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Want that house? Follow these tips

So that house you’re drooling to buy isn’t priced at a level you can afford despite the precipitous drop in real estate values? Join the club. Here’s what experts suggest you do:

* Practice patience. With another wave of foreclosures expected to hit this summer, combined with uncertainty about whether the recession is easing, Southern California real estate prices may have yet to reach their bottom. Some experts predict that overall values won’t begin rising until next year or even 2011 because of backlogged inventory.

* Realize that just because sales are popping in outlying and depressed areas, particularly those beset with foreclosures, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea of a post-bubble deal in a popular neighborhood is the same as that of a seller who’s sunk gobs of time and money into a property. His or her idea of bargain pricing in a “down” market may be radically different from yours.

* Be cautious of self-serving terms like “buyer’s market,” because in truth there isn’t one real estate market in a given metropolis; there are as many as there are neighborhoods, with unique flavors. As one agent said, “Any generalization about real estate is not true somewhere.”

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* If you’re interested in a home in a desirable area, even if it’s not the only one up for sale there, be prepared for serious competition and a potential bidding war. If possible, try to see the property before the first full open house.

* Use the cornucopia of free research on the Web to help sort out your choices, and talk to your agent about how you can get a jump on fellow shoppers. Today’s blogs let you see inventory and track sales down to the ZIP Code -- something unavailable in the last big downturn. You even can use Google features to eyeball a neighborhood in real time.

* Appreciate that not all bids are the same. Financial institutions have tightened their requirements. Because of this, a “motivated” seller poring over competing bids may favor an all-cash deal or one using conventional financing instead of a deal with someone whose loans require longer closing times and more financial hoops to jump through.

-- Chip Jacobs

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