Anyone who has bought or sold a home has heard the standard advice: Find a good agent, be aware of local home values, fix up the house you're selling and research school districts and crime rates where you're buying.
"It's all good advice, but it's not always enough," says Rich Novak, assistant vice president of Home Solutions, with USAA, a full-service financial services provider serving military personnel and their families. "Families who need to move quickly during a tough real estate market may need to go the extra mile to close a sale."
Keep these five themes in mind from the moment you start planning your next move:
1. Dig deeper: You probably already know to use neighboring home values as a comparison point for selling or buying. But in today's market, some additional homework can pay off. If you need to sell quickly, for example, keep a close eye on what other houses are selling for in your neighborhood and stay ahead of the market by pricing yours lower. In the wake of the bursting real estate bubble, it's also important to have a heightened awareness of foreclosures, both where you're selling and buying. As unfair as it seems, any foreclosures on your street can put a dent in your home's market value. And if foreclosures are still prevalent in the neighborhood you're moving to, it could be a warning sign that values could continue to drop after you buy.
2. Be involved: Just because you're working with a Realtor doesn't mean you can't do some of your own legwork.
"The first 10 days on the market are the most critical to selling a home because new listings tend to get the most attention from buyers," says Brenda Wall, relocation director with ERA Colonial Real Estate in San Antonio, Texas. "Anything a seller can do to get their home ready to sell before putting it on the market would be helpful, including de-cluttering, cleaning, painting if needed and making the home look spacious and bright."
The Internet and social media have opened limitless new strategies to sell your home and find your next one. Try Craigslist, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. And don't be shy, say real estate agents. When you're selling, post pictures that show your home at its best and upload a narrated video tour -- because that's what you'd want to see as a buyer. At some real estate agencies, a video tour is becoming the new requirement for sellers.
3. Accept a helping hand: Take advantage of a wide range of services, beyond your local Realtor's, that could help you streamline the buying and selling process. Some cost money, such as home "staging" services that can help whip your house into selling shape. Others are free, such as relocation benefits offered by some employers, or the military's Homeowners Assistance Program. One free service actually helps you while you are out and about looking for a place to live. For example, Home Circle from USAA provides free home search services on the Web and through an iPhone app that gives you access to the same comprehensive listing information real estate agents use, driving directions to the homes you've searched and organization of pictures taken to help you keep track of all the homes you've seen. Chances are you qualify for some type of assistance through an employer, the government, or an association you belong to -- you just have to ask.
4. Get creative: Sometimes it takes out-of-the-box ideas to seal a deal. If you know that a potential buyer is wavering on whether to make an offer on your house, buck convention by making a "reverse offer," where you try to win the sale with an attractive price. Sellers might also sweeten the pot with extra incentives. Money toward closing costs or prepaid homeowner's dues are common buyer incentives, but why not set yourself apart by offering a free trip to a beach resort?
If you're the one buying but can't find the perfect house, ask your agent to look up houses that were recently taken off the market. You might be able to request a "one-time showing" and get a bargain price on a house the owners thought they couldn't sell.
5. Remain flexible: According to the experts, buyers and sellers should keep their pride in check and be willing to make some concessions, especially in a tough market. That means not haggling over minor repairs or refusing to leave behind the chandelier your potential buyer loves. Factor in the cost of keeping up your home for several more months versus just accepting a lower selling price today.
"Always think in terms of the bigger picture. Don't lose a deal over $500," says Jodi Van Wagner, a Coldwell Banker agent in the Pensacola, Fla., area.
Even in the most sluggish real estate market, an early start and an open mind are two of the best strategies to make your next move go smoothly.