Buying a new home is an exciting adventure. But without the proper roadmap, it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and even leave you with a house you regret buying. One of the best strategies to find a home you'll love for years is to partner with a local real estate agent early in your journey.
A Realtor who knows the market, the home-buying process, and what sellers are looking for can be an invaluable guide from start to finish. The second most important thing to have while trying to buy your new home is a checklist. When you know all the stages, and what happens next, you can enjoy searching for a new home and start planning out your next steps. Follow this ten-point checklist from the Drahan Keiser real estate team.
1. Understand the market where you want to live
Once you narrow down to focus on the areas that make sense for your wants and needs, it can help to research the local markets. According to the National Association of Realtors, Florida was home to the top five hottest real estate markets in the United States during Q1 of 2022, and one of those markets was Palm Beach.
This means you'll see a lot of competition for available properties. You may have to put in offers above the list price, offer long leasebacks, and put in multiple offers before you finally get a response from a seller. Knowing this information early in your search can help you create the right strategy and avoid early frustration.
2. Start saving for a down payment, additional fees, and an emergency fund
Before you fall in love with a property or area, you must ensure you have the savings to put in competitive offers. Today's real estate prices are higher than ever, which can put many properties out of your reach. Assess your finances and continue saving until you have these milestone amounts:
- Down payment: Ideally, this should be 20% of the expected home price. A 20% down payment can help you secure more favorable lending terms and remove private mortgage insurance obligations. But many lenders offer terms down to a 3% down payment.
- Funds for transaction fees: Because it's such a hot seller's market, you might need to take on title fees and other costs that the seller traditionally handles. Offering to pay these fees (or wrap them into the offer price) simplifies the process and gives the seller even more reason to consider your offer.
- Emergency fund: There are two reasons to have a robust emergency fund. First, even move-in-ready homes will eventually have expenses. Water heaters, HVAC repairs, new carpet... make sure you have the money to take care of the property and make any necessary changes. Second, an emergency fund can give you more flexibility in your offers. If you enter a bidding war and want to buy a property for more than an appraiser sets the property's value, having cash on hand allows you to follow through on your offer.
3. Choose a Realtor early in the process
Having a Realtor on your side is always valuable, but it's never more important than when you're trying to buy a home in a seller's market. A Realtor can help organize showings for you, explain contracts and new trends in successful offers, and reach out to the seller's agent for real-time details about an attractive property. Ultimately, a real estate agent can help you move faster and with fewer missteps.
Choose a Realtor for selling your current home, too!
But an experienced local agent can help you determine a reasonable price for your home, create a good marketing strategy and listing so you receive a lot of interest from buyers who can afford your home, and choose from multiple different offers so you aren't distracted by bad offers or offers with sky-high prices that will never close.
Pro tip: Choose a Realtor
4. Be prepared for a long or competitive search
5. Get pre-approved by a lender — not pre-qualified
Skip the prequalification stage entirely in today's market (aside from using it to gauge “how much house” you can buy). Instead, work with a lender to get pre-approved. By submitting a pre-approval letter with your offers, you indicate to the seller that you're on top of things and that financing will likely come through smoothly.
6. Start touring homes and making offers
This is the fun part of the journey, especially if you love touring homes and considering different fixtures and layouts. Your real estate agent can set up showings for new listings and walk you through homes during open houses. As you start to see more and more homes, you can refine your criteria based on what's available and what's within your price range.
During this stage, it's important to act quickly. Many properties are only on the market for a few days, and few linger on for more than a week or two. If you see a home you love, talk with your agent immediately to put together a competitive offer and submit it either the same day or after your agent has had an opportunity to speak to the seller's agent. With enough time and offers, you'll eventually get that congratulatory phone call: a seller has accepted your offer!
7. Be ready to act during your option period
Home inspectors and foundation specialists, plumbers, and electricians can give you a detailed overview of the property's condition so you know what's working, what's up to code, and what you may need to negotiate with the buyer.
8. Work with your Realtor to manage the closing process
9. Know what to bring to closing days
- A cashier's check that covers the exact amount for closing costs, or 'cash to close.' This amount includes the down payment, property taxes, insurance, and any prepaid interest you owe. Make sure this is a cashier's check, not a personal check.
- Proof of insurance
- Photo ID, like a driver's license
- The Closing Disclosure from your lender
10. Handle day-one tasks once you get the keys
- Ensure the water and electricity are on.
- Transfer or start services like internet, cable or satellite, and other auxiliary utilities.
- Change all the locks. You never know who may still have a key to the garage, front or back doors, or other entryways. New locks are a great way to feel safe and secure in your new home.