The New Home-Buying Rules

4. Make the Right Offer (on the Right House)

If you've ever watched House Hunters or Property Virgins on HGTV, you know that home buyers often make decisions based on the silliest things. They'll pass on one property because they don't like the color of the kitchen and fall in love with another because it has a snazzy fridge. Don't make a similar mistake. Forget about the worn (but easily replaceable) carpeting, and ignore the smell of cookies baking in the oven -- an old seller's trick. Limit your focus to the fundamentals of the home. Make a list of the things that truly matter to you and your family: How many bedrooms and bathrooms does it have? Is it zoned for a high-performing school? (You can visit greatschools.org for details about your area.) How long is your commute? Is there quality child care nearby?

When you've found what you want, visit ziprealty.com and look up the average price per square foot for homes sold in the neighborhood. Then use this formula: Number of square feet in your desired home x average cost per square foot = your target price. If a house you're considering has been on the market for more than a month, think about a lower opening offer. But you may need to nudge your bid up a bit if you're buying in a hot area and your prospective home has it all.

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