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Do These Things BEFORE Starting Your Home Search

When you're buying a home, you might feel overwhelmed with all the advice you get from friends, family, the media as well as all those real estate shows on TV.

However, as someone who's helped thousands of new-homebuyers find their dream home, I have found that there are a few main things you should concentrate on as you begin your search. These might seem obvious, but if followed, they will create a solid base to help you find exactly the home that fits your budget -- and your dreams.

  1. Before you get serious about the home search, visit homes that are roughly in your price range in order to get an idea of what you like – even if you're not a first-time homebuyer, this is a useful exercise, as your tastes may have changed over time. How many bedrooms is optimal? How important are updated kitchens and bathrooms, or are you willing to do some of the work yourself if these rooms don't meet your own personal standards?

    Now create a list. What are the most important features to you? For example, if you have three children and also work from home occasionally, you will only want to look at homes with four or more bedrooms. If this is most important, put it at the top of the list. This "home search before the home search" is hugely important, and will give you more confidence when you really start putting your nose to the grindstone.

  2. Next, determine what you don't want, such as traffic noise, a two-story if you truly only want a one-story home, or a large or small backyard.

    Now that you have a list of things you want and don't want, put it in writing and share it with your real estate agent in order for them to show you the homes you want to see, rather than wasting your time seeing homes that you don't – and perhaps just confusing you as you continue the search.

  3. Determine where you want to live. If you are moving from out of the area, log on to various city websites so that you can review demographics, schools, crime rate, and other things that may be a factor in deciding where you would like to live. For example, search www.City-Data.com and select your desired city, where you will be able to review a detailed profile of any given city. You can also go directly to any city's website; just search for them on Google.

Most local agents can direct you to their personal websites as well, which may contain city and school information as well as information on restaurants, entertainment, climate and so forth.

If you really don't know where you want to live, maybe your best bet is to rent for six months in order to get to know the various neighborhoods.

Before You Get Started: Get Pre-Qualified

It's not as easy to get pre-qualified for a loan nowadays, so I suggest you start this process pretty early in your search.

Be sure to give your loan officer all of the documentation they request, in a timely manner. Some loan officers take a cursory glance at your credit report, assets and income and give you a pre-approval based on that.

However, I suggest you find a loan officer who's willing to actually have your loan underwritten before you even begin your home search; this will alleviate a lot of stress, and you don't run the risk of losing money if the escrow cancels.

Now your real estate agent knows exactly the type of home you can afford; there is nothing more frustrating for a buyer than falling in love with a home they ultimately can't buy. Your real estate agent is on your side and although sharing private information may not feel completely comfortable, it is necessary. I ask my clients to give me their loan officer's contact information so I can speak with them personally to make sure I have the pre-qualification information I need in order to present the best offer possible.

Suzanne Grace is a real estate agent based in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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