How Can Buyers Get the Lowest Possible Price on the Best Possible Property?

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The first piece of advice I have for buyers who want to get a fantastic bargain is to find a good buyer's agent. Nothing else will make as much difference as a good buyer's agent who is dedicated to the idea of getting buyers a bargain. They spot problems before you're stuck with them, keep you from wasting time, bargain hard on your behalf, debunk all the nonsense that sellers and listing agents throw your way, and most importantly, know when and under what conditions it's a good idea to walk away.

The second piece of advice I have for buyers who want to get fantastic bargains is to be willing to zig when everyone else is zagging. The gorgeous property in a high demand area of town, the award winning new development that's selling like hotcakes, and the freshly remodeled high end property are not where you're going to find bargains. Timing is as important as location and condition. It's much harder to find a bargain in the spring and summer, when everyone else is looking to buy, than it is to find a bargain around Christmas, when nobody wants to move that tree. You find bargains by being willing to consider what relatively few others will. A buyer's market is where the buyers have all the power simply because there are so few buyers in proportion to the number of sellers. Seller's markets are the exact opposite, but it's pretty easy to get people to want to buy during seller's markets, and difficult to get people to buy in buyer's markets. The psychology of increasing prices motivates greed on the behalf of buyers, but if you want to make a large profit, buy when nobody else wants to. When everything is going bananas and prices are increasing 20% per year and everything sells in three days or less is the time to be selling, not buying.

This isn't to say that every property or every situation that everybody else is avoiding is a ripe bargain. That is not the case. Sometimes the reason why a given property isn't selling is a sane, rational reason - far and away the most common reason for a low asking price is a defect that means you can't get a loan on that property. If you don't need a loan, and the issue with the property is one you are certain you can fix, that's a real opportunity. If the property is next to an explosives factory or a maximum security prison, there's a good reason why people are giving it a wide berth. There is a reason to do due diligence on every property.

The third piece of advice I have for bargain hunters is that the beautiful, turn key property where you sign the papers, move your furniture in, and you immediately become the envy of your neighbors is not bargain priced. Those properties don't need to be bargain priced, because they appeal to everyone, and people will line up to pay top dollar for those properties. The owners don't have to negotiate much, because everyone's making offers on these. You find real bargains by being willing and able to consider what other buyers can't or won't. Bargains happen for people who are willing to make it beautiful, not for people who already want it beautiful. The prospective buyer who cannot or will not sink cash into the property can't touch it. The person who isn't willing to work - or pay to have work done - won't be interested.

This segues into the subject for the fourth piece of advice: Being on solid financial footing is worth gold to buyers - lots of gold. Not being on a solid financial footing may or may not be worth waiting until you can fix it, depending upon your market. That's a question that can only be answered on an individual basis. But people with low credit score, low to zero down payment, or insufficient ability to document income will have substantially fewer properties to choose from, and a lot less bargaining power to boot. These challenges become much more difficult if you've got more than one of them. Any one of these issues can be dealt with. Stated Income is dead, leaving you with the options of a seller carryback, higher down payment, or less expensive property. People without much of a down payment have to go through the rigamarole of a government loan - which many sellers are unwilling to put up with. People with bad credit can still get loans if they can document income and provide a down payment - or even if they can't document income with a larger down payment. But put these items together, and you're very constrained as to which properties you have the opportunity to buy. Sellers want cash, not promissory notes, which means the ones who are able to offer carrybacks have a huge lever to hold on you. You're likely to end up paying full asking price or more simply because your options are that property or none.

You have cash, or at least the ability to pay the seller in cash via a loan. The sellers have property and they want cash. Every property is not appropriate for every buyer, and I've yet to find a property that's an exception to this rule - but cash is appropriate for every seller. Your cash, my cash, Uncle Sam's cash - sellers are complete agnostics when it comes to whose cash. That dollar from your pocket is worth exactly the same as the dollar from mine. It all spends, and any seller with any pretense to rationality is going to be the ultimate agnostic about who that cash comes from. So long as they get it, it all spends. Cash is always king - but it never produces more cash just sitting there.

But you have needs and wants for the property, and unless you've got a license to run your own private printing press, you don't have an unlimited budget. You have to know what that budget is, and blowing your budget is the mistake most likely to cause a disastrous failure in the home buying process. One of the things I do that my buyer clients absolutely hate is I force them to sit down with me and have a talk about what's important to them in a property, how important it is, and what's not important. Furthermore, I always want to cover alternatives. If they can have two or three features of lesser importance, are they willing to give up one item that may be highly desirable but extremely expensive? People hate this because they hate any indication that they might have to "settle" for anything less than a dream home, but dream homes turn to nightmares very quickly if you don't stay within a budget you can afford. You can always move up again later, but if you can't really afford it now, you will be better off not buying it. A good buyer's agent should give you a very good idea how well your budget and your desires match up before you look at a single property. Furthermore, when looking at properties, always shop by purchase price, not payment. Never never NEVER choose a house or a loan based upon payment!

All of this reduces to one word: Planning. People hate to plan. A good working definition for human beings is, "an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan." Me, too, except where there's something important on the line, and getting my clients a better properties at lower prices is a large part of how I feed my family. Effectively planning your purchase will save you many thousands of dollars. Several tens of thousands, around here; perhaps hundreds of thousands in places like Manhattan. I plan everything about my client's purchases except whether they'll like a particular property. There is no way in the known universe to predict that. I've found people exactly what they told me they wanted, at a price within their budget, only to be told "Show us something else." I've had people immediately fall in love with something that I almost didn't show them because it really didn't match up with the desires they told me they had. I've had people insist they wanted a property even though I gave them a dozen good reasons not to. They're the boss. I'm just the expert. Push comes to shove, people will buy what they like - it's my job to make certain they know about the warts and have a chance to avoid them. People marry people with warts and buy properties with them all the time. Most properties, just like most people, have their warts. It's my job to make sure my clients know about that property's warts - not to prevent them from exercising adult judgment on whether it's something they can live with.

About warts: If you're one of those people that cannot accept the fact that everything in real estate is a trade-off, you're not going to do well. If you're only willing to buy a perfect property in the perfect situation at a perfect price, there are three possibilities. One: you pay a lot more than the property is worth. Two: You don't buy anything, either because nothing satisfies you or because someone else gets into escrow first. Three: You are the victim of a con where they pretend to have the perfect property in the perfect situation at a perfect price.

There are properties without metaphorical warts of any kind. They all command a premium in any market. If you want a bargain, there are going to be warts. There's going to be a reason why buyers didn't line up to outbid each other, because that's what happens with premium properties in any market. Location, surroundings, condition, size, floor plan, orientation, structure, commute, missing something it needs or has something it shouldn't. Usually, more than one of these. Some things that are a big deal to most prospective buyers are cheap and easy to fix, while other things that don't seem important at first are expensive or impossible. Some things make a large difference on resale, others don't. Some things are impossible to live with, some things trivial. A good buyer's agent will make all the difference in the property you choose, and it's not just knowledge, but attitude as well.

Penultimate item: Sometimes, there are things that are more important to the seller than some amount of cash, and if they are less important to you than that amount of cash, this is a good way to get a bargain. Sometimes there will be clues in the listing that a good buyer's agent can spot. Sometimes, a seller who wants it all their way will give away this crucial information in negotiations, usually by asking for something other than the way things are normally done in your area. Once again, it's the buyer's agent who is going to spot that and know what it's really worth in the way of other concessions. Everything that's unusual, out of place or out of the ordinary is a possible flag here. This works both ways, so if you don't have a sharp buyer's agent and the seller has a sharp listing agent, you can very easily put your foot in your mouth to the tune of thousands of dollars or even blowing the purchase altogether. Get with your agent and plan how you're going to craft your offer to get from where you are to where you want to be.

The final item, and one of the most important: Always negotiate honestly and in good faith. Never make an offer you're not prepared to have accepted. Never represent yourself as being happy when you're not, or being unhappy when you're trying not to chortle with glee. It's amazing how many people simply do not understand how likely this is to bite you. The purchase contract is not the end of negotiations - even the consummated sale may not always be the end of negotiations, but that's the way to plan. It takes two willing parties, a buyer and a seller, to get from the purchase contract to the consummated sale. One side gets too greedy or too demanding, the other side gets disgruntled and walks out. The net result is no transaction, and you're right back where you started from, except you're out the time and probably a not inconsiderable amount of money. Lose-lose, where a viable transaction is always at least commensal, and symbiotic is better.

None of this is "Buying below market." There is no such thing as "buying below market". Market is whatever the price a willing buyer and a willing seller agree the property is worth. End of discussion. If you don't understand this, don't get involved in buying and selling real estate. You would only get hurt. But it is a collection of ideas and principles that enable savvy buyers to get the real bargains - the sort where you look back in amazed satisfaction at how well you did, and if you don't know any better, you'll think it was dumb luck. And luck does happen, but fortune in real estate favors those who are prepared, who get good advice, and who are prepared to undertake reasonable risks when the probability and magnitude of a payoff more than compensate. Real estate is always a competition, and like every competition, you want to practice, you want to prepare, you want to have the best coach and the best strategy, and you have to be willing to take calculated risks. The prize isn't a gold medal - it's a property where you can be happier than in the property you didn't spend tens of thousands of dollars more for, and resell when the time comes faster and for a higher profit.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 23, 2014 7:00 AM.

Paying Off Old Past Due Bills Without Hurting Your Credit Again was the previous entry in this blog.

Buyer's Agency, Due Diligence, and the Illusion of Comity is the next entry in this blog.

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