The Best House Hunting Advice You’ll Ever Get, According to the Experts

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Buying a home? In this economy? 

It may seem like a crazy idea now, with COVID-19 and the uncertainty about what it will mean for the real estate market in the coming months. But if you’re lucky enough to have job security and enough savings, it might be a good move.  

Following the Federal Reserve rate cut in March, mortgage interest rates are at historic lows, hovering around 3.4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage as of mid-June.

We asked 12 real estate agents, economists, financial counselors, and real estate attorneys for their best house hunting advice. Here’s what they said.

Shop Around

Working with a real estate agent gives many buyers a leg up in understanding and navigating a local real estate market. Experts also recommend buyers do their diligence and take the time to look at and consider many houses. 

“Connect with a Realtor that you trust within your area. Sit down with a formal conversation on what you’re looking for and what areas you’re interested in. I have seen a lot of clients who look at houses on their own. It takes a lot of time and energy. Realtors can cut that time to a fraction.” Miss-Ashley Kendrick, Esq., associate broker and attorney at the Maricopa Real Estate Company

“People may not [know] you can work with an agent and set up alerts, so you can get information as soon as a property is listed that is in your criteria or price range.” — Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com

“When you begin doing physical viewings of homes, view as many as possible in the early stages of your search in order to help you determine what aspects of a home you really enjoy. Do your research and find out what’s important to you, then communicate that with your Realtor so they can find those properties that fit your wants and expectations.” — Andrew Young, Realtor at Sutton Premier Realty in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

Focus On Your Budget 

Finding the perfect house means nothing if you can’t afford it. Experts we talked to encouraged buyers to focus on estimated monthly payments more than the total price, since that has much more bearing on your regular budgeting. Also, don’t make the rookie mistake of starting your home search before talking with a lender and getting preapproved. With preapproval, you’ll know exactly how much you’re qualified to borrow.

“Speak with a few lenders to find out how much you can get preapproved for on a mortgage. This will give you a clearer picture than if you just used an online mortgage calculator. You don’t want to start house hunting for homes that are outside of your financial reach. Often, people will get their heart set on a home before they even know if they can afford it. Talking with banks beforehand can help you narrow your search and avoid wasting time. Plus, it will make it easier when you are ready to make an offer. Sellers are more likely to accept an offer from a buyer who has already been preapproved for a mortgage because they know the deal is less likely to fall through the cracks.” — Ricardo Mello, managing partner at Manhattan Miami Real Estate in New York City

“Focus on the payment and not the price.” — Vincent “Vinnie” Enriquez, owner at The Enriquez Group in San Diego

“Figure out what you’re comfortable paying on a monthly basis first — before you ever go look for a house. What a good loan officer will do is work backwards and take into account not only what you’re comfortable with, but what you’re qualified for. You could be comfortable with $2,000 [in monthly payments] but you’re qualified for $3,000. Maybe $2,100 gets you the house that you really love. Or vice versa, you’re comfortable with $2,000 but you can only qualify for $1,600. Figure out what that number is, and then, [combined] with how much you have to work with [in savings], we can go backward and figure out what price range that is.” — Esther Phillips, SVP at Key Mortgage Services in Schaumburg, Illinois

Know What You Need (and Want)

There’s no such thing as a house that has it all. Understanding the difference between things you want and things you need in a home helps you settle on what really makes sense for you. Making a list that separates the must-haves and nice-to-haves can help — and don’t forget about a home inspection too.

“Stay focused on the nonnegotiables [like] type of property or number of bedrooms. I often ask buyers to make a list of those things they must have or need to have. It is the best starting point and keeps the search focused.” — Denise Supplee, director of operations at SparkRental in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

“There is no perfect house. One of the most important things is a home inspection so you can come to know your house. You should know what you’re buying, whether it’s a gut rehab or it already appears to be finished. You have to care about your foundation, your heating system. No matter how pretty it is, if those things aren’t right, you have a problem.” — Jacqueline Cooper, AFC, FFC, president and executive director at Financial Education Associates in Boston

Do Due Diligence

Buying a home is not the time to worry about being difficult. With such a massive investment, pull out all the stops to make sure you are getting the information you need to make an informed decision.

“Take more time than you think you need during your initial showing, and don’t skimp on your pre-closing walk-through either. Ask pointed questions to the sellers (or their Realtor) and your Realtor when it comes to anything you think might be a red flag. Don’t make any assumptions when it comes to the condition of the home.” — Charles R. Gallagher III, attorney at Gallagher & Associates Law Firm, P.A. in St. Petersburg, Florida

Make a Decision

Deciding to make an offer on a house can be as nerve-racking as it is exciting. It’s a good idea to lean on your real estate agent throughout the home-buying process, but especially when it comes down to making an offer. You won’t likely get every last thing you’re looking for, but a good agent can help tilt the scales in your favor.

“Have a backup plan always. Timelines can move, circumstances of both parties can change. [Fewer] people are working during this time. It is critical to have a strong, informed, and savvy agent who can help navigate this market — and being virtual is vital.” — Ginger Walker, CEO and Realtor at Give Back Team of Coldwell Banker Elite in Stafford, Virginia

“Keep an open mind, because during this process there is a 98% chance that you will have to compromise. I tell all of my buyer clients that you will have to decide what is the most important out of these three categories: price, location, or amenities. If you find a home that checks all three places, [make] an offer on the spot!”— Maxine Teele, licensed real estate salesperson at Keller Williams Realty NYC Group