6 Merry Real Estate Tips for the Holidays

Fortunately, ‘tis the season for big-time real estate bargains. Whether you’re buying a new home or staying put, here are six ways you can save some serious real estate dollars this holiday season.

1. Home Buying. In most markets nationwide, prices continue to hover at levels we saw almost ten years ago. Of course, just how much of a fire sale you’re talking depends on where you’re buying. In Manhattan and San Francisco, prices actually did rise last year—but much less steeply than in years past. And while you may still have to deal with multiple offers, at least those are no longer in double-digits.
Following conventional real estate wisdom, many sellers, especially in cold weather spots, take their homes off the market after mid-November, when people are more preoccupied with the holidays than they are with real estate. The flip side? Those who do stay in the market tend to be highly motivated and willing to deal. Take that into account when making your initial offer and during subsequent counters.

2. Sealing the Deal. Motivated sellers are often willing to sweeten the pot by helping out with all those transaction-related real estate costs (including loan origination fees, title insurance costs, escrow fees and even transfer taxes). Since lenders will often limit closing cost credits from sellers to 3%-6% of the home’s sale price, however, check with your real estate agent and mortgage broker about your lender’s guidelines before you write up your offer.
Even if your home’s sellers don’t have the wiggle room to lower the sale price or to cover your closing costs, they might be able to include home electronics, appliances or furniture in the deal.

3. Interest Rates. With mortgage rates still near record lows, this is a very merry time to buy or refi, with a mortgage. Just this week, Bankrate reports that the going rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.65%, and the rate on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 2.75%. Odds are that rates will remain rock bottom through the holidays (and beyond), making mortgages the gift(s) that keeps on giving in terms of long-term savings.

4. Property Taxes. Hate to pay taxes? You’re in luck! Since property taxes are usually determined by how much you paid for your house, getting a great buy on your house means great savings on your property taxes. Talk about a two-fer! (Oh – and if you already own a home that has declined in value, give yourself the gift of visiting your County tax assessor’s website and submitting a request to have your homes assessed value reduced. What you save can buy a whole lot of iPhones and Elmos.)

5. Negotiating Existing Loans. At year’s end, some banks and asset management companies who have purchased whole portfolios of second mortgages and home equity lines of credit are motivated to close out outstanding issues that are lingering on their books. So if you’re willing and able to pay a lump sum to settle a second mortgage rather than pay the full amount you owe, jump now.

6. Home Improvements. You can take advantage of the last of the remaining federal real estate tax credits by improving the energy efficiency of your home:

You can get back up to $500 on your federal taxes when you install approved, energy-efficient heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) systems, insulation, roofs, water heaters, and dual-pane windows, as well as skylights and doors. This particular tax credit, which only works for your existing principle residence, expires at the end of this year!

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