Savvy Buyer tricks for finding your dream home and questions to ask
Wherever you turn real estate agents are advising buyers that the time is right to buy, but low inventories mean the competition is steep. In many areas, selling prices are very close to the listed price and qualified buyers must jump to offer if they find the home they love.
“We’re advising our buyers to offer close to asking price,” says Rudy Molinet, the top producing Realtor in Key West, Florida. “If you’ve got your heart set on a home, and it’s priced well, you don’t want to lose the deal by making a low offer.”
If you’re ready to take advantage of the great values of real estate in your neighborhood, these tips – and questions to ask – can make that process go smoothly for you.
Plan Your Attack, Work Your Plan
Start with Preferences
While it might go without saying that you should know what you want, a surprising number of buyers start looking at houses before they even know what neighborhood they really prefer. Check out the neighborhoods and their amenities long before you start looking at homes. If you don’t, you risk falling in love with a house in an area that doesn’t really match your needs. If you have children in school, for example, your first order of business is to find out which school districts will best suit your kids, and learn what those boundaries are.
By the same token, if you are relocating you might want to rent for a short time to figure out where you really want to live. While a neighborhood close to the new office might seem at first glance to be the best idea, you may being closer to extracurricular or weekend activities is more important. You may also be able to swing a larger house or a better view if you’re willing to commit more of a distance to work.
Get PreQualified with a Lender
With lending tight, many savvy real estate agents won’t waste their time showing property to buyers unless they know they are qualified to buy. But while you may find a less experienced agent who is willing to show you property without prequalification, any offer you make will be looked upon with little enthusiasm by most sellers in this market.
Searching for Your Dream Home
Once you’re prequalified and you know where you want to live, how many bedrooms you require and what special features you require – perhaps an eat in kitchen for a large family or a pool for a retiring seniors moving to Florida – get ready to look at houses. Online.
Many Realtors offer very comprehensive MLS search features on their websites. Find the one that suits your style, and get familiar with what’s available in your market. Can you afford the water view you want and still have the number of bedrooms and baths your family requires? Are you willing to sacrifice the idea of a cul de sac where children can more safely play outside for a pool home? When you learn what’s on the market, you will be better prepared to look at homes that fit your budget as well as your preferences.
Ready Set Go!
Armed with your own print out of MLS listings, drive by the homes you think you might like and note what you do and don’t like about any home you might like to view. Do this in one day, if possible, and then make your appointments to see the houses that are still on your list.
You probably want to see as many in a short period of time and make a decision. It’s a waste of time, and emotionally painful to wait so long that someone else has bought the house you’re now ready to make an offer.
Home Viewing Tips For Buyers
- Take your own photos. While they won’t be as ‘professional’ as the Realtor’s shots, they will focus on the features that are most important to you. And be sure to take pictures of anything that concerns you. You might forget the unsightly view of the neighbor’s messy workshop from your kitchen window if you don’t snap a picture of it. Start by taking a picture of the address so you know which house the photos belong to.
- Ignore the décor. It’s easy to be turned off by someone else’s choices in wall color or furniture or knickknacks. Remember that paint is relatively inexpensive and try to imagine your own furnishings in the home.
- If you really like the house, spend some time mentally walking through your everyday routine in the house. Where would you have breakfast? Where would you put your computer or television, etc.? Try to imagine your current activities in the new house.
- Try to make a cell phone call from the house – you need to be sure your phone works at home!
- Come back at other times – especially at night. Does your dream home have noisy neighbors? Or do you find the neighborhood children happily playing in one another’s yards? It’s a great idea to come on the weekend, too, and maybe even walk the neighborhood and meet some of the neighbors.
Seven Questions to Ask Before You Make an Offer on a Home:
- Why are the sellers moving?
- How long has the house been on the market? This is a useful question only if you know what the average Days on Market is for the area. Your agent should know. If the house has been on the market well past the average, ask why.
- Have the Sellers had any offers? While the listing agent is not going to tell you what was rejected, you may get a sense of the motivation of the sellers. If the house came close to closing, you may be able to find out why the deal fell through. If the buyers couldn’t get their loan, ask if an inspection was made. If it was a favorable report, you might be able to get a copy.
- How flexible is the asking price? In some areas the Realtors association will publish the average difference between asking and selling prices. Ask your agent for that information.
- Does the neighborhood have an association? Do they send out a newsletter – and can you get a copy of the latest one?
- Is the home in a flood zone? Buyers in areas like Key West know to ask this question, but this is becoming an increasingly important question, especially in light of the added expense of flood insurance.
- Are there any problems with the house? Many states have disclosure forms that Sellers must fill out – ask for a copy of that when you first view the home. If they don’t have it, ask if there are any known issues with the property.
Take Your Time
While that might seem contrary to our earlier advice to move quickly in a competitive market with low listing inventories, you still want to take all the time you need to be sure. Don’t succumb to the pressure to jump on the bidding bandwagon unless you feel certain this house is your dream home.
If you’ve done your “home” work, and followed the tips above you will probably know when the time is right to buy. Happy Househunting!
- License: Image author owned
Former Realtor M.-J. Taylor lives in Key West and writes about real estate for clients such as Broker Rudy Molinet.