicitation (entreaties to sell that are sent to homes in your preferred neighborhoods), says Denver real estate agent Ron Buss. Also ask whether he has any current “pocket listings,” for-sale homes that haven’t been entered into the MLS.
Ask if it’s a flip. Some investors look for cheap out-of-shape homes, do a quick fix, and throw them back on the market. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s worth finding out whether a home has been flipped so that you can vet the renovations carefully. Any house sold in the past six months qualifies (check the property records on your local appraiser’s website).
To guard against poor-quality work, ask for a list of all recent repairs and flag them for your inspector, says Brandon Turner, editor of investing website BiggerPockets.com.
Be prepared. When you need a loan and competition is all-cash, you’ll need to top the liquid offer by at least 5%, says Zillow blogger Brendon DeSimone.
As in the growth markets, you should also prove to sellers that you’re ready to act by going through underwriting before you shop. Finally, get personal: Write the seller about your plans to live in and care for the house. If you’re lucky, the owner may prefer to sell to a person rather than to a company.
Decide on your best buyer. Do you want the highest price possible for your home — and don’t mind waiting to get it? A traditional buyer won over by a great school district and excellent staging is more likely to negotiate and will often end up paying more, says Alex Sifakis, president of a Jacksonville investing firm.
On the other hand, selling to an investor means “fast, hassle-free” cash deals in exchange for a discount, he says. You won’t have to worry about curb appeal or repairs; investors buy a home as is.
Don’t waste your time. Sometimes inexperienced investors can’t pull off a deal. To reach out to an established firm, contact your local realtors association for reputable names. Look for companies that have been in business for at least two years.
Sit tight and let your home appreciate. That applies even if your home is worth more than $200,000; investors tend to nudge up prices wherever they buy, and the value of your property should benefit from a trickle-up effect.