Shop Like a Pro: Home Shopping Tips From Realtors

By Susan Bady

To find your dream home, sales professionals recommend having a wishlist ready for visiting model homes.

Photo: GettyImages/FatCamera

Searching for a new home is exciting — and overwhelming. Your search for a new home will be more productive (and less aggravating) if you follow the advice of seasoned sales professionals.

Get preapproved for a mortgage.

Doing so will give you a better idea of the price range you should consider, says Bruce Ailion of RE/MAX Town & Country in Alpharetta, Georgia. If you can only afford a $150,000 home, searching in a geographic area where the lowest sale price in the past 12 months was $200,000 is probably a waste of time, he says.

Shop around for the best mortgage rate.

Get input from several lenders. For example, the traditional down payment for a home is 20 percent of its value, but according to a recent report by LendingTree, that number has dropped to 15.73 percent for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. “That difference can save you a substantial amount of money, so shopping around is worth it,” says Jeff Menzel, vice president of sales for New Home Star's largest client, Hayden Homes.

Location, Location, Location

As Ailion observes, location is a feature that cannot be changed or modified, so focus on where you want to live. First, narrow your search area to locations with homes for sale in your price point. Then evaluate each location with regard to schools; proximity to work, transportation arteries, medical facilities or places of worship; proximity to parks, restaurants, shopping and arts and entertainment; and taxes.

Your Dream Home Wish List

Before you visit model homes, be sure to identify the features you want your ideal home to have. Your checklist should include:

  • lot size;
  • square footage;
  • garage size (number of bays and overall dimensions);
  • number of bedrooms and bathrooms;
  • foundation type (slab, crawl space, basement);
  • type and quality of finishes;
  • kitchen and master bathroom features;
  • and if applicable, first-floor master bedroom (or bedroom on first floor).

But, also be realistic about which items are must-haves versus want-to-haves and which ones fit into your budget.

Factor in Delays

It’s possible to fall in love at first sight when you’re home-shopping, but typically the process takes time. “Remember that you’ll be dealing with multiple parties (mortgage lender, etc.), so be sure to factor in potential delays, differing schedules and last-minute surprises,” says Menzel. “If you feel like you’re on the clock, you may make decisions for the wrong reasons and end up with a big case of buyer’s remorse.”

Go on the Pro Tour

Generally, viewing three to five homes per day is a good rule of thumb. More than five can be overwhelming, especially if there’s significant travel time between communities. If you have small children, leave them with a babysitter, so you can focus on the task at hand, advises Gary Briggs, a new home sales professional with CalAtlantic Homes in Tampa, Florida.

Photographs and videos are a great way to document your search. (Just be sure to ask the sales agent if it’s OK to take pictures of the model home.) Walk through the home first and if you like it, take a photo of the major memory point. For example, if you think the decorating in the child’s bedroom is the best you’ve ever seen, take a photo of it, as it may help you remember the entire home. On the way out, take a photo of the sign with the model name on it.

Before you leave the sales office, find out which homes will be available in your desired time frame. Pick up a price sheet, a list of standard features and information about community fees (these can differ from builder to builder and community to community). Make sure you have the onsite salesperson’s contact information. “Take only the floor plans that interest you, not everything in the brochure,” says Briggs. “This will help streamline your review at a later time.”

Multiple Listing Services

Use the multiple listing service (MLS) to your advantage (or a site like Search for your city’s multiple listing service to find new-home listings in your area, if possible (some MLSs restrict access to real estate professionals). The fewer criteria you provide during a search, the more homes the search will return. Stick with minimal “must-have” requirements to give you as many options as possible.

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Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 25 years. A contributing editor to Professional Builder, Custom Builder and, she has also contributed to Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas.

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