• From Health magazine
  • Q: We need to sell our home, which we recently bought. To help us break even, would it be smart to try to sell it ourselves?
  • A: Probably not. With houses currently languishing on the market for up to 10 months, youll need all the help you can get to quickly move your home. Good agents know the most recent comps (prices of comparable homes that have sold in your area), so they can help you set the right price, which should make your house sell faster and for more money. In fact, the median home price in 2007 for sellers who used agents was $240,000, compared with just $180,000 for homes sold by owners, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). An agent is also better equipped to market your home, using open houses, print advertising, and a multiple-listing service, which alerts area brokers (and their clients) to your place. Finally, a seasoned realtor can cull buyers with the best financial profiles and smooth over concerns on the path to closing.

But heres a hint: Realtors are often willing to negotiate their fees, so before signing on with one ask if shell work with you. One or two percentage points shaved off the average 6 percent commission could save you thousands of dollars.

Q: Ive found a house I love, but its pricey and has been on the market for six months. How can I make a lowball offer that wont offend?
A: You have to perform a balancing act. An offer thats too low may not only offend the homeowner but could make her reluctant to counteroffer, which begins the negotiating process. The key, then, is to make a low offer thats justifiable. To do this, have your realtor include with your offer letter a workup of comparable sales, especially those homes that have sold for less than the asking price. (You realtor can provide this information for free.) As long as your offer is within this range, it shouldnt turn the seller off.

Other ways to sweeten the deal. Stress that youre flexible with closing dates, and furnish a preapproval letter from your mortgage lender, which can help you really stand out from other buyers.

Q: My husband and I have started house-hunting. The homes with the space we want cost more than we want to spend. Should we stretch?
A: I wouldnt advise it. When you buy out of your economic comfort zone, you put your family and yourself at risk. Remember: Your mortgage payment, real estate taxes, and insurance arent the only costs to con­sider. There are ongoing hidden expenses (appliance replacement, home repairs) that contribute to the true cost of ownership. And what if one of you loses your job? Could you swing the mortgage payment on one salary?

Take a look at your budget and decide what you can com­fortably afford. A good rule of thumb: Your house payment shouldnt make up more than 33 percent of your gross income.

If youre set on getting one of these pricier homes, hold off buying for now and continue to save money for a larger down payment, which will result in a smaller monthly mortgage.