1. Get pre-approved for a loan.
Most sellers require a pre-approval letter along with your written offer. You should have it ready to go so that when you find the right home there is no delay getting your offer submitted. There’s a lot of confusion about pre-approved vs. pre-qualified… even Realtors sometimes use the terms interchangeably! But the pre-approval is the real deal. With a pre-approval, the lender has run your credit, and you will usually have filled out a loan application and provided documentation to the lender, who will then tell you the amount for which you are approved. With the pre-qualification, you will typically have provided some information verbally to the lender about your credit, income and assets, and the lender will give you a ballpark amount for which you are likely to be approved. Sometimes a pre-qualification letter will be sufficient; the main thing is to talk to a lender before you start looking at homes.
2. Decide if short sales and bank-owned properties are for you.
Don’t waste your time looking at properties that don’t meet your home-buying needs. Each of these types of sales has its own challenges for the home buyer, so it is important to know the basics of each and decide if either one fits in with your game plan. For example, if you need to get into a new home within a fairly short time frame, a short sale may not work for you, as they frequently take many months to complete. And bank-owned properties are often in need of work, which can add to the overall cost, or make it difficult to get certain types of loans. If you can be patient with a short sale, or have the ability and/or resources to fix up a bank-owned home, these could be excellent avenues to explore. If not, tell your Realtor® to skip the short sales and bank-owned houses.
3. Check out neighborhoods ahead of time.
One of the best things you can do at the start of your home-buying project is to take a weekend or two and cruise around various areas and subdivisions, especially if you are new to the area. Tell your Realtor which neighborhoods hold the greatest appeal for you – it will really help her understand the type of home you want and your taste in houses. Some buyers are looking for newer homes in areas with lots of families and kids; others prefer the quieter, “mature” neighborhoods. Fortunately, there’s something out there for everyone, and a real estate agent who has plenty of local area expertise and knowledge will be a huge help in finding those neighborhoods that are hidden gems.
4. Make time for house-hunting.
Don’t plan to only go to showings on the weekend – in this market that’s not a winning strategy. There is actually a shortage of well-priced homes in good condition, and the ones that are also in a desirable location sell almost immediately. If you’re serious about finding your dream home, clear the decks and be ready to jump when your Realtor tells you a new listing just hit the market that fits your requirements. And more importantly – be ready to make an offer if it is the right house. It could easily be gone in a day or two.
5. Don’t waste time on houses that are already sold!
Do you spend your spare time house-hunting on Zillow, Realtor.com or Trulia? Or driving around and calling about houses with signs out front? Then you’ve probably already learned that a huge number of those homes – which appear to be for sale – are not really available. They are very often “under contract” which simply means that another buyer made an offer that was accepted by the seller. These often still show as available on the public real estate websites, but in most cases the sale will close in a few weeks. Work with a Realtor® who will set up a custom search for you so you can focus on just those homes that meet your criteria and are actually still available.
6. And of course, the most important thing is to find a really professional and client-oriented Realtor!
A great agent will make your home buying experience smoother and more enjoyable. Get referrals from friends or family who’ve recently had a good home-buying experience, or call or email a few local agents. See which ones are responsive and return your call or email right away, and get a feel for how professional and knowledgeable they are about the local area and current market conditions. Also check out their commitment to their clients in terms of training above and beyond that needed to get a real estate license. Realtors® who work diligently on behalf of their clients have often invested in advanced training and designations such as:
- GRI – Graduate Realtor Institute, only 19% of Realtors®
- ABR – Accredited Buyer Representative, only 15% of Realtors®
- CRS – Certified Residential Specialist, only 10% of Realtors®
We hope these tips are helpful, and wish you success in your house-hunting!