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Spring is here, and so is spring home-buying and -selling. Buyers and sellers preparing to take action this season should put those plans into play now—according to Zillow Group's Report on Consumer Housing Trends, the No. 1 regret for both buyers and sellers is "not starting their home search or prepping their home to sell soon enough."
 
"This spring, both buyers and sellers should be prepared for fast-moving sales, intense negotiations, and even bidding wars. Home shoppers and sellers are motivated to become more strategic and knowledgeable about what's happening in their neighborhood. Understanding whether you are in a buyer's or a seller's environment will help you manage your expectations and will give you insight into what you're going to need to bring to the table in order to close the deal."
 
For buyers, that means:
 
Keep your options open. More than half (52 percent) of homebuyers surveyed in the report said they also considered renting, and more than one-third (37 percent) of first-time buyers seriously considered continuing to rent. Savvy shoppers should have a Plan B in place, hoping to buy if it works out, but willing to sign a lease for a home if they don't make a deal by the time they need to move.
 
Be realistic with your budget. Once you set it, stick to it. First-time home buyers are more likely to exceed their budget than repeat buyers (39 percent versus 26 percent), according to the report. Before you meet with a lender to determine how much mortgage you'll be approved for, take a good look at your individual finances and spending preferences to determine the monthly payment range that you feel you can comfortably afford.

 
Get your financing squared away early. If you start off by getting a pre-approval, you can sort by price, identify the right neighborhoods, and find your dream home much faster. The bottom line is this: REALTORS® prefer to work with home buyers who have a pre-approval in hand for two reasons. Once you have a thorough pore-approval, your REALTOR® knows the deal isn’t likely to fall through, and second, when they know what you want and what you can afford, REALTORS® are able to do a better job of finding your dream home.
 
Find an agent with a winning track record. Take the time to find an agent who has expertise in fast negotiation, leveraging escalation clauses, and winning bidding wars. Only 46 percent of buyers got the first property on which they made an offer, according to the report, demonstrating that competition is now part of the process. Partner with a REALTOR who can navigate a bidding war.

 
Communication is key. Make sure your preferred method—and frequency—of communication matches that of your agent. One-third (33 percent) of all buyers surveyed in the report preferred phone calls with their agent over emailing (21 percent) or texting (15 percent). Buyers can use the agent reviews on Zillow to learn more about prospective agents and their clients' experiences. 
 
Many current homeowners need to sell their current house in order to purchase their new home. Strategic selling can help you to list your home to attract buyers faster:
 
Start early and be strategic. Sellers consider putting their home on the market for five months before they list it—but the top seller regret is that they wished they spent more time prepping for the sale. Many cities have a magic window in the spring when homes have a higher likelihood of selling quickly for more money.
 
Work with a REALTOR from the start. The vast majority (90 percent) of sellers surveyed in the report who sold quickly and for more than list price worked with an agent, and two out of three (58 percent) began working with an agent at the very beginning of their selling journey.
 
Pay attention to your online curb appeal. The majority of buyers begin their search online. Sellers who sold their home for more than list price made imagery and home information available online: 48 percent had professional photos taken of the home; 30 percent shot video footage; and 21 percent shot drone footage. Zillow's video walk-throughs give sellers an easy way to show home features that are hard to capture in photos.
 
Home improvements can be a worthwhile investment. Sellers who fetched above list price tackled home improvements before listing their home, being 50 percent more likely to take on a large project like modifying an existing home plan and 20 percent more likely to renovate a kitchen than the average seller.