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7 tips for trade-up homebuyers

By By Marilyn Kalfus

The Orange County Register (MCT)

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31 2013 11:05 a.m. MDT

In this June 13, 2012, file photo, a woman walks to an open house in San Diego. In the past, many interested trade-up shoppers chose to watch the recent frenzied market from the sidelines. It may be time to update your house-hunting strategy.

Gregory Bull, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Move-up buyers are catching a break.

They’re facing a less frantic housing market than earlier this year. Prices are cooling. More homes are up for sale, so competition is easing. Those shopping for their next property actually can get picky.

Economists say homes are expected to continue appreciating, though at a slower pace, and mortgage rates likely will tick up next year. But there’s uncertainty on the horizon. New lending rules could make it tougher for some who have accrued significant debt to get a loan in 2014.

Many interested trade-up shoppers chose to watch the recent frenzied market from the sidelines. It may be time to update your house-hunting strategy.

The Orange County Register asked agents, mortgage brokers and home builders to offer advice to those looking to move up sooner than later.

Here’s what they said.

1. Homebuyers have juice again; use it.

The housing mix still favors sellers, though it’s not as lopsided as during the first part of the year. “Homes are not flying off the market,” said Steve Thomas of ReportsOnHousing. He noted that the dramatic, month-to-month run-up in prices has stopped. And autumn sales usually are slower than in the spring or summer.

Buyers can make a deal dependent on their own home sale now, agents say, or they can request a credit on a home inspection without having to worry the seller will simply move on to the next offer. And home seekers now have more options and can focus on more choice properties.

“As we transition from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market, buyers must be thinking resale, (so) you want to pick the home with the least flaws,” said Jeff Stokes, broker associate with Coldwell Banker Previews International in Newport Beach, Calif.

2. Keep a close eye on interest rates.

The California Association of Realtors predicts the interest rate on a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage will increase to 5.3 percent next year, up from an average of 4.1 percent in 2013.

But interest rates could decline or hold steady in coming months, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers says. The group cheered the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to not lower its amount of monthly bond purchases. “The strategic move keeps interest rates low and helps continue to attract buyers to the housing market,” said association President Don Frommeyer.

The Fed is expected to start tapering bond purchases next year, sending interest rates up again.

3. Also watch for new mortgage regulations.

In January, new provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act take effect. The rules prohibit practices common before the financial crisis, such as “no doc” or interest-only loans, and require lenders to verify that prospective borrowers can afford to repay their mortgages. Many lenders are expected to issue “qualified” mortgages, which give lenders greater legal protection and require that borrowers meet stricter rules, such as a 43 percent debt-to-income ratio.

Under the new rules, some lenders say, fewer people would be able to get home loans. Consult a mortgage professional to discuss other upcoming changes in the law and all your options — and do it well before you’re ready to sign a contract.

4. Price your current home to sell fast.

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