5 Tips for Buying a House This Spring

The springtime market is traditionally the busiest time of year for buying and selling real estate.

Based on our experiences out in the field recently, we’re expecting this spring’s market to be no exception to this rule. If anything, we’re expecting it to be even more competitive than usual for buyers in our area. In fact, it’s starting to feel like an all-out war for some properties.

So, what’s a well-intentioned buyer to do in order to successfully purchase a home in such a dog-eat-dog market? Here are five tips to win your springtime house search:

1. Get pre-approved.

One of the most important ways you can help yourself to get ahead in the buying process is to get pre-approved for mortgage financing.

Getting pre-approved helps in two ways. First, it helps to focus you in your search for housing by giving you a better idea of exactly how much you can afford to spend. While it’s always good to do a broad search for property, you don’t want to waste time looking at homes that are definitely outside your price range. Second, and more importantly, having a pre-approval letter is an important part of the offer process. When you place an offer to buy a house, your pre-approval letter telegraphs to the owner that you’re a qualified purchaser, and therefore that you’re worth it for them to take the risk of withdrawing their home from the market for a few weeks while you prepare to close. Especially in competitive multiple-offer situations (“bidding wars”), which are more common in spring, having a pre-approval letter is a key to being the winning bidder.

Bonus tip — Early on, establish a good relationship with the mortgage broker who gives you your letter. You might need them to make quick adjustments to your financing status as you’re looking at potential houses, and they hold all the cards when it comes to actually getting a commitment from your lender. If your mortgage broker isn’t responding to you in a timely fashion or you’re uncomfortable working with them, shop around for a better option.

2. Leave no stone unturned.

Even though we expect the housing market to pick up quickly and substantially over the next few weeks, there’s still just not enough housing inventory out there to satiate buyer demand. That’s one big reason why we’re seeing so many bidding wars and crazy prices right now.

As a buyer, you need to give yourself options to make a decision that feels right. So, shop around. Look at everything in your price range. Go to open houses. Looks can be deceiving, and sometimes a home that doesn’t seem like a good fit online or on a listing sheet can turn out to be your dream home once you step inside.

3. Educate yourself.

Looking at lots of houses does more than give you options. The more homes you look at, the more you know about the market. It’s important for you, as a consumer, to have a feeling for prices and market trends in your area. For example, if it’s what you’re looking for, what’s a typical three-bedroom ranch with one bathroom going for in your neighborhood? The more you know about the market, the more comfortable you’ll be once you finally find the perfect place for you.

4. Be ready to act quickly.

A long time ago, when I bought my first home, the market was fairly quiet and it favored buyers. Houses were on the market for long periods of time, which meant there was plenty of time to window shop. And, when you found a house you were interested in, there was lots of time to schedule second showings, invite Mom and Dad and your best friends over to take a look, etc.

Not today. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself about the house you’re going to buy (caveat emptor), and you should never make a rash or hasty decision. But, be aware that today’s real estate market is moving fast. Like, lightning speed. When you do find a home you like, be prepared to move quickly to place an offer, because there’s likely a line of people out the door who are contemplating the same move. If you wait too long, it could be gone in the blink of an eye.

5. Keep calm.

Not to contradict ourselves here, but… notwithstanding all of the tips above… when searching for houses aggressively, don’t overdo it.

When housing markets get competitive, desperate buyers can do crazy things. People start skipping inspections, or promising to pay way too much for a house, just to be the winning bidder. Buyers become consumed by the game, and the process of buying the house overtakes all consideration of the property itself.

That’s all great, and we always try to advocate aggressively for our clients with a competitive bid. But, let’s be realistic for a second. Is it really a good idea to promise a seller you won’t back out of a deal if a home inspection reveals major flaws? Is it really a good idea to pay way more for a house than its assessed value? Is it really wise to promise to beat any other bid by $5000? Maybe it is, especially for the home of your wildest dreams. But, there’s a good chance it’s not.

Just because the market is crazy doesn’t mean you need to go crazy to find a house. Remember that you can be a victim of your own success. When you buy a house, you’re going to actually have to live there, and you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for it. So, take a step back and focus on the one thing that matters most — do you really want to live in this house? There’s more to life than just winning the bidding war. As the saying goes, if it ain’t right then it just ain’t right, so know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to walk away from a potentially bad deal.

As a closing bit of advice, we offer you this bonus tip. As real estate agents part of our job is to help people to navigate crazy real estate markets. We can provide important information about the market, objective perspective, and guidance to get you through an otherwise hectic process. So, if you’re looking for help with the difficult job of finding a new home, as always, turn to us for assistance! We’re ready to help you win the springtime real estate war.

Choosing a place to live AND play (or run, bike and hike)

Runner’s World magazine is out with its list of the 50 best cities for running, and unsurprisingly, Boston is #3 on this list. The scorers cited Beantown’s large number of races, running stores and healthy food options as reasons for topping the list, while climate (it IS New England) and safety are counted against it.

It might seem crazy to choose your city or neighborhood based on factors like these, but for athletes and outdoor adventurers (both serious and recreational) it’s not. Many elite endurance athletes are attracted to cities like Boulder, Colorado or Flagstaff, Arizona so that they can train in a high-altitude setting. For recreational athletes, homes near streets with sidewalks or nearby trails can be super important.

I love to run. Before I moved to my current home, I lived in places where I didn’t necessarily feel safe running alone and I had to drive somewhere to get to a trail or area with sidewalks where I could safely run and bike. No fun. When it came time to buy a house, I knew I wanted a location where I could walk out my front door and hit the streets, without having to worry too much and without a lot of hassle. The city I moved to has great sidewalks, lots of quiet streets, and some amazing trails that are perfect for walking, running or hiking.

There are lots of factors to potentially consider when choosing a place to live, including the quality of the school system, the commuting distance to your job and the tax rate. While accessibility of places to play might seem low on the list or frivolous, it’s important to your quality of life. And you’re definitely not alone if you feel that way. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 140 million Americans view outdoor recreation as an essential part of their daily lives.

So don’t be afraid to tell your real estate agent that recreational opportunities are essential to your home search. And if you’re doing your own research, I’ve found that cities and towns are usually happy to brag about their outdoor offerings (some obvious, some hidden jewels!) on their official websites.

Have you ever chosen a place to live based on the availability of recreational opportunities? Is that something that would figure into your home search? Let us know in the comments below.

Real estate can be tough on pets. Here are a few tips to make things less “ruff.”

The process of buying or selling a home can be stressful for us humans, but it can be especially hard on pets. Routines get knocked out of whack, strange people (including potential buyers, agents and home inspectors) are entering the property, and a general feeling of upheaval can be palpable.

When we start working with a new buyer or seller, we always try to find out as much as possible about their pets so we can help them make solid decisions for everyone who might be part of their household, two- and four-legged creatures alike.

When you’re selling your home

On the seller side, our top concern is how to handle showings with potential buyers. Our policy is to attend all showings, rather than slap a lockbox on the door so that buyers and their agents can stroll through on their own. Being there in-person allows us to keep an eye on pets and try to keep them from slipping out the door or getting into any restricted spaces (such as a particular bedroom or a closet) when buyers enter the house and start exploring and throwing doors open. If you’d like this type of service, make sure you ask agents if they provide “accompanied showings” before you hire them to sell your home.

It’s also good to let your agent know if visitors shouldn’t pet animals they see, or if a certain animal is aggressive toward strangers. This helps to prevent bad results.

If you’re super nervous about your pet during showings, we always recommend that you take them with you when you leave the house before people come over. Although this may not always be possible (and may not work for say, a gerbil or your goldfish), this is the best way to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety (and give you peace of mind).

When you’re looking to move to a new home

If you’re looking to buy or rent a home yourself, it’s especially important to inform your real estate agent about your pet, including breed and size. One of the biggest challenges pet owners run into is something called “pet restrictions.” This usually comes up with rentals and condo complexes.

Sometimes, pet restrictions are a creature of local ordinances, such as a ban on aggressive dog breeds. More frequently, however, they come up as the result of limitations placed on a property by an owner, developer, or association. The restrictions themselves vary, but some of the more common ones we’ve seen involve limitations on the type of animal (for example, “no dogs”), or on the size of pet allowed (for example, “dogs under 25 lbs. allowed”).

Whatever the case, they’re usually binding upon you unless you can somehow obtain an exemption (as in the case of a landlord who breaks their own rule to allow you to have a bigger pet.) It might be worth your while to investigate the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen designation. This is a program where dogs complete a 10-step “good citizen” test to earn a special certificate you could present to potential landlords who might be wary about accepting your pet. Items on the test include “accepting a friendly stranger” and “walking through a crowd.” Having the certificate might not guarantee entry for your dog, but it could definitely help your case.

As you begin your home search, you should also consider telling your agent to keep an eye out for certain pet-friendly features, such as a fenced backyard for pets to roam free, a nearby dog park or non-porous floors suitable for four-legged occupants. Don’t feel silly putting a strong emphasis on these types of features—pets are part of the family and deserve to be comfortable, too!

Have you ever moved or sold your house while you had a pet? What challenges did you face? Share your story in the comment section below.

What does your dream home look like?

When you envision your dream home is it a Brady Bunch-style “contemporary” or a quaint clapboard Cape? Where I live, north of Boston, there are TONS of American Foursquares. I happen to live in one, and I love the symmetrical, square rooms and the old-style feel. It reminds me of my grandmother’s house, and I just don’t think I’d feel as comfortable and at-home in a one-level ranch.

Style is a personal preference, and for some people, certain home types are absolutely out of the question. Maybe you hate the idea of stairs, and would be happiest in a one-story home.  Or maybe anything conventional bores you to tears and the idea of living in an octagonally-shaped house lights you up. (Yup, that’s a thing--ask my brother, who calls one home.)

Our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) here in New England (the place where agents and buyers go to list and search houses) just added a bunch of new style categories to their system, which means you can now list your particular home style more specifically and you can then search very specifically for the style of house you desire.

Below is the current menu of styles as offered by our local MLS. (And here’s a link to a great feature on Realtor Magazine that gives a little description, some history and an illustration of a lot the styles listed below.)

  • Colonial
  • Garrison
  • Cape
  • Contemporary
  • Ranch
  • Raised Ranch
  • Split Entry
  • Victorian
  • Tudor
  • Gambrel /Dutch
  • Antique
  • Farmhouse
  • Saltbox
  • Cottage
  • Bungalow
  • Multi-Level
  • Log
  • Front to Back Split
  • Lofted Split
  • Greek Revival
  • Shingle
  • Mid-Century Modern
  • Villa
  • Carriage House
  • Craftsman
  • Georgian
  • Queen Anne
  • Spanish Colonial
  • Italianate
  • Dutch Colonial
  • French Colonial
  • Gothic Revival
  • Second Empire
  • Colonial Revival
  • Neoclassical
  • Prairie
  • Octagon

What does YOUR dream home look like? Let us know in the comments!