Tips for buying and selling a home in the winter

Stretching Your Dollar

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Winter may be the best time to buy a house if you're looking to stretch your dollar.

One of the reasons is because houses typically sit on the market longer in the winter.  Far fewer people are out looking at homes or trying to sell their homes because it's cold outside.

"When it's sunny everyone is out, but maybe when things are cold, at that point you go out and you see a house that's been on the market for a month or two.  That's when the seller is starting to think, 'Christmas is coming and my house might not sell.'  As a buyer you can jump in and take advantage of those opportunities," said Alex Montagano, a broker with EXP Realty.

Brokers, lending experts and buyers and sellers are all talking about interest rates.  It was just a couple years ago that financial experts thought rates had hit their lows and wouldn't drop back below the already low levels of today.  Just months ago, interest rates for home loans were in the 4% range.

"Right now, rates are at a three-year low. You can get a 30-year home loan in the 3% range.  And over the course of the loan, that can mean a huge savings.  Depending on the home, an average size home can cost you $50,000 to $75,000 less by the time you're done paying it off," said John Murphy, vice president at MJW Financial.

On the flip side, you don't have to buy or sell a home to notice a savings.  Don't forget, if you own a home, and even if it's not paid off, there's likely equity in your home that you can use to make money, or lower the amount you spend elsewhere.

"There's more demand for housing, so prices have gone up.  You can take advantage of that equity in your home to either pay off debt like cars.  You can also restructure a loan, drop mortgage insurance, and take advantage of a lower rate or shorter term," said Murphy.

If you are selling a home, the old adage of location, location, location is a good one because it's important.  But lately a new adage would be location, price and presentation.

"Everything has a price so you can figure if your location is not the best, but your home is beautiful and it presents very well and you're priced correctly, there is a buyer in our market for that house right now," said Montagano.

There are several tips for sellers; the biggest one is probably about pricing a home.  Very few homeowners undervalue their home, but a good percentage overprice.  If you do that, you can lose money and time sitting on the market.  And even if you end up lowering the price later to where it should be, you can still lose.

"A buyer may come in and say, 'Hey, this home has been on the market for 45 days.' And for example it's price is $300,000.  Because no one has bought it, it has to be overpriced, so let's offer 10% less than the asking price.  Well, the potential buyer may not be taking into account you've already lowered your home price a couple times to get it where it should have been in the first place.  That means you will get an even lower bid from buyers and you've also lost time," said Montagano.

Don't lose out on finding the best mortgage.  Murphy says, as a lender, he definitely encourages people to compare companies.  You can also check out online deals, but those may not take into account everything involved in your monthly payment.

"So when it comes to online, you can have a mortgage calculator and you can say, 'Hey, my payment is going to be $1,000,' but they might not have accurate taxes, insurance or even rates.  So all of a sudden you're at the house that you thought you could afford and then you're talking to your agent and all of a sudden you go, 'Uh-oh, I'm $500 more than I wanted to spend monthly,'" said Murphy.

The final tip is about selling a home.  Most of the time when trying to sell, try leaving the home furnished if possible-- and as long as the the decor is nice.  If there are no furnishings, consider having it staged as they sell better and faster than an empty house.  Stagers often do a really go job of matching the color palette of the house.

"It brings life and dimensions to the rooms, and then it also gives future home buyers the perception of, 'Hey, here's where my furniture goes.'  They can start to see themselves living in the house, so I think staging is a huge benefit that may cost a little up front but can make you money in the long run," said Montagano.

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