Shopping for a home these days is overwhelming. There are simply too many homes from which to choose.
You make an appointment with your agent, and there are 10 to 12 homes to see, plus another 50 possibilities – and that’s after you’ve already spent hours shopping around online to get a sense of what’s available in your neighborhood of choice, and at what price point.
There’s so much housing stock available (nearly a year’s worth across the county at the current rate of sales), that you could spend months seeing and thinking about available homes for sale.
But that isn’t a particularly efficient way to shop for a home. Your time is valuable, and so is your real estate agent’s.
It’s a far better use of your time to be strategic about what you really want to buy and where you want to buy it. Here are eight things you can do that will help you narrow your focus and streamline the time it will take to shop for a home:
1. Create a wish list. Streamlining the home shopping process requires you to figure out what is most important to you in a property. If you want a particular size home, with a certain number of bedrooms, put that at the top. If you want a certain school district, a particular neighborhood, or development, that should go on the list as well. You don’t want to waste time looking at properties that don’t have at least most of the things on your wish list.
2. Create a reality check. Then again, you may not be able to afford everything you want, but the current real estate market should make it easier for you to get more than you would have gotten just a couple of years ago. So, make a list of exactly what you need to have in your new home. In other words, you may want four bedrooms, but need three. You may want a certain school district and nothing else will do, so that also goes on your wish list and reality check. Once you have these two lists completed, you’ll want to prioritize them so you know exactly what you want and what you can’t live without. It’s an extremely useful filter you’ll use to help you make fast, objective decisions about whether a property is going to work for you or not. Given the large number of homes on the market, you might find homes that meet all of your needs but may not meet all of the items on your wish list. The truth is, you won’t get everything on your wish list. But you’ll only likely live in this home for the next five to 10 years. So, focus on those items on each list that are the highest priority. Try not to get hung up on some of the smaller issues that may not impact your day to day life at that home.
3. Get preapproved. This might be your most important step. If you don’t know how much you can spend in today’s mortgage finance market, you don’t know what, or if, you can buy. So, get preapproved by a lender. Having a fixed dollar amount in your mind will help you eliminate homes very quickly. Get a copy of your credit report and make sure that your credit history is clean. You can get a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. This site will allow you to get one free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. You can also get a copy of your credit score from this site for under $10. Making sure your credit is in good shape is important before you undertake to try to buy a home.
4. Find your neighborhood of choice. Not every neighborhood is going to meet your reality check, so eliminate those that don’t have everything you absolutely need. Next, eliminate those that you can’t afford based on your loan preapproval. Then, tour those neighborhoods that are left to figure out which one feels right to you.
5. Find an agent who specializes. If you’re shopping for foreclosures and short sales, find an agent who specializes in foreclosures and short sales in your neighborhood of choice. It’s far easier to find someone who really knows and works a neighborhood and use their knowledge to help further eliminate the number of available properties to see.
6. Use the Internet to eliminate as many homes as possible. Before you go out with your agent, be sure to get a list of possible properties, and eliminate those that don’t meet at least your needs right off the top. Then, look at the rest of the properties online to figure out which ones are worth a drive-by showing. Today’s listings on the Internet will give you a pretty good idea of whether the home meets your likes and dislikes from the pictures and videos they display on their sites.
7. Use drive-by showings to eliminate more houses. Drive-by showings happen when you drive by the property, lot line to lot line. You want to see whether the exterior of the home and the actual block on which it sits further meet your needs and wants. You can drive by hundreds of homes in a few hours, if you have only a short amount of time. Some homes may look nice but may not be situated in a place you’d like to live.
8. Only see homes at or below your price range. Apply the price filter one more time. You want to only go to see homes that are at or below your price range. Your agent might tell you that a special house that’s slightly above your price range is being sold by desperate and anxious sellers. If your agent is truly plugged into the local scene and has inside information, and you have the time, then go see the house. But to save time and streamline the process, you’ll want to apply the affordability filter one last time.
I’m not suggesting that you should not take the home shopping process seriously or take as much time as you need. But if you live in an area where there are hundreds of similar homes for sale, it can take a long time to go through each of these and do a 20-minute showing.
Eliminating homes that simply won’t work will help make the process a lot more objective and help make it a less emotional experience overall.