You have a broker, you’ve made a list of your must-haves for your first place and you know what neighborhood you want to live in. The key now is actually finding good prospects – places you’re excited to go out and see. Here are some tips I found useful in my search.
First, let your fingers do the walking. Do a preliminary search on your computer, tablet or smart phone, using an app like the ones we recently reviewed.
Next, go to some open houses. During your first formal weekend hunting, even if there’s nothing great listed, go to the neighborhood you want to live in, and check out a few open houses. It will be a chance to get your feet wet, see what value’s available and get comfortable searching like you’re going to buy. Discuss with your broker what you like and don’t like about each property.
Have your broker keep you in the loop. Your broker will have access to a proprietary database system that will have (almost) all the listings available in your area. Figure out how you want to be notified of good prospects, and how often. Are you content with an email once a day? Once every few days? Or do you want a phone call whenever a great prospect pops up? Your broker should let you know what’s realistic.
Continue checking online listings yourself. One especially useful website is Redfin, which has very comprehensive listings in many markets. Also, consider looking at Zillow and Realtor.com, both of which have listings as well as pricing histories for properties, price estimates and general real estate advice. Finally, to find the inside scoop on specific buildings, check out Condopedia.com, if it is available in your market.
Also, remember that your broker has other clients. Which means that in an especially tight market, it will behoove you to catch things immediately. And even the best broker can’t always do that. If your broker is helping with someone else’s home inspection, and then going to a closing – he’s likely not going to have time to check listings for you that day.
Why else should you search for yourself? You want to make sure that what you think is interesting generally matches what your broker finds for you. This can run both ways. Sometimes a broker may have the wrong idea about what you really want. And sometimes you may miss problems with properties that are obvious to a broker – or you may have a habit of telling yourself you can look at places over your budget.
The goal is to get so that both you and your broker become good at quickly spotting properties that you’re excited about – and that you can afford. If you both search and compare notes regularly, you’ll get there much faster.
Some general tips when looking at listings:
Patience is key. Don’t expect to find your dream place on your first search. While everyone has access to roughly the same searching tools, you can get a leg up by being thorough and also patient – what you want will eventually come around. By not settling for the first adequate place, you’ll be far more likely to get a truly great place.
That said, in tight markets great properties that have been on the market only a few days often go fast – very fast. So once you know what you want, if you see something that really interests you, get ready to pounce.
Be wary of red flags. If something’s been on the market for months, or there are no pictures included in the listing, or it’s suspiciously cheap, or it’s an “as is” property – know that it’s almost certainly going to be too good to be true. If you’re still interested in looking, talk with your broker to get the lowdown.
There will always be more properties. If you miss out on a place because you got outbid, remember that new properties come on the market daily. Instead of being disappointed, look at it this way: you were able to find something you really wanted. You’ll be able to do it again.
Foreclosures are deals – and a lot of work. Foreclosure purchases are generally only available “as is,” require a lot of patience on the part of the purchaser in dealing with large impersonal banks and unwieldy regulations, and the deals often fall through. While it may be worth all of this for you, really consider your situation before you attempt to buy a foreclosure.
Like many things in life, the key to a successful condo hunt is diligence, patience and communication. If you learn the market, keep your eyes open and have a good relationship with your broker, you’ll find a place you’re happy with.