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Keepin' It Real Estate: How to Play the Housing Rebound


Getting to the "bottom" of the housing mess.

There isn't an economic forecaster or media pundit alive who isn't angling to be the first to (correctly) call the bottom in housing. Many have tried; they all have failed.

But what happens when one's right?

At some point in the future, broad home price indicators will cease to slide, then stabilize and even begin to move back up. When, and in what shape that trajectory will be, of course remains a mystery. As I've written in the past, the eventual recovery in housing will be a prolonged, localized event. The rising tide will not lift all boats, as the fundamentals of the old cliché "location, location, location" will be truer than ever.

And although predicting the date of this event is a fool's errand, savvy home buyers will be ready to jump in ahead of those who remain in their shells long after the best bargains are behind them.

Here are 5 simple things you, the future home buyer can do now, without putting your nest egg at risk, to be ready for the coming opportunities in real estate:

1. Have patience.

There will be false bottoms, dead-cat bounces and treacherous pitfalls on the path to a recovery in real estate. Be patient. Don't believe the hype - a couple months of strong sales numbers don't foretell and imminent rebound in prices. Let the beginnings of a trend develop before you begin your home search in earnest. Future appreciation will come slowly, as tightened mortgage guidelines and fear of the collapse we're now experiencing will not be soon forgotten.

2. Find a market, do your homework.

Had your eye on that classic Victorian around the corner from your kids' future grade school, and hoping the elderly couple living there knock off just in time for you to swoop in at the estate sale? Expand your search.

Pick a couple of areas you could be happy in - look in multiple cities even. By focusing too narrowly on a single street, or even a single neighborhood, you could be missing out on what could be a fantastic opportunity on the other side of town. Don't compromise, but play with your list of priorities to give yourself the most "exposure" to localized markets that may become increasingly attractive.

Tour the schools, scope the neighbors - hang around on Halloween to see who gets egged. is a great resource for watching foreclosure activity all over the country and in your backyard. Their free site provides a great overview of cities and neighborhoods, but you have to pay for the house-by-house detail. Unfamiliar with an area? Use RealtyTrac to eyeball major neighborhood dividers (railroad tracks, highways, main roads, etc.) and examine foreclosure activity on either side.

3. Find a broker and start a housing "tracker".

Real estate brokers can be a valuable tool in your home search - use them.

An aside: The commonly used term "realtor" denotes an association with the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, the lobbyists who have been predicting a bottom since the downturn began over 3 years ago. Tread carefully with anyone proudly bearing an NAR pin. Contrary to what many tell you, you don't need to be a realtor to have access to MLS. But I digress.
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