You want to buy a house? You want to sell a house? What’s the first thing you ask?

“Tell me,” you say, “what’s the market like?”

This is the most frequently asked question I get. I am asked it during listing presentations, during buyer showings, at the grocery store, and, yes, even in the ladies’ room. Everyone seems to have that question on the tip of the tongue.

The answer, however, is not a simple one. It often depends on your perspective and your reason for asking the question.

Let’s step back a moment and look at the broad perspective. Let’s take the Atlanta market as an example. Sales are up for both single-family and condominium homes. Days on market are drastically shorter, and prices are rising.

What accounts for these statistics?

First, fewer houses are on the market. Inventory is at an all-time low. The law of supply and demand reigns.

I think it goes a step or two further, however. Only a few years ago we were seeing the market glutted with homes threatened by foreclosure or stumped by declining value. That is no longer the case, and the homes on the market now are generally in much better condition.

We now have a better informed seller. Many sellers spend their free time watching HGTV fix-and-flip shows.

Most sellers understand that a house needs to be staged and to show well to sell. Many sellers have their own inspections and make repairs before the house goes on market.

In short, the houses look and are in better condition than in previous markets.

That said, the lack of inventory is a real problem as more and more buyers come into the market.

Gone are the days when buyers could look at 20 or 30 properties and take a week or two to make up their minds. Now a good property goes to contract in the blink of an eye.

Is this good news for the seller and bad news for the buyer?

The answer is sometimes.

Many sellers are getting multiple offers on their homes. It’s a fact that good homes can get several offers, pushing the sales price over the asking price.

On the other hand, the house has to appraise for that figure. You really can’t pay too much for a house if you have an appraisal contingency.

A house that requires little additional repair is actually a bargain if the buyer doesn’t have to come out of pocket for upgrades to make the home livable. A home that has been consistently maintained and improved is simply worth more than one that has been neglected.

So what can buyers do to make sure they’re getting the most for their money?

“Be prepared” is not just a motto for Boy Scouts. A buyer who comes to the table prepared to buy has a great advantage.

Think about what you want in a home and where you’d like that home to be. Talk to a mortgage broker and be prequalified. Do this even before getting in the car with an agent. An offer must be accompanied by a prequalification letter or proof of funds if cash.

In this market, homes are typically on the market for a short period. Therefore, it’s important for the buyers to give some thought to what they can or would do before setting out. Knowledge is definitely power in this situation. Think about what’s important to you, and you’ll be ready to make a reasonable offer when the time comes.

Buyers and sellers move for all sorts of reasons: new job, lost job, new baby, empty nest, retirement, promotion. If a move is in your future, now’s the time. Interest rates are still reasonable even though the Fed threatens a rate increase; they’re much better than the 18 percent rates that were in place when I first began my career.

Bottom line: Buyer and seller, go for it!

Rose Anne Schulman is a Coldwell Banker agent. She can be reached at roseannerealtor@gmail.com or 404-502-5921.