The disruptive course of 2020 has taught us all important lessons about what we can and can’t plan for in life.
For some, the coronavirus pandemic has put important decisions on hold. For others, it’s been a time of bold change.
After a shock in March and April, the U.S. housing market quickly kicked back into high gear. Month after month, sales of existing homes rose to ever-higher levels. In September, they were up 14.8% over the previous year, setting the market’s highest pace in 15 years, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Two main forces are driving this trend: low housing inventory and incredibly low interest rates that pre-date the pandemic.
Keeping that in mind, prospective home buyers must be aware of the competition, realistic about their goals and proactive in developing a strategy.
The following tips will be useful for those searching for a new place to call home.
DON’T SLEEP ON THE HOLIDAYS
Many people think of December as a time to wind down and relax after a long, stressful year. Unfortunately, that repose will cost you a chance at attractive homes if you’re looking to buy.
In a strange year, many workers have a surplus of time off that they haven’t taken. This is the perfect time to use it and invest your energy into a plan to find your home.
Schedule your time off and develop a structured approach to researching the ins and outs of what you’ll need in order to stay ahead of the competition.
If you’re avoiding family gatherings to stay safe, use the holidays to educate yourself on the neighborhoods that interest you and conduct an assessment of your financial position and limitations.
GET PRE-APPROVED OR PRE-QUALIFIED
As exciting as it is to search for a home, it’s crucial not to put the cart before the horse.
Having a clear financial path to buying home will not only save you the trouble of looking outside your price range, but will also ensure that any offer you make isn’t held up while another prospective buyer snaps up your dream home.
Lenders often use the terms “prequalification” and “pre-approval” interchangeably, but a pre-approval is a bit of a stronger chip. It’s an official step that requires the lender to verify your financial information and credit history, making it clear what you can afford and showing sellers that your offer is credible.
A prequalification is an initial step you should take to help you understand what you can afford. When you submit financial information to a lender, they can give you a ballpark estimate of the size of the loan you might be able to take. It’s a useful step toward mapping out your wish list.
With pre-approval, the lender will take a closer look using verified consumer data, such as a credit check. Once you fill out a mortgage application, pre-approval will provide you with a conditional commitment in writing, giving you an exact loan amount you’ll be eligible to receive.
While many sellers and agents consider prequalification a necessary step, going the extra mile with pre-approval will show them you’re serious and ready to make good on your offer.
RESEARCH THE MARKET AND BE PREPARED TO MOVE QUICKLY
In competitive situations, many of us act rashly in order to avoid missing out. That can be a problem if you haven’t thoroughly assessed what you want in a home.
Remember that this is the place you’ll live and a significant investment. Researching homes in advance, studying the market, finding comps and having an overall strategy with multiple positive outcomes will help you act calmly and decisively under pressure.
Find an agent you can trust and who understands your priorities. Make it easy for them by having them outlined in advance. That will give your agent a head start on matching what you want with what’s out there.
Identify the properties that leap out at you and make a plan to be there as soon as you have the feeling you want to make a push. Don’t wait until the weekend. Try to make arrangements to visit and put eyes on the place before others do. Other buyers will likely want it as badly as you do, and the flexibility you have to bid could be a difference-maker.
Shopping in a tight market is a difficult and challenging task, but don’t lose sight of your objectives. Having the details of your search, giving yourself various win-scenarios, will allow you to focus on the parts of buying a home that are enjoyable.
STAY CALM AND FIND THE BEST FIT
At the end of the day, buying a home is a decision that will shape your life in a significant way, both day-to-day and long-term.
With the market ticking the way it is — favoring sellers with more competition and buyers with low interest rates — there is a certain amount of calculation and compromise that may be unavoidable.
But it’s essential to make your move on a decision like this with purpose rather than desperation. The more you prepare, the more you make it easier on yourself and everyone involved, the more likely you’ll be to arrive at the outcome you’re seeking.
It’s December 2020. Collectively, we all remain in a holding pattern. Just don’t let that hold you back from your goals. Get a jump start on a happy and healthy New Year — and the new home that awaits you in it.
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