Smart Moves

Finding Deals in a Hot Market

This spring has been a traumatic season for many homebuyers trying to move to popular neighborhoods. And with inventories continuing to shrink and prices continuing to soar, the summer season looks no better.

“This is an especially hard period for millennials who came of age during the Great Recession of 2008. They want to live in prime city or suburban areas, but face huge hurdles in trying to do so,” says Sid Davis, a longtime real estate broker.

According to an extensive new poll conducted for Trulia, a real estate data company, 98 percent of aspiring homeowners age 20 to 36 say they’re encountering barriers.

“Unsurprisingly, financial concerns rank at the top of the list of barriers -- with rising home prices as the most common culprit, affecting 40 percent of this population, and saving enough for a down payment coming in second, at 31 percent,” says Cheryl Young, the chief economist of Trulia.

Many millennials surrender their dream of living in their favored area, instead substituting one they consider secondary. But real estate specialists say such a harsh trade-off isn’t always necessary.

“Don’t sacrifice your top neighborhood choice too easily. Keep hunting in your favored area for a place that other buyers have shunned. That might yield you a happier-than-expected outcome,” Davis says.

Even in communities that are rightly categorized as seller’s markets, he says there are occasionally unusual buying opportunities for eager entrants.

“Look for a property that’s been stigmatized by other buyers because it first hit the market way overpriced and then languished unsold for weeks. Alternatively, consider a place that shows badly because it’s very cluttered, cosmetically challenged or decorated in a highly personal style,” Davis says.

Here are a few pointers for buyers:

-- View someone else’s junk as your opportunity.

Listing agents often have a terrible time convincing their clients to clear through the clutter that packs their homes -- a definite turnoff to most potential buyers.

But Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org), says sharp home shoppers realize it’s possible to get a fair deal on a cluttered home -- assuming they’re capable of looking beyond the accumulations to the property’s inherent structure and floor plan.

“The idea is to picture the house as if it were vacant and then decide if it has the ‘good bones’ you’re looking for. This is hard, but it can be done,” Helfant says.

She estimates that at least 60 percent of the home-buying public can’t envision how different a cluttered home would look if all the sellers’ excess belongings were hauled away.

If you can’t picture how a property you’re considering would look without all the extra furniture and clutter, consider asking someone with clearer vision to stop by the place. This could be an interior designer, a professional home stager or an artistic friend.

“A crowded house can represent an excellent possibility for those who can see past all that junk. And remember, sellers are forced to take their stuff with them when they move,” Helfant says.

-- Open your mind to unusual decors.

The home improvement shows on cable TV are one reason more homeowners are now experimenting with eccentric wall colorings and unusual carpet hues. But the raspberry dining room or purple kitchen the owners fancy is likely to send many prospects away.

“Of course, people are free to paint their entire interior in Pepto-Bismol pink. But they shouldn’t expect buyers to want their house if they do something that eccentric,” Helfant says.

Listing agents tire of trying to convince clients to “neutralize” their homes before they go on the market -- repainting their walls in a light, neutral tone and replacing odd-colored carpet with something neutral.

Just like the cluttered house, the flamboyantly decorated house offers opportunity for people with vision to obtain a property for a very favorable price.

“People with the ability to see the potential in this type of a house can really find a diamond in the rough,” Helfant says.

-- Don’t necessarily reject a property on the basis of online photos.

Nowadays, most buyers sift through lots of online ads before deciding to visit a particular property. If they don’t like what they see in the pictures, they’ll decline to visit a house on that basis alone.

But like some people, some good-looking homes are simply not photogenic. Or possibly the photographers who take their pictures don’t know how to portray them well.

Either way, you could be the winner if you’re willing to visit a home that others won’t tour because of unfavorable photos.

“A wonderful and well-priced surprise could await you when you open the door of a house others have missed,” Helfant says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)

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