Whether you’re selling your home, buying a home for the first time or upgrading to a new home, the process can be daunting. Here are answers to five of the most commonly asked real estate questions.
1. Which season is the best to sell my home?
This question gets asked most often by people trying to be strategic about putting their house on the market. The general rule is to open your listing in mid-April to get a sale in May or June. In general, the real estate market slows in the winter, swings up in the spring, lulls a bit in the summer and picks back up in the fall. However, you don’t need to plan your life around these small fluctuations.
The best time to put your home up for sale is a) when you’re ready to sell, b) when your home is ready to be presented in the most attractive manner, and c) when the buyer is shopping. You can’t control that last one, so work on the first two and sell your home when you’re ready.
2. How do I shop for a real estate agent?
Start by asking friends and neighbors for recommendations, and ask them why they would recommend a particular agency or agent. Look around the area and see who is working in the region.
Once you have a few names, do some research. Look up their listings and see what they specialize in, how long their listings are on the market, and whether they’re full-time or part-time agents. Then interview potential agents to ensure they will be a good fit. Meet them in person, preferably outside their offices. Ask lots of questions during the interviews, and rate their answers. Some agents may only have a limited amount of time to meet with you - don’t let this be a deal-breaker, as a good agent will be busy. But do watch for signs that you are not being listened to.
3. How do I get the best mortgage rate?
There are many variables to getting a good mortgage rate, but there are three things you can do before you start shopping for a home to get the best possible deal from the lender:
- Improve your credit rating. You can do this by eliminating debt, keeping your credit card balances low or at zero, and paying your bills on time. The better your rating, the more options you’ll have when shopping for a mortgage.
- Increase your down payment. The less you have to borrow, the less risk the banks have to take, and the better your rate can be. A bigger down payment is always a good recommendation.
- Try to match your mortgage to your plans for living in the home. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage may look more appealing with lower payments, but if you only plan to be in the house for five to 10 years, you may end up paying much more in interest.
4. What assistance is there for first-time home buyers?
While shopping for a mortgage rate, ask about options for first-time home buyers, as the lender may have loans that otherwise wouldn’t be available to you. Another option is the FHA 203(b) loan, which is backed by the federal government and can be a good choice for buyers with less than ideal credit and little cash to put down for payment.
MaineHousing offers the First Home program to first-time home buyers through the Maine State Housing Authority. There are also various discount programs for veterans, police and fire personnel, EMTs, teachers and health-care workers.
5. How do I prepare my home for sale?
Your house needs to be clean, smell good, and as be as “neutral” in color as possible. Pack up and store any personal items that you can live without. Take down knickknacks and photos that give your home the individual touch. Buyers need to be able to envision themselves in your space.
Clean up the yard and give the property as much curb appeal as possible. Don’t start any major inside or outside projects unless they’ll be 100 percent complete when it comes time to show your home. But do fix anything that needs to be fixed. A leaky faucet may not be a deal breaker, but you don’t want to indicate a general lack of care.