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COVER STORY / TACTICS / What smart buyers and sellers shoudl do in today's market. SIDEBARS: 1) STRATEGIES FOR SELLERS 2) STRATEGIES FOR BUYERS (see end of text)

JUST SEVEN DAYS after placing their Flushing home on the market, Bob and

Frances Muscacchio had 24 showings and eight offers-one of which they accepted,

for $385,000.

The quick sale last month didn't come by accident. The Muscacchios used a

variety of strategies to get their price, ranging from reading a book on home

selling to keeping their house in prime condition. They also set a $399,000

asking price "that was reasonable for this market," said their real estate

broker, Judy Markowitz of RE/MAX Millennium in Flushing.

Meanwhile, on the buyers' side, Krishnan and Geetha Pillaipakkamnatt also

attribute their success to a calculated strategy: They learned what homes in

the area were worth; used a buyer broker; and were flexible with terms.

Not that their hunt, begun in May, was easy. They made offers on four

houses, all lost to other buyers. On some properties, "we couldn't even make an

offer," said Krishnan Pillaipakkamnatt. "The home disappeared as soon as it

hit the market."

Finally, they found one in September, but the seller didn't have a

certificate of occupancy for a fence. They hung in and agreed to extend the

closing date, said their broker, Bethany D. Marten, owner of the Home Buyers'

Resource Center in Baldwin and Riverhead.

They closed Feb. 27.

Despite a slowing economy, eroding consumer confidence and a stumbling

stock market, the residential real estate market remains healthy on Long Island

and in Queens, real estate experts say.

"There has been a slight cooling of the market, but not a whole lot,"

Marten said.

Still, while it remains a seller's market, there are strategies owners can

undertake to maximize their selling price. And conversely, buyers, faced with

fierce competition throughout Long Island and Queens, are unlikely to land a

home without a careful tactical approach.

"There is no bigger mistake when buying a house in this market than to jump

in without a strategy," Pillaipakkamnatt said.

While the number of homes for sale is up slightly from last year, many

brokers are still desperate for listings because "inventory hasn't kept pace

with the number of buyers," said Walter Messina, vice president of Glenjay

Realty in Forest Hills and president of the Multiple Listing Service of Long

Island.

Take Century 21 Annette's Real Estate in Uniondale.

In January, the firm listed 20 homes for sale, said owner Audrey

Livingstone, also president of the Long Island Board of Realtors. But

Livingstone's agents worked with more than 350 buyers that month.

Attractive mortgage rates, near historic lows, also have kept buyers

shopping, Messina said. But as the traditional selling season warms up, there

are some noted differences between the current market and last spring's fling.

Agents report a leveling off of housing prices after jumping 16 percent

last year in Suffolk, 10 percent in Nassau and 7.6 percent in Queens. Buyers

are more cautious and not opening their pocketbooks as wide as last spring,

said Evelyn Atanas, owner of Atanas Realty in Williston Park.

While most lower- to middle-priced homes continue to sell quickly, there

has been a slight softening in demand for higher-priced ones in some areas,

such as those priced $400,000 and up in northern Queens, said Markowitz.

But in other high-end communities, such as in Port Washington and

Manhasset, demand remains strong, said Emma McMahon, manager of Daniel Gale

MacCrate Real Estate in Port Washington.

And two rather ordinary 4-bedroom Fort Salonga homes priced from $700,000

to $800,000 sold within two weeks of being listed, added Katy Anastasio, owner

of Anastasio Associates in Huntington.

Strategy #1: Learn the peculiarities of your local market, experts say.

Here are several other approaches to help sellers and buyers achieve their

goals in this market:

Joe Catalano is a freelance writer. He may be reached by e-mail at

joecat5@juno.com.

STRATEGIES FOR SELLERS

1. Analyze why you are selling-the reason may affect your approach. Some

people sell because they have come to dislike their area for a variety of

reasons, said Anthony W. Mercep, a partner in the Stony Brook law firm Glynn &

Mercep. Others like their community, but want a better home in the area.

If your reason is the former, selling now should be your first priority to

take advantage of the strong demand and good prices, Mercep said. If, however,

you are selling only if you find your dream house, then try to find it and make

a deal, Mercep said.

In any event, remember that replacement homes are hard to find. You should

have some place to go should you not find a replacement home before closing,

Atanas said. She said she's worked with several sellers who decided to move in

with family or rent until their next house was ready.

Be prepared to take an equity or bridge loan should you not sell your home

before moving into the next one , said Jack Muratore, an associate broker with

Coach Realty in Smithtown.

2. Have your documents in order. If you made structural additions or

changes, be sure you have the necessary certificates of occupancy, or COs,

before placing your home for sale, Atanas said.

Should you delay in getting such documents and end up having a problem, you

could lose a good buyer.

3. Line up an attorney before listing your home. The attorney can help

determine whether you have your needed documentation, review any listing

agreement before you sign and answer questions as you go, Mercep said.

4. Get the house in shape. Clean and do minor repairs, McMahon said. Buyers

are looking for homes in good condition and are willing to pay more for them.

But don't do major things such as a kitchen renovation, said Dan Ryan, owner of

Ryan & Walis Realty in Long Beach. Short term, you're not likely to get the

money back.

5. Get a reliable estimate of what your home is worth. Ask a real estate

agent to give you an estimate, or go into an Internet search engine and enter

"real estate comps," Mercep said. The online approach will bring you to real

estate sites that list what homes in your area sold for.

Many agents contend, however, that they can provide you with more

up-to-date data, including homes in contract.

And don't overprice. "Buyers are very knowledgeable about price," Ryan

said. If you ask $400,000 for a home worth $300,000, buyers will surely compare

it to homes costing $400,000, and you'll lose those buyers. "Price your home

at market value or 2 percent to 3 percent over," he said.

6. Consider whether to use a real estate agent. If you sell on your own,

you pay no commission-but you have to attract buyers, set appointments and show

the home on your own.

Real estate agents can advise you as well as assist with problems, said

Livingstone of Annette's Real Estate.

If you hire an agent, decide whether you want to use the Multiple Listing

Service or have an exclusive listing. With an exclusive listing, only agents

from the office you list with can show your home, while houses on MLS can be

shown by the 15,000 member agents. It's the homeowner's choice.

Agents will sometimes push exclusives, dangling a discount on the

commission you pay as an incentive.

Normally, commissions are split between the agent who lists the home and

the agent who sells it. When both are done in-house, the whole commission is

kept by the listing agent.

Last spring, agents desperate for listings kept many homes as exclusives.

This spring, however, exclusives are down partly because the New York

Department of State has ruled that buyer brokers must be allowed into them,

Ryan said.

"An exclusive is good for the broker, while MLS is better for the seller,"

he said. The more people who see a house, the bigger the demand and the higher

the selling price, said Marc Crosier, general manager for Richlin Real Estate

in Selden.

Nevertheless, there are circumstances when a seller may want an exclusive,

Atanas said. For example, some elderly owners prefer exclusives as a way to

control the number of people coming through their house.

7. Don't be quick to drop one buyer for another higher bidder. If you are

about to sign a sales contract with a qualified buyer willing to pay your

asking price, you should generally stick with him, Markowitz advised. Don't be

swayed at the last minute by someone offering more who may not be as qualified.

STRATEGIES FOR BUYERS

1. Make yourself an attractive buyer. Some sellers won't deal with buyers who

are also selling unless their home is in contract, Atanas said. If your home is

not sold, make it clear to the seller that this deal is not contingent upon

your home's selling. Then be prepared with a back-up plan such as a bridge

loan, she said. If you have no house or live with family, tell the seller.

Also, get prequalified for a mortgage. Better yet, get preapproved, Livingstone

said. All that's left, then, in the mortgage process is getting an appraisal

on the home you want to buy. Sellers with multiple buyers often choose those

who are preapproved or prequalified, Atanas said.

2. Line up your real estate professionals before you start shopping. When your

attorney and home inspector are in place, this allows you to spring into action

once you find a house.

3. Consider using a buyer broker. A traditional agent's fiduciary duty is to

the seller, Mercep said, while buyer brokers work for the buyer.

These brokers can take you to homes selling agents can't, such as exclusives

and for-sale-by-owners, Giesela Nightingale, owner of The Buyers Agent

Nightingale & Partners, a buyer broker, said.

On the other hand, if you decide to use a traditional agent, establish a strong

relationship with one, Anastasio said. The agent is more likely to call when

something good in your price range comes on the market.

4. Learn about a seller's situation. Sellers most likely to bargain and make

concessions are those in a bind, said buyer broker Marten. They already have

another house in contract or must move. You or your agent can often gather such

information by talking to the seller.

5. Avoid making low-ball offers. Everyone is after a discounted asking price,

said Messina of Glenjay Realty. But how much a seller is willing to come down

depends on the demand for the house and how accurately it's priced, he said.

Research what comparable area homes sell for, said Nightingale. Once you know,

come in at or below the asking price based on your research. Be aware that some

owners, with multiple buyers, won't make counteroffers when they've already

received other offers at or above their asking price, she said.

And don't make critical remarks about a house, in an attempt to get sellers to

reduce their asking price, Markowitz said. All this does is make the seller

angry.

"People sell to people they like even if an offer is higher from someone they

don't like," Marten said. "Ingratiate yourself to the seller."

6. Be flexible. If you can't find the home or price you want in one community,

consider another, Markowitz said.

Similarly, you can buy more home for less if it is in a less favorable location

such as on a main road, Anastasio said. But remember, she added, one day

you'll sell, and these homes often take longer to move in a weaker market.

7. Act quickly. "You can't dawdle in this market," Pillaipakkamnatt said. Do

the home inspection, sign the sales contract and make paperwork available in a

timely fashion.

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