8. Tax credit available through June: On top of lower prices and cheap mortgage rates, Uncle Sam is offering an additional incentive to get buyers into the market next year. In early November, President Obama signed a bill extending and expanding a popular tax perk for home buyers. The legislation gives qualified first-time home buyers a tax credit of up to $8,000 if they close the purchase of a primary residence by the end of June. Meanwhile, qualified current home owners are eligible for a credit of up to $6,500 when they buy their next principal residence. But while the tax perk may make a home purchase more tempting, would-be buyers should make sure they have the job security and financial wherewithal to handle the transaction before going ahead. "Don't let [the home buyer tax credit] be the thing that drives you to act," Larson says.
9. Markets will vary a great deal by region: The performance of the national housing market is much less important that the dynamics of your local market, and sales and pricing trends will vary a great deal from one area to the next in 2010. "There will be geographic pockets where the values will still continue to decline, and there will be geographic pockets where they increase," said Dale Siegel, a mortgage broker and the author of The New Rules for Mortgages. That means anyone interested in buying real estate next year can't just read the national headlines. Instead, find a good blog that covers the local housing market and consider speaking with a real estate agent with experience in the area. Check out online listings—pay close attention to pricing and inventory trends. And make sure to head out to open houses to get a firsthand feel for the market.
10. Mobile maps can help: Advances in technology have enabled would-be home buyers to increase the efficiency of their searches. For example, Zillow's iPhone app allows home buyers to see the estimated values and listed prices of the properties they pass on the street. The app, which is free, has been downloaded more than 830,000 times. Trulia has unveiled a similar product that allows users to find nearby open houses as well. "If you are sitting in a neighborhood having brunch on a Sunday, you can very easily pull up your phone [and] walk into open houses," says Trulia's Fernandez.