Tips for buying or selling a home during the winter

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- For decades, realtors have said winter is generally not a time when they're busy.

Many buyers just don't want to venture outside when it's cold.  Also, when you go to a property, you want to be able to see it, but that's more difficult if the snow covers it and you can't tell what it has to offer. That's changing, however, and some buyers are finding it difficult to find a house before it gets sold--even in the winter.

"We've probably looked at 80 houses, and many sold before we could even bid. One time we were walking through a house, and we really liked the house and we said, 'Let's put in a bid.' But our realtor got a phone call while we were in the house and said, 'We gotta go.' I asked why and he said the house just sold," said prospective home buyer Megan Delucenay.

Megan and her husband have since signed an apartment lease because they couldn't wait any longer.  The lease isn't up until August, so they're waiting and looking through listings until then. For those not stuck in a lease, and despite the winter weather, there are opportunities for buyers. Just be sure to have a good idea what you want going in.

"It's important to walk into the meeting with a real estate agent with an idea of what neighborhood you want to live in, what your budget is going to be, and what you definitely want in a home and what you definitely don't want. Knowing that will make the home buying process much smoother, and less time consuming," said Daniel Leeper with Wieland Real Estate.

If you can't find a home to buy because they're going so fast, here's another idea. Builders have an inventory of brand-new homes to choose from.

"We call them spec homes or inventory homes that we build just to put up for sale. They are for people who are looking for a quick move in-house but still want a brand-new house," said Jennifer Olson, a new home consultant with Westport Homes.

You can also build your own home, which starts with buying a piece of land in a development. Generally it's part of a package deal.

"Once you have the land, you just design it from the ground up. Customers can put the options and the features into the home they want. They choose the items that fit their needs and personalize a house," said Olson.

That option can quickly get expensive if you keep adding different features, but it's manageable--especially if you have someone walking you through the process. Most developers provide a consultant to help you. One problem with buying a home is that a lot of people are unprepared because they simply don't know what they need in terms of financing.  Loan officers say buying is more than just the price of the home and a down payment.

"I find a lot of people are unprepared and that's simply because they're unaware of what they need. You need to figure in closing costs, and what are called pre-paids that you need to prepare for, to start up your escrow account. And you'll also have exterior outside closing expenses like a home inspection and your first year of homeowners insurance," said Petrita Campsall, a senior loan officer with Bank of England.

Those costs are generally several thousand dollars and vary depending on several factors.  A loan officer will be able to give you a ballpark of the costs ahead of time.

One way to save is to use an expert. If you list your house through an agent rather than a "for sale by owner," you're going to immediately get more views right out of the gate. You're also more likely to sell fast and for a better price, which will save you time and money.

"They can then negotiate for you, such things as closing costs, appliances, anything that they might need. Maybe a buyer will need to be bought out of a lease.  Those are just some of the things an agent can negotiate for you to get you the most bang for your buck and save you time and hassle," said Leeper.

You can also save on the loan process. A good loan can make a different of tens of thousands of dollars by the time you've paid off your home.

"A lot of those options depend on the borrower's income and where they are looking to purchase.  We do have conventional loans with as low as 3% down, USDA loans with 0% down and also VA loans with 0% down," said Campsall.

For Megan Delucenay, we wish we had better news. She and her husband are stuck in her rental agreement, and waiting for the next time they can find and bid on a house.

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