Going It Alone
When it's time to start looking for a new home, you have two options: You can sign a contract with a buyer's agent, who will work with you and represent your interests, or you can navigate the market on your own. While some buyers like the idea of having an agent locate homes that fit their needs and budget, others don't want to get locked into a contract that binds them to a single agent for a specified period (usually three to six months). If you’re the type who doesn't like to be tied down, click through to discover how you can hunt for a house and close a deal without an agent.
Get Loan Preapproval
Before you even start scrolling through online house listings, get preapproved for a mortgage so you’ll know exactly what your house-buying budget will be. Preapproval involves sitting down with your lender, who will analyze your income, current expenses, and credit rating, and then approve you for the maximum amount you can spend on a home. Without preapproval, when you finally find a house you like, the seller may not accept your offer.
Choose a Neighborhood
Beautiful houses can be found in almost every neighborhood, but your dream home could quickly become a drag if it’s located in a high crime area or if you have to commute an hour or more to work. Before looking at individual houses, zero in on a neighborhood that suits your family’s needs and wants. Look into factors such as crime rate, the quality of local schools, public transportation, and the length of your commute, and also find out whether the community offers convenient shopping, restaurants, and recreational opportunities.
Determine Your Style
House-hunting can become overwhelming if you try to look at all the properties within your budget that fit the bill. Don’t waste time and energy with homes that don’t suit your lifestyle. For example, don’t look at duplexes and condos if you really want a single-family home with a big yard where the kids can play. Figure out what you really want in a home, and don’t give in to the temptation to look at houses that don't measure up.
Look to the Future
It won’t be your dream home if your family outgrows it in a couple of years. While you're house shopping, consider your plans and goals for the next five to seven years. Are you planning on having kids? Are you thinking of transitioning to working from home? If so, look for houses that will accommodate your future plans so you don’t end up having to move again soon.
Attend Open Houses
On virtually every Sunday across the nation, real estate agents host open houses at properties they’re listing. You don’t need an agent to attend an open house. Check national sites like Zillow or check with local real estate agency sites to find out about upcoming open houses.
Related: 10 Spots It's Okay to Snoop at Every Open House
Call the Listing Agent
While some buyers appreciate having an agent to take them around to various properties, you don't need one to request a showing. If you find a house that looks promising, feel free to contact the listing agent to arrange a viewing. You are under no obligation to work with that agent, although she may ask whether you’re preapproved and might call your lender to verify that you are.
Focus on Floor Plans
Consider whether a home’s layout will meet your family’s needs. For instance, parents of a newborn may want a nursery near the master bedroom so they can easily check on their infant at night. The parents of teens, however, might prefer that the kids' bedrooms be located on the opposite side of the house for greater privacy.
Related: 15 Reasons to Think Twice About an Open Floor Plan
Mentally Move In
To ensure that you end up in a house you really love, try to block out the current owner's furnishings, decor, wall colors, and floor treatments, and instead imagine what the interiors would look like outfitted with your furniture and in your style. Visualize the rooms with your favorite colors on the walls, the bedrooms with your beds and dressers, and the kitchen with your preferred appliances.
Hunt Within Budget
If you’ve been preapproved, you’ll know exactly what you can offer for a house, but it can be tempting to look at more expensive properties in the hopes that the seller will come down on the price. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average home sells for 98 percent of its asking price, so if you make a low-ball offer on a house that’s out of your range, don’t be surprised if it's rejected.
Related: Watch Out for 12 Real Estate Tactics Designed to Make You Spend More
Get a Disclosure
Your first impression of a house may not represent the whole story. That's why it's important to get a seller's disclosure, a form required by most states. Though requirements vary, the form typically includes any known issues with the home, describes the condition of major systems (such as HVAC, plumbing, and electrical), and gives important details like the age of the roof and a rundown of renovations completed during the owner's tenure. A listing agent must provide this form on request. If you’re considering a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) house, obtain a seller’s disclosure from a mortgage lender and ask the homeowner to complete it.
Even if you’ve fallen in love with a home at first sight, remember that a house is the most expensive investment most people will ever make. So, before you leap, you should go on at least one more showing. A second showing will often reveal things you missed the first time around. To get the greatest value from this second visit, schedule the showing for a different time of day and possibly a different day of the week, when the lighting, parking situation, and neighborhood activity might offer a reality check.
Make an Offer
When you're ready to make an offer, unless you're buying a FSBO, you’ll have to get an agent involved. The listing agent can serve as a “transaction agent” (an agent who puts the deal together but does not advise either the seller or the buyer). As an alternative, you can ask the listing agent to appoint a different agent in the brokerage to act as your “designated buyer’s agent,” and that agent will represent your interests. If you are buying a FSBO, to protect your interests, a real estate attorney should look over the offer before you present it to the seller.
Related: 10 Things to Know About Being Your Own Real Estate Agent
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