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Southern California real estate is at an all-time high, with bidding wars and all-cash offers making house hunters of modest means want to just…move elsewhere. (But even homes in the Valley cost on average $700,000—yikes.) However, with a bit of savvy, some dedication and a little luck, you can find a home you’ll be happy in. Consider this your financial and psychological boot camp to get buff for the hunt.

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trulia kitchen white chairs trees
Trulia

Beware the Perfectly Staged Home
In this market, a well-decorated home is like chum in the water for sharks…and when your fellow home shoppers are frenzied with desire, they’ll bid quickly and strongly. Better to wait for a home that needs a little TLC if you’re a dedicated Fixer Upper fan, or at least one that’s only meh (but you know you can make it amazing).

Focus on Fundamentals
Make sure the location and features of the home will suit you for at least the next five years (though ten is better). That’s because with closing costs, moving fees and other one-time expenses, you’ll want to stay in the home for as long as possible to recoup your investment. So if you’re planning to start a family in the next few years and will need an extra bedroom, then you’d better buy it now.

trulia red roof house outside
Trulia

Consider Emerging Neighborhoods
While gentrification is a dirty word among socially conscious home buyers, the truth is that limited urban inventory means that historically undervalued areas will become more desirable as homeowners sell for top dollar (and as infrastructure improves, as in this four-bedroom, two-bath home in Leimert Park, where the almost-finished Metro Crenshaw line impacts the $785,000 asking price). Ask yourself honestly what you can bring to the ’hood and how you can be an asset to your neighbors, and by all means ask around the neighborhood about how family-friendly and safe the area is.

Don’t Hesitate
Before visiting an open house, make sure your paperwork is up to date and your loan approval hasn’t expired so you’re ready to make an offer on the spot if you want to.

trulia living room couch wood fireplace
Trulia

Be Clear About What You Can Afford
The thrill of competition might blind you to how onerous a 20 percent hike in home price might feel to your budget every month. Have your mortgage calculator open so you can quickly determine the actual monthly payments before you smash your price ceiling.

Be Flexible
Accept beforehand that you’ll be competing with all-cash offers and multiple bids. Make your offer stand out by being amenable to the seller’s terms, such as having a quick closing or allowing them to rent the home back while they house-hunt.

front yard house flowers plants
Trulia

Manage Your Expectations
Starter homes have become scarcer, pricier, smaller, older and shabbier than even five years ago. If you find yourself unhappy with the level of home you can afford, consider taking six months off the hunt or widening your search to places like Reseda, where this four-bedroom, two-bath home with a pool is priced at $659,000. After all, the current market boom can’t last forever (unless it does).

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