The Buyers Market

n a buyer's market, there are lots of houses for sale relative to the number of serious lookers. Houses sit on the market, and sellers often cut asking prices and even assist buyers with cut-rate financing.

When things are cold for sellers, time is on your side. You can be more deliberate and drive a harder bargain. You can get a house appraised before you submit an offer and ask the seller to pay all or part of the cost. You can spend more time checking out comparable properties. You can even load your offer with contingency clauses that help you—inspection, financing at a specified interest rate, seller's help with mortgage points, even the condition that you be able to sell your current home before closing on this purchase—and still get it accepted.

In a buyer's market, a diligent house hunter can do reasonably well without a real estate agent. You generally don't have access to new listings in the local multiple listing service (MLS) database (the real estate trade's computerized clearinghouse of properties for sale), but you might not miss much, especially if you have Internet access (see page 96). Most Realtors advertise listings on their Web sites, and most houses will remain on the market long enough to be advertised and shown, many more than once.

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