1. Get off the sidelines

For good-credit buyers waiting for the market to hit bottom, the moment has passed, but the good news is home prices and interest rates are still quite low. For sellers waiting for market improvements, they're here. Stretch, take a deep breath and jump back in the game if your budget allows.

The rules have changed a bit, however, and lenders want buyers to put a little more skin in the game. So expect to make higher down payments than in those pre-bust years. Another caution: Sellers will likely find that buyers have a harder time qualifying for mortgages.


2. Screen your buyers

Save your time and weed out the tire-kickers. Make sure potential buyers are preapproved, which means they've already had their credit and employment checked thoroughly to determine how much they can borrow. Have your agent call their loan officer. Serious borrowers will find this acceptable because it shows they are ready to act


3. Create a good impression

These days, most folks start their home search online, so the number of murky, drab photos posted on website listings is baffling. Consider hiring professional photographers or videographers to create an optimal presentation, particularly for high-dollar spreads. Winter exteriors might show sun shining off the snow, spring shots could sport blossoms, summer shots ought to spotlight that shimmering pool or well-groomed lawn, and fall photos might show vibrant leaves.

Think vividly, but not deceptively. Shots should accurately reflect the depth of rooms. Interiors should show bright, uncluttered spaces and highlight the best outdoor views. Remove a few furnishings for your photo session and brighten up or repaint dark rooms to make them look less cluttered.


4. Renovate wisely

In fact, the average remodeling payback in the past 10 years has dropped from 82% in 2003 to 60.6% this year, according to Remodeling Magazine.

Bringing up the rear are a dedicated home office (43.6%) and adding a sunroom (46.5%). Topping the list are steel entry-door replacements (86% return) followed by fiber-cement exterior siding (79%).

Sellers routinely underestimate the positive impact of simple home improvements such as repainting and minor fix-ups, real-estate agents say

5. Build your team wisely

Vet the help. This goes for such crucial players as your agent (interview at least three), your inspector, appraiser, title company and, if applicable, your attorney, surveyor or even energy auditor (a good idea if you're buying a large home). Look them up at the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List or any such websites where service reviews can be found.


6. Don't let the heart lead the head

No clinging to false hopes, please. Win the game of "the price is right" by pricing your house correctly from day one. Find a proven, seasoned agent and follow his or her lead on listing-price suggestions. Pricing should be based on comparable sales, specific neighborhood time-on-the-market trends, an up-to-date appraisal and the home's inherent pros and cons. No amount of marketing hocus-pocus or staging can overcome a bloated price tag. Cut your price if no serious offers emerge in the first 30 to 45 days. It's not 2006 again.


7. Open your marketing options

Market your home creatively and in varied venues, be they virtual or terra firma. Sellers are tapping into Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and any number of sites to stimulate buyers’ interest.

For example, a blog called "What you'd like about living in my town," might cover culture, education and other quality-of-life amenities — followed by a pitch for your home, of course. Social media, unlike listings on the multiple listing service or newspaper ads, allow for quick feedback and interaction. You might also suggest that your agent market your home to foreigners via overseas property sites or local partners abroad and to people relocating because of their job.


8. Run the numbers

Are you really poised to buy? The housing market is improving, but that doesn't mean exuberant buyers should write a check and empty their savings accounts. Back up a bit and first get a free copy of your credit report, then fix any blips to save on higher mortgage interest rates. Break down your essential monthly bills and reconcile them against your family income, then use an online mortgage calculator to see how much wiggle room you'll have once you buy. Remember to factor in closing costs, inspection fees, loan fees, legal fees and emergencies.


9. Work your ground game

You're not just buying brick and mortar, you're buying a neighborhood. Consider this short checklist before deciding to buy.

  • Do a criminal search, including the ZIP code's crime statistics and the National Sex Offender Public Website at NSOPW.gov.
  • Chat up residents about pros and cons of the neighborhoods.
  • Visit at different hours; be wary of poorly kept homes and yards, unsavory visitors, traffic and pet noise, industrial or landfill odors, blaring train horns, too-bright lighting and vacant commercial lots that could be developed.
  • Practice your work commute and find mass-transit options.
  • Research school performance and student-teacher ratios.

10. Leave nothing to chance

Switch on that stove, run the faucets, check the water pressure, activate the sprinklers, turn on all the lights, flush the toilets, turn on the air conditioning and heat, test the remotes and venture into the closets and look for signs of brown splotches or fresh paint that could indicate roof leaks.