While the real estate market traditionally slows in the fall and winter, that doesn't stop diehard buyers who aspire to a property that's newer, larger or simply more to their liking.
Take the true story of a couple in their early 60s, a travel agent married to a government consultant, who sold their multi-level family house and plan to buy a more expensive single-story place with a huge gourmet kitchen and an expansive patio.
"Lots of baby boomers are now aching to bail out of a dated suburban house in favor of a newer one with no stairs. And some of these folks are so restless that they refuse to wait until spring to move," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home."
Other wannabe trade-up buyers are those with young families who've lived in a starter home for several years and are now eager for a larger place in a neighborhood with better schools.
But no matter how desperate you may be for new digs, make sure that your new house will be worth the trouble and expense of moving.
Here are pointers for trade-up buyers:
-- Define precisely what you want in your next home.
Many would-be buyers have only a vague notion of the sort of the home that would make them happy. But it's well worth your time to specify exactly what you want in a property, says Fred Meyer, a real estate appraiser and broker who sells property near Harvard University.
Meyer says trade-up buyers have an advantage over starter-home purchasers because those moving to a second or third home can draw on past experience.
He suggests movers make a list of everything they don't like about their present home. Then they should flip that list to help itemize the highest-priority features they're seeking in the next place.
-- Don't rule out a property that's languished unsold for a long time.
Many buyers are suspicious of any place that's been on the market for an unusually long time, particularly if other homes in the same neighborhood have sold relatively quickly. But Davis says buyers can often do well if they're willing to consider such "stale listings."
"In the vast majority of cases, the only thing wrong with the stale house is that the sellers were trying to price-gouge at the beginning," Davis says.
Trade-up buyers willing to consider such a home can sometimes obtain a high-quality property at a below-market price, he says. That's because the longer a property sits unsold, the more likely its owners are to bargain in earnest.
Still, Davis offers one caveat to those looking for deals among stale listings: Hire a top-notch home inspector to make sure a prospective purchase doesn't have any major defects, such as structural problems.
-- Steer clear of a home that needs extensive remodeling work.
Davis says trade-up buyers who had to do considerable remodeling work on a previous home are generally disinclined to buy another "fixer-upper."
"These days, there are a dwindling number of folks willing to take on big renovation projects, because most people are way too busy, which makes them phobic about remodeling, even for those who can afford top-notch contractors," Davis says.
Suppose, for example, that you've fallen in love with a stately Victorian house in a leafy neighborhood where you'd love to raise your young children. And suppose, also, that you know that property will require a lot of work before you could move in. What should you do then?
In that case, Davis recommends you obtain estimates for all the major work the property needs and carefully evaluate those estimates to decide if you're prepared to invest all the time and money necessary.
-- Factor in the potential pluses of buying during the winter holiday season.
Obviously, not everyone is in a good position to trade up in the immediate future. If you're not, you may need to delay your quest to move to a better home until mid-2015 or later.
Yet purchasers who are now in a positive financial position could do well to move soon, according to Davis, who says the upcoming holiday season might be a good time to make a transition.
"Usually, people trying to sell during the holidays are those who absolutely must move. This could make them very receptive to your offer. And a good price, coupled with exceptionally low mortgage rates, means a double whammy in your favor," Davis says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)