Most people don’t realize that fall is the second-busiest time of year for home sales. It’s popular with many types of buyers: first-timers, retirees, people trading up, and those relocating because of a new job or transfer. Since the fall also represents the start of the school year, many families use it as a jumping-off point for selling.
To get the most out of this season, we’ve outlined a few tips on buying in the fall:
More homes, fewer competitors. One advantage to buying a home in the fall is that there’s more inventory and not as much competition from other buyers. On April 1, for example, 19,775 homes (condos, single-families, multifamilies) were on the market in Massachusetts, according to the Multiple Listing Service. On Sept. 1, there were 25,592, about 29 percent more. With a larger inventory of properties to choose from, you can expand your criteria to include more amenities and features.
Work with a buyer’s agent. Finding a home is only half the battle. Good buyer’s agents will not only do the legwork and find homes that fit your criteria, they guide you through the entire process of buying a home. They can help you navigate the paperwork, inspections, and any issues that arise. Buyer’s agents know the trends in the market, what has sold in the neighborhood, and ultimately what will work best for you. Experienced buyer’s agents will have an extensive network of contacts and may even know of homes for sale that aren’t listed yet. Remember that listing agents are contractually bound to act in the best interest of their sellers — not you!
Be realistic about price. You have a higher chance of getting a good deal during the fall than in the spring, but don’t push your luck and offer too low of a price. The seller won’t think you’re serious, and you could lose the home, especially if another buyer outbids you. Have your agent give you an idea of what kind of home you can get in your price range — and what your negotiation options are.
Get preapproved before you shop. Most home buyers have a rough idea of how much they can spend every month on their mortgage, but they may not be qualified to borrow as much as they think. You don’t want to find the home of your dreams only to discover that you’re not able to obtain the financing necessary to purchase it. Another thing to remember is that mortgage brokers don’t typically work on weekends when most buyers make offers, so have your preapproval in hand when you’re viewing homes. Some home sellers are requesting that only preapproved buyers view their homes.
Do a maintenance check. Fall is a good time to observe how well the homeowner has maintained the property. Viewing the home on a cool, rainy day allows you to search for drafts and to see whether the gutters are working. Check to see whether the basement is dry, windows stick, and the fireplace is in good working order. Are the leaves raked and bushes trimmed? Another advantage to seeing the home in the fall is that you’ll get a more accurate picture of the maintenance the property will require during the colder months. Just be sure as days get shorter to make time to see homes during the daylight hours for optimum viewing.
Choosing where to live: Consider all your options. If you plan to live in the house for a long time, you want to make sure the area will work for you down the road.
One of the first things to look at is the distance from the home to where you work. If you have to travel heavily congested routes or back roads with lower speed limits the commute may be longer than you realize. We suggest you do a few “test drives” during peak traffic hours to find out exactly what your daily commute time would be. Also, it may not be convenient for your family to travel to your new home for the holidays if you live far away.
Another factor to look into is the school system even if you don’t have children; schools affect a home’s value. If you have children, check out the recreation facilities: Are the playgrounds safe and well maintained? Is there an active arts community, shops, or parks for you and your whole family to enjoy?
Hire a real estate attorney. We strongly encourage buyers to hire a real estate attorney and here’s why: In Massachusetts, when you sign a purchase and sales agreement, it is a binding contract, and that contract will control what the buyer and seller are allowed to do, or not do, when buying or selling the house. Sellers are not required to disclose to you what they know about the house unless you ask them directly. A good real estate attorney knows which questions to ask a seller and will include them in the purchase and sales agreement, making the seller bound by the answers.
A good real estate attorney will know what to include in the agreement to protect the buyer, in particular, clear title upon purchase. Not only will the attorney make sure this language is in the agreement, but he or she will also perform a detailed title review.
Your own attorney will help you obtain any required extensions, so if something goes wrong and you do not get approved for a mortgage, you can get your deposit back.
And make sure you hire a real estate attorney. Real estate attorneys represent buyers and sellers everyday — they do not go to court and litigate. These real estate attorneys are familiar with each aspect of the sale from doing title work to working with Housing and Urban Development. They also tend to be less argumentative than litigation attorneys, who by nature tend to want to negotiate everything.
John McGeough and Anthony Lamacchia are the brokers and owners of McGeough Lamacchia Realty, which is based in Waltham. Send comments to Address@globe.com.