How should buyers get prepared for this hot Spring Real Estate market?

by arlene on April 1, 2012

I was pleased to be asked to provide an answer to a current real estate question for the San Francisco Chronicle. They allow only 200 words in the print version, so here is a more thorough answer to the question:

Get help- Most buyers start their search by looking at homes, in person or online, but buyers truly benefit from working with an agent early in the process. It’s tempting to approach a home search the way I like to approach food: “Life is short; eat dessert first.” But when getting ready to buy a home, you need to start with the nutritious part. By that I mean you need to start with the basics, even though that may not seem nearly as much fun as starting by looking at homes. Why? Because there is so much information and there are so many neighborhoods and properties to consider.  A local Realtor will help you prioritize. They can guide you through the vast amount of data and point you to what’s valuable – or what’s inaccurate – for your particular search. More importantly, they can give you the back story you won’t find online, and put your search into a hyper-local context. Deep, current market knowledge is invaluable.

Get pre-approved– This spring market is already much more competitive than this time last year. If buyers want to take advantage of the still-low rates and discounted prices, and succeed in acquiring a home appropriate to their needs and budget, they need to start not by driving around, but by sitting down with a trusted advisor. A local agent can recommend loan professionals who are experienced with local transactions, and are a good match for your situation and personal style.

Being completely pre-approved for a loan by a local professional is essential, as lenders have changed their requirements over the past months and have become increasingly particular. Your income and asset documents, and a strong credit report, need to be reviewed through a Desktop Underwriting system before you are truly ready for your home search. Only a property appraisal should remain for final loan approval.

Once buyers know how much they can actually afford, and what their comfort level is for payments, they will benefit from prioritizing. I ask my buyers to write down the top three assets that a home must possess, as well as three qualities they’d like to avoid. If it’s a couple I ask them to prepare their lists separately—the differences are often very educational! What tolerance do you have for fixing a home? Is it important to have a second bathroom? Would a half bath do? How long is an acceptable commute? The answers will determine the homes and neighborhoods that should be included in the search. Once you have an agreed list of priorities, don’t be seduced by a beautiful home that fits none of your priorities. Unless your needs are very restricted, there always will be other homes to consider!

Multiple offers are common now in many neighborhoods of Berkeley, North Oakland and environs. Make sure your Realtor is well-connected within the community, will actively keep in touch with the listing agents and will present your offer in person if given the opportunity. This is something I always do for my buyers but not all agents do, and that can make the difference between your offer being accepted, or not

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