Original Article appeared on Yahoo Money

This year, homebuyers again will face a low inventory of for-sale homes and other competitive buyers. On the plus side, mortgage rates remain low.

If you’re ready to jump into the house-hunting fray in 2020, there’s no reason to be discouraged. Instead, be buyer-ready with these 10 tips from real estate experts.

Step 1: Make sure the time is right for you.

The first step in the home search process is to decide whether you plan on staying in a location for a long time. If you don’t plan to remain in one place for more than three years, renting may be a better option financially.

A more sensible option may be to focus on building your savings and not spend that money on a 20% down payment, said Pava Leyrer, chief operating officer at Northern Mortgage, a Michigan mortgage lender.

Prospective home buyer Jessica Doctoroff (C) visits a condominium for sale with her real estate agent Brenda Bremis in Medford, Massachusetts April 2, 2009. Pending sales of existing U.S. homes rose modestly in February but the market is still weak in the face of continued declines in home values and a recession, according to the National Association of Realtors Pending Home Sales Index REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES)
If you plan on staying in an area for only a couple of years, the benefits of renting may outweigh a home purchase. (Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Step 2: Try out the area. 

Visiting the neighborhood where you want to buy a home a few times simply isn’t enough, said Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified, a web series that discusses real estate trends. Instead, live there for a while without fully committing by renting short term, he said.

“Take the public transportation before you move and see what shops are around,” DiBurgara said. “If you look on Google maps, you don’t know if you’re going to stand in the cold for 20 minutes unless you do it.”

That could help new homeowners avoid buyer’s remorse. Three-quarters of homeowners had at least one regret about the house they bought, according to a recent Zillow survey, while nearly a fifth said they felt rushed into the decision without evaluating all their options.

Step 3: Do your own research, too.

While the vast majority of homebuyers use a real estate agent to buy a home, it still pays to do your own home-hunting research on the side. That’s because some agents may steer you from houses that offer lower commissions to the buyer’s agent, even if they aren’t supposed to.

“If you actually sign a buyer agency agreement, they have a fiduciary duty to you to show all the available homes,” said Guy Wolcott, founder of mobile real estate company Homesnap.

Still, the practice occurs.

Properties with lower commissions to the buyer’s agent are five times less likely to sell and take 12% longer to do so, according to research cited in a recent report from the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy organization. The CFA itself found similar attitudes among agents it interviewed for the report.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Real estate agent Kristan Marie Lynch passes out fliers during a broker open house on April 16, 2019 in San Francisco, California. In the wake of several tech company IPOs, San Francisco is bracing for its already expensive real estate market to get even more expensive. Workers for companies that are debuting on the stock market could become millionaires overnight and look to spend their new wealth on property. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Do your own research on available properties in case your real estate agent misses one. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Step 4: Follow up with the seller.

It’s not enough to just do your research before checking out a property. A small gesture after a house viewing can make all the difference.

“You are in a competition. Write a short and sincere letter to the seller that’s not desperate,” said David Meck, a real estate broker at Keller Williams Arizona Realty Meck. “If there are 10 offers, that will [help] the buyer if there’s a personal connection.”

Something as simple as emphasizing the value of a school district – if you’re a parent – could help your case, Meck said, though it’s not guaranteed.

Step 5: Add up your down payment.

While you don’t need a 20% down payment to purchase a home, it pays to have as much as you can to lower your monthly payment and get better terms.