Best Places to Live 2013: Getting in the Game

Follow these easy tips to upgrade to your dream house—or make a bundle offloading an old pad.

real estate game

Photo by Eric Roth. Architecture by Stern McCafferty

Before You Buy…

Do some digging. For a true picture of what you’re up against, you need to go deep into the stats, says Coldwell Banker’s Lara Gordon. If you look at the overall numbers, condo prices were up just 2.5 percent in Cambridge and Somerville in 2012. But prices for two-bedroom, one-bath listings in Cambridge jumped 21.5 percent, while in Somerville, prices for one-bedroom, one-bath units were up by 23.7 percent. Ask your broker for a detailed breakdown on exactly the type of property you’re looking for, so you’ll know what to expect.

Scan your credit history. “Even though interest rates are at an all-time low, the credit markets are still very thorough,” says Brian Cavanaugh, a mortgage broker with Residential Mortgage Services. The higher your credit score, the better terms and conditions you’ll get. Make sure your record is pristine.

Get a mortgage guarantee. In such a rabid market, being pre-approved for a mortgage isn’t enough anymore, according to Michael DiMella, of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. He suggests getting a bank-commitment letter fully approving your loan. “Sellers will sometimes take an offer that they feel more secure about,” he says, “even if it comes under on price.”

Go digital. Ask potential real estate agents up front if they typically speed up the paperwork process with electronic documents and signature software—crucial time savers when you’re scrambling to put in an offer. “In a market where things move so quickly,” Gordon says, “ I’m actually surprised that more agents haven’t gone completely electronic.”

Pay less over time. Cavanaugh says that interest rates are so low that he’s seeing an uptick in shorter-term fixed-rate mortgages. “People are lowering terms, so instead of your basic 30-year fixed mortgage, they’re opting for a 20- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. Your payment is more, but you’re paying less interest and building equity faster,” he says.

Sellers, Take Note…

Stage early. You may think the clock starts with the first open house, but the pictures are what actually kick off the selling process. Turning on lamps during a shoot is key. “Natural light casts blue,” says Julie Chrissis, of Chrissis & Company Interiors. “Lamps throw yellow light and most people relate to that warm feeling.” Limit your listing to 10 to 15 images. Anything more just overwhelms.

Ban the books. We’re a well-read city, but the idea of living inside a library can leave buyers feeling claustrophobic. If you want to keep a few tomes on display, align the bindings on the edge of a shelf. And pack away anything that might be off-putting. “I worked with a gynecologist who had books on topics no homebuyer wants to see,” Chrissis says.

Update your paint. New paint is the cheapest way to overhaul a room. “Fresh paint can really clean the whole house up, get rid of all the scuff and dirt marks that bear traces of someone else,” says Heidi Pribell, an interior designer and stager. Chrissis sees two Benjamin Moore colors going up all over town: Creamy Linen White was used in all the residences at the Ritz, and Manchester Tan, a soft beige, adds warmth to any room.

Stash personal effects. “You want buyers to come in and feel comfortable, not like they’re trespassing,” Pribell says. While wedding photos and graduation pictures must go, Chrissis suggests keeping a few “nondescript” candids on hand. “A buyer should ask, ‘Did that come with the frame?’”

Pack up the home office. “With our community of entrepreneurs, I see a ton of people who work from home…but most don’t do so in the neatest way,” Chrissis says. Since home offices are the hardest to photograph for MLS listings, consider boxing things up here first.

Leave the lights on. Do agents a favor and illuminate your home before potential buyers arrive. The last thing you want is someone fumbling through your bedroom looking for a lamp.


Check out all of our Best Places to Live 2013 coverage.