Planning to buy a home this spring?
Then right now is the time to get rolling, Realtor.com and other experts say.
“Spring is peak home-buying season, which means you’re going to have a ton of competition from other buyers,” said Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors.
Follow these steps and you’ll be way ahead of the pack once the spring home-buying season heats up:
Step 1: Find a buyer’s agent
Teaming up with a buyer’s agent during the winter offers several advantages. For starters, because business is slow, an agent can take the time to help you identify what type of home you want and educate you on the local market so that you’ll have realistic expectations of what you’ll be able to find in a few months.
Also, “your agent may hear of properties that are going to come on the market in the spring, which could enable you to get a sneak peek at homes before other buyers,” Yee said.
To find a real estate agent, you can ask friends or family for referrals, or use a reputable real estate agent database.
“If you’re laser-focused on a specific neighborhood, you’ll want to work with a neighborhood specialist, someone who knows the community like the back of their hand,” Yee advised.
Step 2: Get financing squared away
Before you even lay eyes on a house, you should be looking at lenders. Lenders will help you get real about how much house you can afford.
They will determine how much money they’re willing to lend you by checking out your financial details, from your income to your credit score and more. Plus, if your finances are less than perfect, you’ll be able to find out in plenty of time to make amends.
“Depending on what shape your credit is in, it may take a couple of months to raise your score,” said Richard Redmond, mortgage broker and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.”
If your credit score is strong (760 and above will qualify you for the best interest rates), getting pre-approved for a home loan now makes sense.
“Pre-approval is usually only good for 90 days,” said Redmond, “but it’s easy to renew it if the borrower’s financial picture doesn’t change. And when interest rates are trending upward, which they currently are, it’s better to lock in your rate sooner rather than later.”
Step 3: Preview homes
You’ll probably do an initial consultation with your agent to identify what type of home you want to buy. However, you won’t really know what type of home you’re looking for until you actually step inside some homes, said Realtor Lisa Cahill.
“Your criteria can change when you start to look at properties,” said Cahill. For example, you might think you need a home with 2,500 square feet of living space, but that number could change when you start seeing homes in person.
Your real estate agent can alert you to open houses to attend.
Step 4: Scrutinize neighborhoods
“You can tell whether an area has good schools on paper, but there are a lot of things you can’t judge unless you go there in person,” said Cahill.
For instance, online research won’t show you what the noise level is during rush hour or what the neighbors are like (e.g., is it more for young families or older residents?). Those are things that you need to assess with your own eyes. Concerned about traffic? “Go and test-drive your commute,” said Yee.