Whether you’re fully committed and ready to buy a new home or you’re just passively interested in the idea, chances are you’ve already started to look at home listings online. It may be tempting to think that the next step is to contact a real estate agent, but there are some steps you should take first to ensure that you and your future agent are on the same page and ready to move forward toward a home purchase. Here are five things you should do before contacting a real estate agent.
A good real estate agent will be absolutely happy to help you right from the start, but it helps for them to know what you can afford, that you meet the minimum requirements for a home loan, and that you’re serious about moving forward with a home purchase. Most sellers won’t even consider an offer without a prequalification letter, so many agents prefer to have the letter in hand before you even look at a home. This will prevent the heartache of falling in love with a home, only to find out you don’t qualify – or losing the home because someone else put it under contract before you could even make an offer.
This step is separate from getting pre-qualified, because what the bank says you can afford may be different than what you can afford comfortably with your lifestyle and spending habits. When you calculate your budget, don’t forget to consider factors such as utility bills and maintenance costs, especially if you’re currently living in an apartment—these expenses may be much larger than what you’re currently paying. Owning a home can be considerably more expensive than you think, so make sure you’re prepared.
Once you have an idea of what you can afford, start looking at the areas that offer homes in your price range. Make a list—this could include multiple towns, neighborhoods or subdivisions—and get to know them. Research the area’s comparable homes and sales prices at a site like Owners.com.
Even if you’re familiar with a neighborhood, take another look—places can look much different when you see them through the lens of a 30-year commitment. Pay attention to the surrounding areas, and do some research on the local schools and community. If convenience and proximity are important to you, consider how long it would take you to get to work and your kids’ schools, as well as grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants.
Don’t let photography and lighting fool you into contacting an agent immediately. If your internet search lists a home you’re interested in, drive to the home and see it from the street. Drive through the neighborhood, and if possible, attend an open house to get a better look at the inside. You may find that what you thought was your dream home is in a rough neighborhood or has issues that are deal-breakers for you. Ruling these homes out beforehand could save you – and your agent – a lot of time.
If you know that you plan to buy a new house in the near future and need to sell your current home, then start decluttering ASAP. It is never too early to start shedding unwanted items. Not only will this help you to stage and sell your current home, it will also give you a head start on the moving process. Nothing highlights the amount of junk you have in your home quite like packing it all into boxes. Save yourself the nightmare of having to get rid of it all at once, and at the last minute, by starting as soon as you realize that you plan to move.
A good real estate agent will work hard for you—but a good agent is a busy agent. Be ready to show that you’re serious about buying a house, you’re financially ready to commit, and you know what you want. This will ensure that you get the best service, and prepare you to put an offer on a home when you find the right one.