10 homebuying tips from real-estate pros (© Corbis)

© Corbis

One of the best gifts you can receive, at any time of the year, is good advice. In the spirit of holiday giving, we asked real-estate professionals of all types to give us their best tips for buyers, from finding and financing a home to feeling satisfied after move-in.

In this year-end installment of Buying Advice, we'll also check in with the latest housing statistics and answer a reader's question about private mortgage insurance (PMI): how to avoid it and ways to kick it to the curb for good.

Our top 10 list for buyers
We received a flood of answers to our request for advice. Here are the tips that real-estate pros thought were most important to buyers navigating today's market.

1. Get the right agent. A good agent can relieve some of the stress of house hunting. Get recommendations from friends and co-workers in your area. Don't just let the listing agent on a house represent you both, as his fiduciary responsibility is to the seller.  Interview a couple of agents to find the right chemistry and look over their record of sales in the past year. Once you have found somebody you like, make sure she is willing to communicate with you in the form you want (email, phone, text, etc.) and as often as you want.

2. Get preapproved for a loan. "A preapproval letter — or lack of one – can mean snagging or missing the perfect home," says agent Carol Dellynn Schimschat on MSN Real Estate's Facebook page. It helps you stay realistic about price, puts you more at ease during the process and gives you an edge over other bidders.

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3. Don't look at too many homes. It's easy to get overwhelmed and confused if you look at too many homes or seek too many opinions from friends and relatives. Make a "must have" list with your immediate family for the features that are non-negotiable, versus just "wants" or "wishes," says Jessica Edwards with Seas Coast Realty in North Carolina.  Have your agent help narrow down the field. There's a lot of inventory out there, and you can't or shouldn't see it all.

4. Keep an open mind. More times than they can count, agents say, buyers will start a search looking for that perfect Craftsman bungalow only to find that the features and amenities they crave are in a sprawling midcentury ranch house. Be open to suggestions from your real-estate agent, who might show you something you didn't know you would love.

5. When you find a home you like, learn about the neighborhood. A large part of your satisfaction with daily life revolves around the amenities, schools and neighbors where you live. "Once you find a home, go back to the street and neighborhood at different times of the day and on the weekend," says Tony Geraci, broker/owner of Century 21 Homestar in Cleveland. "Try to meet some of the neighbors."

6. Never buy without a home inspection. As many agents pointed out, you can't rely on what you see in a walk-through. Problems hide under carpeting and inside walls and attics. Always get that home you're buying checked over by a certified home inspector and follow through on any additional inspections he recommends.You'll be glad you did.

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7. If you don't understand something, speak up. Ideally, your agent will have run through the homebuying process and what to expect at the outset of your search. But if you don't understand any part of the paperwork, process or terminology, ask, says Denver real-estate agent David Simonson. So many people whiz through paperwork without understanding what they are signing. That can come back to haunt you.

8. Submit your highest and best offer upfront. In markets that are doing relatively well, prime properties often receive multiple offers. "There's no time to haggle," says Maria Pena Morales of Re/Max Ranch & Beach in San Diego.  Make sure it's a realistic offer and submit it with a list of comparable sales to support it.

9. Be prepared to compromise. To come up with a winning bid, you might have to tailor it to a seller's needs, such as a longer or shorter close.  Don't expect sellers to consent to repairs that amount to upgrades or remodels, says San Diego agent Gabrielle Benjamin. And don't lose a house you love over something small like carpet, appliances or countertops. It's not these things that will make or break your experience in a house, it's the big things such as layout, size and location, says Don Tepper, an agent in Fairfax, Va.

10. Don't get emotional. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and tension of bidding. But you shouldn't move past your predetermined price range, no matter how much you love the house. "Be realistic with your price range, don't overextend yourself, and be comfortable with everyone in your transaction," replied jlibman_MTGNews to @MSNRealEstate's Twitter feed. And consider choosing a backup house that you like almost as much, says Todd Hetherington of Century 21 New Millennium in Washington, D.C. It might take some of the pressure out of negotiations.