Five tips for buyers
Find an agent — "Ask friends or family to refer someone and cross check your potential agent on Yelp, Facebook, Realtor.com or Zillow.com before you hire him/her. You should not have to pay your agent for anything; sellers pay both agent's commissions in our area," said Sarah Norris, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Gold.
Christy Bosanek, real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Associated Brokers, said people should interview several agents before choosing one. She said having an agent is better than simply looking online.
"We know what is about to come on the market. A lot of the time, something you see online could already have offers on it," Bosanek said.
Your agent can provide a personalized website with all the houses that match your criteria, Norris said.
"The results are in real-time, so the moment a house goes on the market, or drops in price, you'll be emailed an alert," Norris said.
Get pre-qualified — This allows buyers to know how much they have to spend, and they won't look at what they can't afford, Bosanek said.
"A mortgage 'broker' can usually provide better terms than your bank or credit union," Norris said. "Make sure you are not charged an origination or processing fee and that the lender gives you closing credits. These are within his control while the interest rate will only depend on the market and your credit score."'
Don't make drastic changes — Getting married, starting a different job or buying a new car can affect your loan qualification in a negative way, Norris said.
"When possible, save these for after you've completed the entire home buying process," she said.
Think about your needs and look past the little things — "Most people hold on to a home for eight to 10 years. Think about how it will suit your needs for the next 10 years," Bosanek said.
She said buyers should look at a decent amount of homes before choosing one. Consider what neighborhood you would like to live in, and if you're having difficulty finding something in that neighborhood, be willing to expand, she added.
Bosanek said buyers should keep in mind when looking at houses that paint, carpeting and flooring are fairly easy and inexpensive to change.
Stay calm and have fun — "For most people, buying a house is the most expensive purchase they'll ever make. Therefore, the process can create a lot of anxiety," Norris said. "Ask your agent and lender as many questions as you need to in order to be comfortable at every step of the way. Trust in them to guide you, and have fun finding a home you love."
Five tips for sellers
Find an agent — "Ask friends or family to refer someone and cross check your potential agent on Yelp, Facebook, Realtor.com or Zillow.com before you hire him/her," Norris said. "In our area, the seller normally pays 6 percent of the sales price for agent commission. Your agent will usually offer half to the buyer agent. Ask for a discount up front; commissions are negotiable. Ask for a further discount if your agent also represents the buyer."
Set a price — Pricing is very important, Bosanek said.
"If you price it too high, your house isn't going to sell, she said. "Unless you have an exceptional home, you should list it at market price."
Your agent will calculate the price of your home based on similar houses that have sold in the last three months, Norris said.
"They should be very close in location, age, size, and condition. The market will determine the best price. Try to avoid valuing the home based on how much you loved living in it. If there are no offers within two weeks, and the home isn't extremely unique or rare, expect to reduce the price," she said.
If your home is old and dated, you might have to lower your price, Bosanek added.
Prepare the house — "In order for the buyer to get a loan, your home must meet minimum appraisal standards," Norris said. "That includes simple things like working smoke and CO detectors or that the water heater is strapped properly. It also means every appliance must work, the AC must work, and there is no evidence of dry rot in any of the wood on the exterior. Have your agent walk the entire property and make recommendations for meeting both buyer and lender expectations."
Bosanek said sellers should also do major cleaning and maybe even put away some furniture and knick-knacks.
"If a home is too cluttered, people can't see the house well," she said. "You want to make your house as attractive as possible."
Be easy — "The more available the home is for showings, the more opportunities there will be for receiving a good offer," Norris said. "If you occupy the home, try an open house within the first couple days. This will get the maximum number of potential buyers through the door with the least inconvenience to you. Otherwise, make it as easy as possible for buyers to see your home at their convenience."
Market the house — "Your agent can easily market your home to buyers on dozens of websites with the click of a button in the MLS system," Norris said. "Most buyers are first-time buyers and their average age is 31, so make sure your agent also uses Craigslist, Zillow, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to reach these buyers. Open houses, yard signs, or fancy fliers won't help if the buyer has never heard of your home."