In a buyer's market, you have more room to negotiate. You can get a sense of the market from certain indicators such as:
Median home price - The median home price gives you the midpoint in the range of sales prices for a specific period. Compare over the past several years to see whether prices are rising or falling in the overall market and specific areas.
Number of home sales - The number of home sales indicates the number of homes sold in a specific period. Compare over the past several years to see whether this number is rising or falling. Generally, the more active the market, the higher the number of homes sold.
Do you want a single-family home, a condominium or a townhouse? - A single-family home gives you more ownership, but more responsibility too. A condominium or townhouse may include services and amenities, but requires you to help pay community costs and make community decisions. Think about the pros and cons before you decide.
Do you want to buy new or resale? - With a new home, new construction and materials may decrease maintenance costs, but you may have fewer choices in terms of style and neighborhood. With a resale, you generally pay less to live in a more established neighborhood, but may have higher maintenance costs. Think about the pros and cons before you decide.
What kind of neighborhood do you want to live in? - Think about neighborhood qualities that matter to you, such as good schools.
When visiting homes:
Think twice about fixer-uppers - If you are a first-time buyer, look carefully at properties that need work and think about what it will really cost. You may want to opt for a house that needs cosmetic fixes, not major remodeling.
Take notes - Get a clipboard to hold paper copies of listings, and make your notes on each listing as you visit that house. That way you won't have to record basic data, such as number of bedrooms.
Take a copy of Questions to Ask When You See the House - Fill out a checklist when you talk to your home consultant and visit each home, then keep it with your listing information. You may also want to find out as much as you can about the sellers motivation, too.
Market conditions - Which homes on your list are in buyer's markets, seller's markets or stable markets? Home prices always reflect market dynamics; for example, a high-demand seller's market usually commands higher prices.
Comparable properties - How do the homes that interest you stack up against other homes in the area?
Priorities - Which homes best match the qualities you want? Rank your priorities in order of importance so you can weigh the tradeoffs when you make your decision.
Listing notes - Reread the notes you took while visiting each home and look for qualities that match your priorities. Think hard about inconsistencies that matter. Some tradeoffs will be unavoidable.
Weigh the trade-offs - House No. 1 may have all the features you want but the price is high and the seller is unmotivated. House No. 2 may need significant cosmetic work, but has all the other features you want, including the right price. Expect to go back and forth while you're debating your choice.
Resale, resale, resale - There's an old real estate adage: "Buy to live and to sell." You may think you're going to be in your new home for the duration of the mortgage, but chances are you're not. Give sufficient weight to the home's potential resale value, and make sure you have all the facts.