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We may be on the verge of spring, but housing and economic reports work on a bit of a lag time. We’ve only just gotten the major data reports for January, and it’s giving us a clear-eyed view of how the real estate market is measuring up this year.

And yeah, things are looking good!

Job creation—arguably the most important factor in housing demand—is moving apace. January saw 151,000 jobs created. That level of employment growth is below 2015’s monthly average, but unemployment is now near 10-year lows and is in line with the current macro forecast from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). This level of employment growth should translate into the 3% growth in housing sales we are expecting for the year.

Speaking of sales, January’s existing home sales report did not disappoint. Even though sales are taking longer to close, due to the implementation of new disclosure and closing forms and procedures, the pace grew 0.4% in January from December. Granted, that’s not a lot, but analysts had been expecting a decline. And from January 2015 to January 2016, existing home sales grew a solidly impressive 11%.

The increase in sales is resulting in continued tighter-than-tight supply—measured by NAR to be four months in January. For you non-economists out there, that metric measures the number of months it would take to sell the current inventory of available homes, at the current pace. Got it? Six to seven months’ worth of homes on the market is considered normal; four months is cray-cray.

This is driving prices higher and encouraging consumers who hope to buy this year to get started as soon as possible.

January’s new home sales and new home construction remained consistent with the pace of activity of the last several months. Still, the level of new construction still represents solid year-over-year growth, especially in single-family homes. The most encouraging sign: The median price of new homes is finally declining, as a result of the fact that builders are offering more affordable homes.

Finally, the most timely readings we can pass on come from our own observations at realtor.com that confirm that demand is growing rapidly at the start of the year, resulting in an acceleration in inventory movement that we typically do not see until March or April.

OK, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. The biggest negative trend impacting potential demand relates to the January and February declines in stock values, which have taken a toll on consumer confidence. But, even that negative trend has a silver lining: Mortgage rates are now substantially lower. The average 30-year conforming rate has stabilized at under 3.7%, giving buyers almost 5% more buying power than they had at the end of 2015, and strengthening their ability to meet the debt-to-income ratio requirement for a loan.

Net-net, pent-up demand appears stronger than any weakness caused by the financial markets. And the lower rates are encouraging would-be buyers to act sooner rather than later. With this strong start, 2016 should indeed see growth, but the biggest constraint will be the tight supply.

Having bad or no credit can be a huge obstacle in many situations, perhaps none more difficult than when you’re trying to buy a home. In fact, homeownership can be one of the biggest reasons people set out to build good credit. But, while establishing a strong credit history is the most common route to homeownership, it’s not the only way there.

Like anything else, you can buy a home with cash. In 2015, all-cash transactions made up 30.1% of single-family home and condo purchases (down from a peak of 36.3% in 2012), according to real estate data company RealtyTrac. People may have many reasons for buying a home with cash, but if you have bad or no credit, it’s probably your only option.

Pros and cons of paying cash

“Some people have terrible credit and they’re afraid they won’t qualify for a mortgage,” says Diane Saatchi, a senior broker with Saunders & Associates, a real estate company in the Hamptons, on Long Island, NY. Then there are the cash buyers who don’t want to deal with the credit world. “They don’t want to be subjected to the scrutiny of a bank. … They like to live under the radar.”

Even if you live in a very inexpensive part of the country, buying a home with cash requires saving a lot of money — or making a lot of money.

“If you’re paying $100,000 cash, you’ve either saved for a very long time or you’re coming from some money,” says Doris Phillips, chief operating officer of Lake Homes Realty and a real estate broker in Alabama and Georgia. Oftentimes, people who buy homes with cash are purchasing luxury or secondary homes, she says.

Beyond the fact that buying a home with cash doesn’t require you to have good (or any) credit, it can save time and money.

“A lot of times, with cash deals there’s only one Realtor involved, so you can really negotiate down the commission,” Phillips says.

Closing costs tend to be much lower, as well.

“You don’t have to have mortgage insurance, you’re not paying mortgage tax, you’re not paying lender’s costs and underwriter’s costs,” Phillips says. “You’re not paying points to the lender.”

She says a cash purchase could take about five days from start to finish, rather than the several weeks that a mortgage requires. As far as logistics go, you sign a handful of documents and wire the money from your bank account to the title company.

Cash purchases certainly have disadvantages, though. You can get a tax deduction for paying mortgage interest, and interest rates are very low right now, so borrowing is relatively cheap and allows you to do something else with all that cash. And cash offers aren’t always going to win a bidding war. It really depends on the seller.

“We go up against cash buyers all the time,” says Scott Sheldon, a senior loan officer with Sonoma County Mortgages in California. “And a common theme with those people is that [they think] they’re better than everybody. They tend to be very low-ball-oriented offers that we tend to beat out regularly.”

On the other hand, it’s low risk for the seller. “A cash deal is pretty much a sure deal,” Phillips says. “Mortgages can fall through the crack with one simple thing.”

If you’re not in a position to buy property with cash but still want to be a homeowner, you can focus on building a good credit score while saving for the purchase. Smart credit use, like making payments on time and spending very little of the available credit on your credit cards, will help you improve your credit scores over time. You can learn more about fixing your credit here and track your progress by getting two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com. And check your free credit report every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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This article was written by Christine DiGangi and originally published on Credit.com.

Once your home is finally on the market and listed, it’s showtime. Will you be deluged with offers, or will your home be pervaded by the lulling but ever-so-unnerving sound of crickets?
And if you do get just one or two offers, and they’re not as high as you’d hoped, what do you do? What do you do?
Never fear, dear sellers—that’s why we’re here! In this sixth installment of our weekly 2016 Home-Selling Guide, we’ll show you how to navigate the negotiation process and come to a deal that will make you happy. More than happy, even.

Getting those offers in
If you’re not in a rush to sell your house, it may make sense to see what offers roll in over a few months. But if you need to sell quickly (or just don’t want to wait), your agent might be able to push things along by setting a deadline—usually within a week or two of listing.
“When you expect multiple offers because your price is competitive or your home is in a popular neighborhood, you should always set a deadline,” says Cathy Baumbusch, a Realtor® with Re/Max Executives in Arlington, VA. But you’ll need to be confident that your home is priced right, relative to its appeal. If all goes well, you can sell for over asking.

Reviewing your first offer
Once you have an offer in hand, you’re probably scanning for one thing: the price.
“In our area, houses rarely sell for less than 90% to 95% of the asking price,” Baumbusch says. The offers on your home should fall in that range, but don’t rely on price alone. According to Baumbusch, every offer has five important components:
• Price
• Closing assistance
• Closing date
• Buyer financing
• Contingencies

Some offers may seem great on the surface, but significantly less so once you dig in. For instance: Is the buyer asking for closing assistance? Often first-time buyers don’t have enough money to cover the down payment and the closing costs, so they’ll ask the seller to foot some of the bill—about 2% to 3% of the total closing costs is a common request. If you agree, any assistance you give will lower your bottom line, so factor this amount into the asking price.
The buyer’s time frame to close may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but it can actually matter a lot, especially if you give the buyer a long leash. If the deal falls through, you’ll have to put the house back on the market and wait for more offers. On the other hand, if the buyer wants to move in right away, you might be left scrambling (and, quite possibly, temporarily homeless). Make sure the timing works for you.
Good so far? Now make sure the buyer has financing. Hopefully, the buyer’s agent included a note verifying the buyer’s financing and how much the buyer will put toward the down payment and earnest money. The last thing you want is to accept an offer, only to find out afterward that the buyer can’t come up with the necessary cash.
Finally, look over contingencies, which give the buyer the option to back out of the deal if something goes wrong. The buyer may say the final sale is contingent on an inspection, or he may want to move in early. Both requests are fairly standard and acceptable. But keep an eye out for buyers asking for too much. For example, “it would be over the line for a buyer to ask a seller to wait more than 30 to 60 days for the property to go under contract,” Baumbusch says.
When to counter
You always have the option to return the buyer’s offer with a counteroffer of your own.
“You should always counter if the price is not what you are looking for, or if you can’t support the amount of closing cost help they are looking for,” Baumbusch says. But if you do, keep it reasonable. If the buyer was 15% below asking, he probably won’t go up to full asking amount. Consider being flexible with your price; you can always make it up in other ways. For example, submitting a counter with a slightly higher price and contingencies that may help you—like having the buyer waive an inspection to speed things along—might pay off in the end.
If you don’t agree with the buyer’s contingencies, consider your position first.
“If your home is in a popular area, [you] have an advantage,” Baumbusch says. Keep in mind; the buyer may not accept your counter outright. You can play Let’s Make a Deal, but always consider your bottom line. Is it worth it to keep countering for a small amount of money or single contingency? Don’t get trapped in a loop; consider the buyer’s side of things. These prospective buyers may be maxed out. To help you decide, ask your agent to call the buyer’s agent and hash it out it with them. Get some insight into the buyer’s state of mind, and whether he can budge.
Once you’ve accepted an offer, it’s time to close. Scary, we know! But we’ve got you covered in the next installment.

Charlotte Destroys Denver—at Least in Housing Affordability

With Super Bowl 50 imminent, fans are flocking to the San Francisco Bay Area, prime tickets are selling for $22,500, and the prop bets are getting weirder and weirder.

Now it’s time for prognosticators to take a stand and make public predictions. So who will win the big game? A Madden NFL ’16 simulation predicts the Carolina Panthers will beat the Denver Broncos 24-20. Microsoft Bing also tabbed Carolina to win with 64% probability. Fivethirtyeight likes Carolina as well, but its model arrives at a 59% win probability for the Panthers.

We’re unsure how the game will play out, but as real estate experts, we do know how the two teams’ home cities measure up in housing. Here’s a look at core housing market metrics in the Charlotte, NC, and Denver, CO, metropolitan areas.

Many people live in smart homes, drive smart cars and use smart phones. REALTORS® should be no different, especially with all the tech tools at their disposal nowadays.

While some brokers still use paper documents, fax machines and push button lock boxes, mobile and connected agents can manage deals from their car using their iPad or other tech tools in their arsenal.

If you’re looking for an entry point into the connected world, here are the Top 10 tech tools to help you become more productive, efficient, and current.

1. Yesware. This is an email tracking add-on. It alerts you when the emails you sent have been opened. The mobile version of the software provides push notifications alerting you when an email you sent was opened. Yesware works with Gmail, but it’s also compatible with Top Producer® CRM, so you can track emails to groups.

2. Market Snapshot®. Create “Just Sold” and “New Listing” alerts for current, future, and past clients with this tool that works within Top Producer® CRM. Designed for mobile, Market Snapshot® sends agent-branded email alerts to deliver timely and accurate information, with your name and logo prominently featured.

3. HelloSign. This app targets those who want to go paperless. It lets your clients sign documents electronically. You can then send them to the co-op agent without ever printing, scanning or faxing a piece of paper. It works seamlessly with Gmail and Google docs. There’s even an option to create a form you can host on your website or send via email.

4. Vidcaboodle. Creates a video channel for your website from your phone. All videos can be displayed in one place fully integrated into your website. Video drives traffic to your site, not to YouTube.

5. EasilyDo. This is your personal assistant without the monthly expense. This free app accesses your digital life, finds the most important stuff and surfaces it for you. It gives you a daily snapshot of important reminders: flight information, order confirmations, and appointments. It even scans your social media presence to let you know when past clients have a job change, get married, or have a life event you can use to reconnect with them.

6. Ginger. Never send another email loaded with misspellings or misused auto-corrections. Ginger is an app following you online while you type and automatically spell checks everything. It makes you look smarter, because your text messages and emails will be corrected for grammar, synonyms, definitions, re-phrasings, and punctuation.

7. Mailboxapp.com. Designed for Gmail and iCloud accounts, the Mailbox app redesigns your mobile inbox to make email easier to use on the go. Swipe to hide a message from view, snooze messages you will get to later, and organize all of your confirmations to list. Mailbox learns from your swipes and organizes your inbox—leaving you with more time to prospect.

8. Sitegeist. For those pesky questions you can’t answer due to Fair Housing laws, direct your clients to Sitegeist. They can discover local demographics, school data and bevy of other interesting tidbits. Referring your client to an app shows you’re not just an authority on local real estate activity—but you’re plugged into resources they can depend on for useful information, as well.

9. MileIQ. Make tax time easy. This app knows tracks your auto mileage automatically. It separates business trips from personal trips—all you need to do is just scroll left or right to file your trip under the appropriate heading. At the end of the year, print your custom mileage expense report and hand it to your accountant—your mileage is done.

10. Rapportive. This Gmail extension allows agents to quickly identify who is emailing them. With Rapportive, every email address is linked to the sender’s social media accounts. Instantly, you see what city they’re in, their job title, employer and their Twitter, Facebook and Google+ accounts. Rapportive allows agents to see who is emailing them and have a face to look for when a client requests a showing.