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8/12/2015 4:05:17 PM
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Another year of strong economic growth, improved employment and pent-up housing demand bodes well for most sellers in 2015, particularly in the Farm Belt and in energy-producing states such as Texas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana and Wyoming, and urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Boston.

In fact, the National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, predicts that the 2015 single-family home sector will outperform a strong 2014. There are cautions: Moody's predicts mortgage rates will rise from about 4 percent now to 6 percent by 2017.

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The recovery has yet to arrive in many states, reinforcing the notion that real estate growth is regional. No one can accurately predict when this real estate uptick will end or how hard, or soft, a landing it will make. In the meantime, let proven fundamentals, applied with a few modern wrinkles, rule the day. Here are 10 tips for 2015 to help the real estate process.

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1. Do sweat the small (cheap) stuff, sellers
Little touches go a long way in the buyer's eye, starting logically with the entry. Trim bushes, wash walkways and change out trampled welcome mats. Inside, de-stink with candles and counter sprays, de-jam closets and de-clutter rooms, focusing keenly on kitchen counters. Hide scrub brushes and other fantasy-killing labor tools. Dust, wax, scrub toilets, wash windows, test and clean lights, put out fresh towels, winnow family mementos, harness or hide that avalanche of toys, remove prescription drugs from medicine cabinets and police the yard for "pet bombs." It's time well-spent.

2. Take note(s), buyers
In a whirlwind house-hunting tour of several properties, buyers benefit by keeping a pro-and-con checklist of each home they visit. Otherwise, the features of several homes tend to blend together in a tired brain by day's end. Creating a rating scale of 1 to 10 also helps, as does carrying a checklist of specific features that you seek in an ideal home.

3. Sell by season
Though spring is optimal, home selling is a year-round sport. Use seasonal accents to make buyers linger longer.

Many lenders have different rates on their own websites than those posted on Bankrate.com. In order to get the Bankrate.com rate, please identify yourself as a Bankrate customer. Rates are subject to change without notice and may vary branch to branch. These quotes are from banks, and thrifts, some of whom have paid for a link to their own Web site where you can find additional information. More information.
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5. 'Big data' is everywhere, so tap in
While local knowledge and old-school networking will always be valuable, the latest technology lets agents offer much more. Some agencies offer "livability" ratings by ranking and contrasting neighborhoods by air quality, traffic choke points and specific data on a home's energy efficiency. In 2013, the National Association of Realtors introduced its Predictive Analytics group. Banks already use "big data" to gauge the worth of foreclosures and short sales, and mobile apps now offer it for consumer and agent use. Ask agents if they offer this and other edgy technology such as high-definition aerial footage shot by drones. Should your grandiose home merit that, go big!

6. Transparency equals trust
Buyers will certainly enlist inspectors to twice-over your home, Mr. Seller. So instead of inviting disappointment, delay and distrust, go transparent with your own presale inspection. It's far better to know now about issues with the plumbing, HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning), foundation, electrical systems and roof. Provide the buyer a copy of the inspection along with repair receipts, and explain if or how you've adjusted your price accordingly. Buyers appreciate candor.

7. Math versus ego
Too often, buyers get caught up in win-at-all-costs negotiation. They'll stubbornly let as little as a few grand lock them out of the right house. At an interest rate of 4.5 percent, the difference between paying $200,000 and $195,000 -- assuming 1.25 percent property tax and 15 percent down -- is only about $25 per month on a 30-year mortgage, or about the cost of lunch for two at a fast-casual eatery, before the tip. Don't let that ruin your chances at your dream home.

8. Retain mineral rights
With so many giant natural-gas fields (shales) in play across the U.S. and new ones pending, homeowners should exercise "seller's market" clout to retain mineral rights. While that intent needn't even be mentioned in the sales contract in some states, it's always safest to note it, provided the buyer doesn't protest. Avoid that scenario by conveying those rights to a trustworthy relative or to an energy company buying them before putting the house on the block. "Mineral rights? Oh, so sorry, I no longer own them."

9. Buying? Then cool it for a while
Refrain from making big capital purchases like a new car, opening new credit cards or amassing big chunks of other new debt before buying a home. These raise your debt-to-income ratio, which lenders examine to determine the mortgage amount you can afford. Also avoid moving large sums of money around, changing banks, changing jobs and becoming self-employed before buying a home.

10. The price is right
Trite, you say? Perhaps. But accurate home pricing from the outset never goes out of style because it sells homes. Some agents advise sellers to overprice because inventory is low. Others say go below market to spur a bidding war. Don't get caught up in pricing games.

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