Buying or selling a home for the first time is like learning to play chess. There are terms to master, skills to learn, strategies to grasp, competitors to outmaneuver. These home buying and selling tips can help you capitalize on strengths and play down weaknesses:

Buyers: Get ahead of the Competition

Establish a price range. Use our mortgage calculator. This home buying tool considers not only your income and down payment but also total recurring monthly payments such as car payments, student loans, and credit card minimum payments.

Clean up your credit. If your credit reports are accurate, the home buying process is likely to go more smoothly. A great credit score will lower the cost of your mortgage interest rate.  Check your own credit score with this free credit site –  This is a great site that will suggest what areas you can improve.  A bad score is 300 the best is 850.

Get preapproved. Usually, that means a mortgage lender has checked your credit reports and determined how much they could lend you and all the documentation to the lender has already been provided before you make an offer.  Based on this information a lender will be able to tell you exactly what you can afford.

Don’t be fooled with the terminology of a prequalification letter vs preapproved.  A prequalification is only a Lenders guess of what you can afford based on what you have verbally told him about your finances.  Its NO guarantee until they completesthe preapproval process.

Sweeten the deal. Cash offers or large down payments get attention in a competitive bidding situation when you’re buying a home. But other considerations, such as flexibility with the shorter inspection and closing dates and help persuade a seller to except your offer over the others.

Shop for mortgages. Online sites such as Bankrate and HSH make it easy to find a variety of lenders. Investigate several. Find local credit unions at New standardized loan estimates mandated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should make it easy to compare terms.

Sellers: Put Your Best Square Footage Forward

Get the best deal from your broker. Commissions are negotiable.  The standard 5 to 6 percent sales commission isn’t carved in stone.  Almost half of agents charged 4 percent or less. An agent may be more amenable if you’ve sent him or her referrals, or have done business with them in the past so that knew that you are a serious seller.

Fix the big things. Prior to listing your home, get inspections for roof damage, termites, and other hidden concerns.  These are inexpensive upfront costs that will prevent both a buyer and seller surprises in the middle of an escrow period.

Declutter, depersonalize. Remove family mementos from the main living areas. Clear surfaces of daily detritus. Clean out closets, too. Overstuffed closets, no matter how large, give the impression of a lack of storage.   If the home is empty, have it staged.  Home stagers will make an empty cold home feel warm and inviting.

Post lots of images.   Lots of photos and a video of both outside and inside the home along with photo staging that makes a vacant home look like there is furniture is a must.  Our office listings include both of these and for larger properties on acreage we provide an aerial view.

Get squeaky clean. Shampoo rugs, change burnt-out lightbulbs, replace broken switch plates and outlets.