The Washington Post

Editors column: What buyers need to know in a seller’s market

So you’ve survived the house hunting process, having traipsed through dozens and dozens of properties for months until you’ve finally found the one you can’t live without.

Congratulations! Here’s when the tough work begins.

Now you’ve got to engage with the seller in a chess match — making moves and counter moves over everything from the price, to the closing date to who would be responsible for replacing that aging heating system that might not make it to next winter — that will determine whether you gain or lose advantage in this high-stakes, high-stress transaction.

Clearly, as the reporting in our Navigating the Market series shows, sellers in many communities in the region have the upper hand.

What’s a buyer to do? Having a set of strategies helps.

When my wife and I bought our first home in Rhode Island, we were so eager that we relinquished our bargaining power to the sellers. Our friends told us about a for-sale-by-owner property next door to them. We were so blown away by the above-ground swimming pool, 1/4-acre lot, nearly-new 5-year-old house and the prospect of living next to our friends that we overlooked the flaws.

We sat at the owners’ kitchen table and signed the papers agreeing to their asking price, even though it was a few thousand dollars more than a similar house a few doors down. We reasoned that the sellers had invested so much money into the pool and other amenities. But we didn’t think about the thousands of dollars we’d have to pay to finish the basement and the second floor of the house.

A few years later when we bought our second house in suburban Chicago, we vowed not to repeat that mistake. By that time, we had a toddler and another one on the way. We fell in love with a raised ranch with a big backyard and swing set.

The house had been marketed “as-is” and was reasonably priced. We knew, though, that the sellers had already bought another house, were struggling to pay two mortgages and were desperate to unload that property, which had been on the market for a while. They didn’t want us to get away.

So when an inspector’s report revealed some problems, we demanded that the sellers pay us to replace the roof, gutters and other issues.

They balked, but ultimately gave in.

Buying a home is obviously tougher in a sellers market, especially when demand is high. But it’s not impossible.

Check out the strategies for buyers in our cover story Saturday. We hope the tips will help put you at a better competitive advantage with all those other buyers out there and put you on more equal footing with sellers.

If you have questions, feel free to participate in our online chat on Wednesday at noon.

In the meantime, please share your house hunting and buying adventures with us and let us know what you think of our stories.

Contact Dion

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