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What's the Difference
by Marc Eisenson

Back in the early 80's, when Nancy thought she might buy a country home, she discovered a relatively painless way to find out the current difference between asking and selling prices -- what sellers want versus what they get.

At least around here, it's all in "The Comp Book," which is published and regularly updated by the Multiple Listing Service in each county. Not all brokers belong to MLS. But they probably have a similar list, or can easily create one. (If a broker balked at sharing these "befores and afters" with me, I'd take my business elsewhere.)

For a quick sense of what's going on, breeze through the listings, looking at how much the owners wanted, versus how much the buyers paid ... in the specific area where you want to buy ... or sell.

For a more accurate picture, create a chart like the one below. If you're very clear on what you want in a home, include only those properties that seem most similar to what you're seeking. Otherwise, cast a wider net.

Say you want to live in Red Hook, NY, and figure your dream-house-to-be will cost between $90,000 and $115,000. Here's what sold recently in that price range:

If you divide the selling price total by the asking price, you'll find the percent difference between them. In this case, it's $705,000 divided by $781,400, which equals 90% -- or10% less than what was asked.

Looking at these figures, I wonder whether the buyers of #'s1-3 knew that the average markdown is 10%. I think not, though it's possible these sellers priced their homes on the low side (or cut their prices), looking for a quick sale. It'd be interesting -- and maybe enlightening -- to drive by these 3 houses, to see what you thought.

Your job is to establish a fair, current value, before you make a bid. You can't depend on the broker -- who's being paid by, and is legally responsible to the seller. After all, the broker's take goes down if you get the house for less.

But with up-to-date insider info, you're bound to ask good questions, make a first offer that takes the likely discounts into account, and save some serious money.

By the way, Nancy never did buy a house. She met me, and the rest, as they say, is history. (We rent.)

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor © 1992, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

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