Buying a home? Here is how to navigate the housing market.

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Homes are selling quickly. About half sell in less than a week, usually after multiple offers, said Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist for the Redfin online brokerage.

The usual tips — like getting preapproved for a mortgage — apply more than ever, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times. But competition in many cities is leading potential buyers to take steps they may not have considered even a few months ago, including offering tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price; agreeing to let the seller live, rent-free, in the house for several months after the closing; and waiving certain contingencies, like the right to inspect the house before buying.

Here are other measures buyers are going to to close the deal:

  • Buyers will sometimes send personal notes to sellers to distinguish themselves. “It never hurts,” said Mark Strüb, a real estate agent in Austin, Texas, though some Realtors discourage the practice. Mr. Strüb once had a seller with a strong sentimental attachment to the house pass over the highest offer because the potential buyer failed to write a letter, while the others vying for the home had all done so.

  • In some states, buyers may offer direct incentives to sellers outside of the purchase price, sometimes called “option” money, said Maura Neill, an agent with Re/Max Around Atlanta. “It works like a bonus,” she said. She cautioned that buyers and their agents should clarify their state’s laws, but “if you can make it work,” she said, “it’s a very strong tactic.”

  • Shoppers need patience, plus a willingness to move fast. To snag a condo near Piedmont Park, Ga., one client Ms. Neill worked with offered a quick closing, which was important to the sellers, and agreed to waive the appraisal — also an increasingly common practice in competitive markets. That means that if a buyer is financing the purchase with a mortgage and offers more than the property appraises for, the buyer agrees to pay the difference in cash at closing.

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