Tips for homebuyers

n Shop around for mortgage rates and terms. Even half a percentage point could make a difference. Federal Housing Administration loan programs offer lower down payments and are a good option for first-time homebuyers.

n Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you make an offer.

n Make your offer contingent on a home inspection. An inspection will tell you about the condition of the home, and can help you avoid buying a home that needs major repairs. Ask your inspector to check for the presence of corrosive drywall, especially that imported from China.

n Talk to the neighbors in the area where you are thinking of buying.

n Buying a home is confusing, and a real estate agent can help. Find an agent whom you find easy to talk to.

n Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is a lot of paperwork and probably some terms you’ve never heard before.

n Be reasonable when making an offer. Banks and owners may be willing to bargain with serious buyers but putting in an offer extremely below market value is a waste of your time.

n If you are looking at short sale properties, it may take a while to get a response. Loss mitigation departments at banks are flooded with short sale requests. Although banks are improving their response times, you and your agent have to be persistent.