Article By: Steve McLinden, Bankrate.com

To buy or sell in 2012, what with Armageddon coming and all? Absent any ancient  Mayan wisdom on real estate strategies, let’s just hope the real cataclysmic  event in the real estate market already has passed, even if the rubble from the  bubble remains.

A stubborn overstock of households with loans higher than their value will  continue to restrain prices and create some major obstacles for sellers in 2012,  a year that’s shaping up to be another homebuyer’s market. In fact, recent  studies indicate that more than 20 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage are still underwater,  hinting that many foreclosures and workouts are still to come.

However, even the most conservative forecasts call for growth in home sales  in 2012, with some select pockets around the country already busting out where  there are competitive offers on new listings. More than one-third of home  resales were made to first-time buyers in 2011 — another good sign.

Meanwhile, here are 12 tips for 2012, aimed largely at the group that needs  the most help — home sellers.

Price  it right from the get-go

The old-school strategy of real estate sellers crossing their arms and  holding out for a better offer will be brushed off by most homebuyers. Consider  that of the homes that took four months or more to sell in the past year, almost  half of their owners accepted less than 90 percent of the asking price,  according to the National Association of Realtors. For a gauge, have your agent  produce the latest comparable sales including short sales and foreclosures as  well as a recent summary of sales prices versus original list prices. But be  wary that such information doesn’t reflect the homes that failed to sell.

Put  your best footage forward

Prep, paint, stage, scrub, improve, repeat. Efforts can include caulking,  plastering, planting flowers, adding potted plants, making the windows spotless,  pressure washing that oily driveway, edging the walks, trimming the bushes and  trees, and mending the fences. None of these is excessively capital-intensive,  but when applied en masse, they say “buy me.”

Be flexible

I’m not saying bend over backward to accommodate real estate buyers. Bend  forward and sideways, too. Be ready to negotiate and offer extras such as  closing costs, paid property taxes, remodeling work (or a cash credit),  appliances, paid condo association/homeowner association dues, a few months of  mortgage payments or even seller financing. Home sellers who’ve been on the  sidelines and who advised their agents to ignore offers by lowballers don’t have  that luxury now. Instruct your agent to listen intently to prospective  homebuyers’ misgivings about the home and adjust accordingly and  immediately.

Trump  your techno-fears

Hire a listing agent steeped in mobile platforms. Sellers and buyers are  routinely using Facebook  and other social media to sell and seek, not to mention dozens of online selling  sites. Some owners are even making YouTubevideos to showcase their  homes, making it easier to quickly link to potential buyers via email. There’s  also an abundance of smartphone apps cropping up to review real estate listings  and refine searches.

Don’t  fall prey

Fraudsters are targeting distressed homeowners with “deals” that can sound  perfectly legit. Some offer loan modifications for upfront fees while others  offer fee-based “help” in navigating government housing assistance programs,  sometimes claiming they’re attorneys.

There are also con-artist “investors” compelling desperate owners to sign  over their homes with quitclaim deeds in return for a typically empty promise to  remain there indefinitely. Others are telling former owners they can get their  homes back for a lump sum. Be forewarned: Never sign blank documents or  documents with blank lines.

If you’re unsure of an offer, have an attorney or other trusted adviser look  it over. Keep in mind that a law barring firms — except attorneys — from  charging upfront fees for mortgage relief or mortgage modification took effect  in 2011. It’s called the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule.

Be  flexible

I’m  not saying bend over backward to accommodate real estate buyers. Bend forward  and sideways, too. Be ready to negotiate and offer extras such as closing costs,  paid property taxes, remodeling work (or a cash credit), appliances, paid condo  association/homeowner association dues, a few months of mortgage payments or  even seller financing. Home sellers who’ve been on the sidelines and who advised  their agents to ignore offers by lowballers don’t have that luxury now. Instruct  your agent to listen intently to prospective homebuyers’ misgivings about the  home and adjust accordingly and immediately.

Trump  your techno-fears

Hire a listing agent steeped in mobile platforms. Sellers and buyers are  routinely using Facebook and other social media to sell and seek, not to mention  dozens of online selling sites. Some owners are even making YouTube videos to  showcase their homes, making it easier to quickly link to potential buyers via  email. There’s also an abundance of smartphone apps cropping up to review real  estate listings and refine searches.

Don’t  fall prey

Fraudsters are targeting distressed homeowners with “deals” that can sound  perfectly legit. Some offer loan modifications for upfront fees while others  offer fee-based “help” in navigating government housing assistance programs,  sometimes claiming they’re attorneys.

There are also con-artist “investors” compelling desperate owners to sign  over their homes with quitclaim deeds in return for a typically empty promise to  remain there indefinitely. Others are telling former owners they can get their  homes back for a lump sum. Be forewarned: Never sign blank documents or  documents with blank lines.

If you’re unsure of an offer, have an attorney or other trusted adviser look  it over. Keep in mind that a law barring firms — except attorneys — from  charging upfront fees for mortgage relief or mortgage modification took effect  in 2011. It’s called the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule.

Finance  101

Realize it’s harder to qualify for loans these days. Credit records are under  greater scrutiny, and lenders are often demanding a 20 percent down payment and  some pricing flexibility from the sellers, especially if the lender’s appraisal  doesn’t reach the asking price.

Consider cash offers, even if they’re not the highest. Reject  too-low offers from homebuyers gently and with encouragement, telling them  they’re oh-so-close. You don’t want to give away the farm, but you don’t want to  give it back to the bank either. These days, meeting halfway usually means  meeting buyers on their half.

Be  your own spokesperson

Agents once advised home sellers to retreat from view during showings, lest  they disclose something unsavory or otherwise botch the deal. That’s changed. If  you can control your ego and emotions and come off as an earnest, flexible  seller, you can serve as your best spokesperson. Be ready to answer would-be  buyers’ questions about the neighborhood and area schools. Be careful about  making verbal promises!

Flight  to quality

Worried about durability? Buyers who place a heavier focus on brick or  concrete-and-steel housing may find they’re more enduring, safer and  quieter.

Are you worried about sustaining value? Buy near a prestigious hospital,  university, large government employer or newly vibrant central business  district. These entities typically aren’t going away, and the demand for good  housing around them won’t either.

Expand  your buying universe

There’s still an overabundance of well-priced inventory out there, which  means you needn’t immediately narrow your search to the first house you fancy.  That’s especially the case with short sale homes, which can be a nightmare to  close in a timely manner. There are some for-sale gems that need only a little  polishing.

Shop around. Don’t dismiss foreclosures and other bank properties,  pre-foreclosures, auction homes, for-sale-by-owner or lease-to-own homes. Pick  at least three favorites and work from there.

‘Site  unseen’ equals shortsightedness

Are you perplexed by the home valuation you did on your place on the website  of a large, seemingly reputable real estate organization? Puzzled how that  valuation can be 25 percent or more above or below a firsthand appraisal you’ve  had done? Well, value estimates on these sites can vary widely, sometimes by  hundreds of thousands of dollars, even by the admission of the companies  themselves. There are way too many variables in the valuation game to give too  much credence to blind, algorithm-based estimates that are impersonally  calculated. Nothing beats a nuanced firsthand professional appraisal.

Expand  your buyer’s due diligence

Aside from the financial details, contracts, disclosures and protections you  typically tend to as you prep to buy a home, add these to the list:

  • Hire a title company to check the house for liens and tax arrearages.
  • Hire you own inspector. Don’t use the seller’s!
  • Have the inspector check for unpermitted work such as illegal room additions  and garage conversions.
  • Consider the overall energy efficiency of the home with an energy  audit.
  • Be sure property lines are accurate. If there’s any question, hire a land  surveyor to research the original deed and to stake out the property’s lines and  your neighbors’ property lines to avoid future disputes.

Make  a quality-of-life due-diligence checklist

  • Go to the National Sex Offender Public Website at Nsopw.gov to search for  neighborhood predators.
  • Spend some time around the neighborhood and briefly interview neighbors.  Determine if there are noisy neighbors, signs of gang activity, nocturnal  barking dogs, indigent lingerers, frequent loud parties and/or suspicious  nighttime visits. Are there lots of rental homes? Is the block a cut-through  point during rush hour? Does the school bus go past the block? Is there a  restrictive homeowners association?
  • Determine what types of buildings can be constructed on vacant lots adjacent  to the neighborhood. This helps avoid unpleasant future surprises. Is there  constant noise from a nearby highway or busy street? Are there odors from nearby  industrial plants?

This post originally appeared at Bankrate.