Westport has enjoyed a stellar real estate market in 2013. Sellers are looking forward to a continued uptrend. Competition among buyers is getting fiercer, so be prepared to put your best foot forward to obtain your dream home. Consider these six methods when negotiating on your potential purchase.

1. Meet before you hit the street. Before you step foot in a single foyer, speak with a bank or mortgage broker to get preapproved or prequalified. Have your credit report pulled and make sure it's accurate. It is now more imperative then ever to stay on time with bill paying. Recent late payments hurt your report more than older ones. Insure there are no mistakes, giving yourself enough time to correct any uncovered errors. Collect your tax returns and any statements the bank or broker may need. It is much easier to prepare in advance. A seemingly unending list of requirements is about to be requested and it is time consuming to collect all the paperwork. If you are self-employed, give yourself extra time, since many business owners may show their income more "creatively" than banks prefer. Your broker will be helpful in determining what you can be approved for, afford and the potential monthly payments.

2. Start too low and blow it. There are many tire kickers out there, and homeowners are more frustrated than ever with them. As agents, we are obliged to present all offers, and explain "it's just business, don't take it personally." But how do you not take it personally when we are talking about someone's family home of 20 years? It's a competitive market, and if you start too low, you may waste precious time and lose the house. The owners may not trust your negotiations if they feel you are trying to "steal" their homestead.

3. Put your money where your mouth is. It is fairly standard to submit 10 percent of the purchase price when the contract is executed. A buyer who offers more than 10 percent can be pretty appealing to the seller. The buyer proves his commitment and ability to afford the home.

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4. Less is more. Keep your contingencies to a minimum while still protecting your interests. Sellers worry about all the roadblocks ahead. If the buyer makes a clean and short list of requirements to meet until the deal is clean, the seller is more likely to accept the deal.

5. Take it personally. Let the seller know how much you love their home. Write them a heartfelt letter recounting why you want to buy it. Of course, a seller isn't going to sell their home for less than someone else is willing to pay just because you wrote them a note, but when things are equal or close, the personal touch will usually win out.

6. Time is of the essence. Work with the seller's timetable to close when it's best for them. If the seller feels like they are not being rushed out, or that the closing can be on their planned timetable, they are more likely to work with you. The ability on the buyer's part to move either fast or slow, based on the seller's needs can make the difference between winning the house and losing it.

When purchasing a home, the right price is of course important, but it is not the only determining factor. Confidence, ease and timing may prove to be just as important to a motivated seller. Work with your agent to get pre-qualified and know real value when you see it. Then, make an offer that a seller can't refuse. It doesn't have to cost you more.

Linda Skolnick's "Skolnick's Scoop" appears every other Friday. She is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Riverside in Westport and can be reached by calling 203-246-0088 or by through her website, www.GoAskLinda.com.