Now that you’ve saved up for your down payment and closing costs, cleaned up your credit report, and you’re prequalified (or preapproved) for a mortgage, it’s time to find your home and close the deal. This is the fun part! But it can also be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be hard, though. Here are some steps to keep it simple.
Narrow down your “must-haves.”
Depending on the size of your market, you may want to start looking at all the houses in your price range. But if you’re living in a large market or open to several different locations, narrowing down your options is essential. How many bedrooms do you need? Is a big kitchen important to you? What kind of neighborhood do you want? You might not be able to find a house with everything you want, but if you prioritize, you should be able to find a house with your “must-haves.”
Search the MLS.
MLS listings are available on many real estate websites. You should be able to search for your criteria in all the homes currently on the market in your area. You or your buyer’s agent can create alert emails that will notify you when houses in your price range with your criteria become available or lower in price.
Weed out the homes that won’t work for you.
Once you have a list of all the homes in your market that loosely fit your needs (3 bedroom, 2 bathroom homes in your price range, for example), start looking at them more closely. View the address on a map. Is it in a desirable area? Is there a highway in the back yard? (That was the case for a surprising number of the homes in my search.) It’s not a bad idea to drive through some neighborhoods if there are multiple homes on the market in a specific area. I found that many of the homes looked really nice in pictures, but not so great in person. Take those homes off your list before you start scheduling viewings to keep things as simple as possible.
Now is the time when a buyer’s agent comes in handy. Your agent will typically need to give 24 hours’ notice to the seller before a viewing. Make a list of 5-10 houses that fit your requirements.
If you’ve found a large number of houses that you’re interested in viewing, start with the homes on the lower end of the price range. If a less expensive home will work for your family, there’s no need to look at fancier houses. You may discover that these homes won’t actually work for you, and if that happens, you can always schedule viewings for more expensive homes later. Try to keep the number of homes you view in a single day under 10 to avoid overwhelming yourself.
Take notes and pictures.
When you start touring houses, it helps to make note of everything that strikes you. Note the pros and the cons of each home, and start with a fresh sheet of paper at every house to stay organized. Chances are the real estate listing page will have plenty of photos to jog your memory, but it can’t hurt to bring a small digital camera for some snapshots. It also helps me to write down pertinent information from the listings on my own notepad (such as price, square footage, and other information) for easy comparison.
Assess and repeat.
Now it’s time to look at your options and decide if any of these homes are right for you. This can be a very difficult balance. On the one hand, you may be absolutely in love with a home, but you’re hesitant to make an offer because you want to know what else is out there. On the other hand, maybe you’re not thrilled about any of the houses, but you feel like this is all that’s available and you feel pressured to settle. Don’t let either of these mindsets sabotage your home search!
If you find a house that you love in your price range, don’t feel like you should wait! Even in a slow market, a great house can be sold right out from under you. If you love it and you can afford it, then it’s time to make an offer. Take a night to sleep on it, but if you’re still feeling strongly about that home in the morning, chances are you won’t regret making an offer.
But remember, you still have options if you don’t love anything that you’ve seen. Even if you don’t have a long list of houses you still want to view, you could always expand your search to nearby cities or wait a little while for something else to come on the market. It’s better to keep renting for a little while longer than purchase a home that you don’t love. If you haven’t found the house, then repeat these steps and keep looking until you do.
Next time we’ll discuss the final steps of the homebuying process.