money·7 min read

Homebuying (and Selling) In Today's Market, Skimm'd

Skimm-treated image of a home and yard with a "For Sale' sign
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Mar 14, 2022

With borrowing rates low and lots of Americans everything-ing from home, the real estate market can feel a liiiittle crowded these days. Meaning there might be extra pressure on you to act quickly when you see something you like. 

But we know you might need more info, advice, and support before you take the plunge. So we tapped the experts. Keep scrolling for the answers to your burning real estate Qs — provided by REALTORS®, aka members of the National Association of REALTORS®.

If I’m a first-time buyer, what are three things I need to know? 

  1. Finances matter. Consider meeting with a lender to get a mortgage pre-approval letter before you hit your first open house. That way, you’ll know what size loan you qualify for. Which can help you set a realistic price range. The pre-approval process also involves a credit check. So it’ll reveal any issues you might need to resolve. 

  2. An agent who is a REALTOR® matters. You want to be confident that the people you’re working with have your best interests at heart. REALTORS® are real estate experts. They can help you navigate the homebuying process, negotiations, inspections, and paperwork. And since they abide by a strict code of ethics, you know you can trust them. 

  3. Your commitment matters. It’s hard to start searching if you don’t know what you’re looking for. And it’ll be hard for anyone trying to help you, too. So make a list of your housing needs and nice-to-haves ASAP. And be really clear and honest about the difference. Then, when you find the right spot, be ready to make an offer. 

Psst…if you need help deciding whether homeownership is right for you, check out recent National Association of REALTORS® research that shows the financial security it can offer. 

Is it better to put off buying a home until I have 20% for a down payment?

Wanna know a little real estate secret? Most buyers don’t. The median down payment for first-time buyers is 7%, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Without putting 20% down, you’ll likely need to pay private mortgage insurance with your monthly mortgage payment. At least, until you’ve built 20% equity in your home. But you don’t have to miss out. There are several first-time homebuyer loans and grants that can help you make a purchase with less than 20%. Some require less than 3%. 

Got any tips for saving for a down payment while paying rent?

Start a homebuying savings account. Set up automated payments from your paycheck that go directly to the account. So you won’t even have to think about it. Then, look into ways you can reduce your rent costs. Maybe you can find a roommate (hey mom and dad), talk to your property manager about getting a break, or relocate to a cheaper place temporarily. You may also wanna cut back on dining, travel, or entertainment expenses for a bit. Or get a side hustle so you can save even more. 

The National Association of REALTORS® has a chart that demonstrates how owning can help some people save in the long run, btw. 

Is there any time of year that gives buyers an advantage?

The fall and winter seasons are traditionally less competitive for homebuyers. But that has not been the case lately. Instead of trying to time the market, try asking yourself: 

  • What’s the best time for you? 

  • Are you financially ready? 

  • Is rent becoming too high? 

  • Have you outgrown your current home? 

  • Would currently low mortgage rates help you better afford homeownership?

If you’re still not sure, you can talk with an agent who is a REALTOR® to help determine the right time to buy in your market. 

What should I look for in a buyer’s agent? 

As we said above, when you work with agents who are REALTORS®, you’re working with professionals who abide by a strict code of ethics. So you can have confidence in the info, advice, and expertise they share. You can also look for a REALTOR® with an ABR®, or Accredited Buyer’s Representative, designation. (Or another designation you might be interested in, like training in green and sustainable housing, military relocation, and second home purchases.) Here are a few questions you might wanna ask when you interview agents:

  • Do you focus on the market area and price range I’m targeting?

  • How do you plan to help me? 

  • What differentiates you from other agents?

  • How are you being compensated? 

  • Are you an agent and a REALTOR®?

FYI, fees are negotiable and agents follow different compensation models. 

About how much should I set aside for closing costs and other expenses?

Time for some math. Closing costs are typically 2%–5% of your loan amount. Your lender will tell you the exact number at least three business days before closing. You’ll also wanna budget for moving expenses, which this calculator can help with. Plus escrow items, like homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. A REALTOR® has the expertise to help you factor in other costs of homes you’re considering, like estimated utilities and HOA fees. Once you own, you should set aside about 1% of your home’s value per year to cover regular maintenance costs and unexpected repairs. 

When do you think house prices will go down?

Probably not anytime soon. Reminder from HS Econ class: When demand is high and supply is low, prices rise. Over the past year, home prices have risen by double-digit percentages because a lot of prospective buyers are drawn to historically low interest rates and there aren’t enough homes for sale to accommodate them all.  

Demographic trends suggest that’ll continue. But home price increases will likely moderate. The market is still rising but normalizing. In fact, the National Association of REALTORS® predicts a 5.1% annual median home price increase for 2022 and a 3.7% increase for 2023. More homes are expected to come up for sale, too. And that could mean more choices for homebuyers. Homeowners, on the other hand, can expect to keep building equity.

How can I find out if it’s a good time for me to sell?

First, see what houses are going for in your area to learn what you could realistically get for your home. Then consider your finances. Ask yourself…

  • Can you afford to move? 

  • Where do you plan to move to? 

If homes are selling fast in your area (which they are in many places throughout the country), you’ll likely need to buy fast too. Since real estate agents who are REALTORS® have access to proprietary data, it’s not a bad idea to ask them for help. 

Where do I start if I want to buy an investment property? 

It depends what you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a home in a red-hot rental market. Or a vacation property you’ll offer to short-term renters. Or a retail space in a strip mall. Or even vacant land. And this may surprise you, but…a REALTOR® has the expertise to help with this, too. They also have access to exclusive data and tools that can help you determine the potential ROI (hint: return on investment) of any properties you’re interested in. Some REALTORS® even hold specialized designations related to the residential, commercial, or investment market segments. 

theSkimm

Buying your first (or second…or third) house can be stressful. There are a lot of factors to consider and numbers to crunch. The same goes for selling a house. But having a trustworthy expert in your corner can mean you’re able to navigate both processes with confidence. And get reliable answers for your many Qs. Aaand breathe out. 


Psst…REALTORS® are members of the National Association of REALTORS®. And REALTOR® responses have been edited for length and clarity. 


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