The home-sale market is showing signs of life. More buyers are confident  now than they were a year ago that now might be a good time to buy. Interest  rates are near all-time lows and home prices in some areas are back to  2002-2003 levels.

Some analysts are finally suggesting that we may be headed for recovery.  If you have a secure job, plan to stay put and feel this is the right time for  you to buy a home, consider the following.

In most places in the country, home prices are still declining. It has  only been recently that the market picked up and it’s too soon to know if this  will result in a sustainable increase in prices.

The recent home sales in areas around California’s  Silicon Valley defy the norm. Significant job  growth in the area combined with a low inventory of good homes for sale has  resulted in multiple offers with buyers bidding the price up sometimes hundreds  of thousands of dollars over the asking price.

In other high-demand, low-inventory areas, you may find yourself bidding  against other buyers, perhaps even more than once. This doesn’t necessarily  mean that the price will be bid up significantly over the asking price. This  will vary from one listing to the next depending on property location,  condition and price.

It’s important to research the local community where you want to buy.  Find out what homes are selling for, if multiple offers are common and if listings  are selling for more than the asking price. This will help you make a realistic  offer that might be accepted when you find a home you’d really like to buy. It  helps to work with an experienced local real estate agent.

Some sellers in high-demand niche markets intentionally list their home  at a low price hoping to stimulate multiple offers. If you see such a listing  and there are a lot of buyers wanting to make offers, you will be better able  to know how high your offer would need to be to win the contest if you have  done your due diligence.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Whether you’re anticipating competition or not, you  should be preapproved for the mortgage you’ll need to complete the purchase  before you write an offer. In competition, this will make a big difference,  particularly if everyone else who is offering is preapproved. It also lets you  know what you can afford. And, it puts you in a good bargaining position with  the seller.

Buyers aren’t the only participants in the housing market that have  heard the news that the market has improved. Some sellers are putting their  homes on the market because they’ve been waiting for a better time to sell.  This is good news for buyers looking in low-inventory markets.

You should expect that you will have to negotiate. Many of today’s  sellers are selling for less than they paid. Even though the market has  improved a bit, sellers may be disappointed with the current market value of  their home. Be prepared to negotiate, not just the initial price, but after  inspections are completed if items come up that you hadn’t anticipated.

Include realistic contingency time frames in your purchase contract for  loan and appraisal approval if you’re applying for a mortgage. The recent  uptick in the market means that lenders are suddenly overwhelmed.

In mid-March, buyers in Oakland,   Calif., who were seeking approval  for a jumbo loan were told they could close a transaction in 21 days. Not only  could they not close in 21 days, it took more than 21 days for loan approval  due to lender backlog.

THE CLOSING: Underwriters could require that additional conditions be  met before you can be approved. Act quickly to avoid further delay.