Buying a home is a big deal.
The home buying process is one of the most exciting, daunting, thrilling, and stressful adventures you’ll ever experience. This holds true whether you’re buying your first home or your tenth, whether you’re looking for a bigger home for your expanding family, a smaller home after retirement, trying out an investment property, or searching for that perfect vacation getaway.
Bay Area real estate in particular can be extremely tricky to navigate. Bidding wars are not uncommon. Neither are all-cash offers. Some properties receive upwards of 50 offers. Some sell within hours, no joke.
Did I mention that this process can be a roller coaster of emotions? Buckle up.
Even given the competitive landscape, my clients have been able to find homes they love, time and again.
With the right strategy in place, it is possible to find a home you love in this market, as long as you know what you want, maintain an open mind, and find a great real estate agent to partner with you throughout the process.
The home buying steps I’m going to outline below are just the beginning. Think of these as the foundation for your home buying journey. A great real estate agent, be it me or someone else, will be key to ensuring that your journey is a success, particularly in this competitive and constantly shifting market.
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Given that buying a home is such a big step, it’s very important to educate and prepare yourself as much as possible. This means clearly determining the reasons you’re buying and what kind of home you’re looking for.
How many bedrooms would be ideal? Is a big backyard a must or a nice-to-have? What about multi-unit properties? What neighborhoods do you want to live in? Do you need a place immediately, or do you have a more open-ended timeline?
Once you have a good sense of your goals, you’ll be in a better position to research housing and mortgage options and to create an action plan and timelines for moving forward.
Step 2: Find a Realtor
Once you have defined your home buying goals, even loosely, it’s time to find a great realtor.
I know, I know, realtors don’t exactly have the best reputations. We’re often pegged as pushy salespeople who are hard to get ahold of.
But we’re not all like that. Let me tell you how I’m different.
I became a real estate agent because I fell in love with the home buying process. More than that, I fell in love with the opportunity to guide homebuyers like you through the process and to help them find that perfect home.
For me, it’s less about sales and more about service. I work hard for my clients to ensure they’re getting the most up-to-date information and advice to help them make the best decisions. I listen, I make suggestions, but I never push.
A great realtor can make or break your success in getting that home of your dreams in this market. So whether it’s me or someone else (and I do hope it’s me!), it’s critical to find a great realtor to be there with you through this journey.
Step 3: Talk to Lenders
Just like a great realtor, a great lender can make a huge impact on the home buying process.
What does a great lender offer? Here are a few things to look for:
- Top notch customer service
- Strong reputation
- Great appraisers
- Ability to close quickly
- Competitive rates
- Flexible loan programs
There are a LOT of lenders out there, so finding and vetting a top notch lender can be a lot of work. Luckily, I’ve got a list of terrific lenders and would be happy to recommend one.
Because things move so quickly in this market, I recommend you get pre-approved for a loan before you start viewing homes with the serious intention of buying. The pre-approval process involves meeting with a lender and having them examine your current financial situation and credit history in order to help you figure out the amount you can borrow to buy a home.
Step 4: Find “The One”
Now comes the fun part: shopping!
Just like finding that perfect pair of shoes, the key to the home search process is knowing what you’re looking for. Among other things, that means distinguishing between “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.”
That said, sometimes you don’t know exactly what you want until you see it, which is why online home searches can be so helpful in the process.
There are many benefits to starting the search process online. You can view many homes and their details, take video tours, and access neighborhood info.
Once you start to hone in on some homes you’re interested in, it’s important to view them in person. While the property details may seem similar online, homes can be very different in terms of layout, design, workmanship and other aspects.
You might want to start out with open houses, to get a feel for different neighborhoods and types of properties. You can also come on a free neighborhood tour with me – we’ll start by grabbing coffee and snacks, then drive through some neighborhoods you’re interested in and see a few homes.
Once you find a home that might be the one, I recommend visiting multiple times, as there are things you might miss during the initial visit. I like to visit at different times of day as well, to get a sense for the neighborhood, and to talk to neighbors whenever possible.
Step 5: Make an Offer
Once you’ve found the home you’d like to buy, it’s time to make an offer.
If you have a home you’d like to offer on, let me know! I will help you research comparable properties in the area to help you determine the price you’d like to offer.
While the price is a big part of the offer, it’s just one piece. The offer package also includes things like:
- Financing details (how much you’re putting down and details of your loan)
- Contingencies (inspections and appraisals)
- Allocation of funds (who’s paying for what)
- Time to close (length of time you can get everything together to close the contract)
Once you’ve written the offer, I will then present it to the seller and/or the seller’s agent.
At that point, the seller can accept your offer, reject it, or counter it to initiate the negotiation process. In this market, a counter-offer is a very good thing. That means at least the seller is considering your offer, opening the door to negotiations. I have a strong track record of successful negotiations and would be happy to help you navigate these conversations.
Step 6: Enter into Contract
Once you have a pending agreement, it’s time to get an inspection and to work with your lender to finalize mortgage details in order to close the deal.
During the inspection, an inspector will go through the entire property with a fine-toothed comb. They’ll turn on all the faucets, crawl into the crawl space, check the roof. If any surprises turn up (what do you mean the house needs a new foundation?!), I can help you negotiate with the seller.
In the meantime, you’ll also work with your lender to finalize your down payment, interest rate, regular payment schedule, and all other financial conditions associated with the closing.
Often, finalizing these details will be contingent on an appraisal. This is the lender’s way of ensuring that the thing they’re financing is actually worth the amount they’re loaning you.
Too many buyers suffer negative consequences from not fully understanding their financing decisions at this stage in the process. I’m here to help ensure that doesn’t happen to you. 🙂
Step 7: Close the Contract
If you’ve efficiently taken care of everything connected with purchasing your new home, taking ownership should be a positive joy with no surprises.
Key steps to the closing, also referred to as the “escrow” or “settlement,” include:
1. Getting a title search – this is a historical review of all legal documents relating to ownership of the property, to ensure that there are no claims against the title of the property.
2. Purchasing title insurance – this protects you in the event of errors in the records or mistakes in the review process.
3. The final walkthrough – you will be given the chance to look at the home one last time to make sure it’s in the same condition as when you signed the sale agreement.
4. The signing – a few days before the closing date, you’ll meet with an escrow agent to verify and sign all the paperwork required to complete the transaction.
5. Prior to closing – you will pay your closing costs, legal fees, property adjustments, and transfer taxes.
6. The closing – when everything is all set, you’ll receive the property title and copies of all documentation pertaining to the purchase. Oh, and one more thing – you’ll get the keys!
I know, that was a lot. But, rest assured that I will be there with you every step of the way.
If you’re also thinking about selling your home, be sure to check out my Guide to Selling Your Home.
And remember, I’m never too busy for your questions. You can schedule a time with me, or just call or text me directly, anytime: 510.995.0035
I wish you the very best of luck on your home buying journey and hope to talk soon!