Would you love to leave your cramped home in favor of a more spacious or appealing place? Perhaps you aspire to own a house with a yard large enough for your puppy to romp. Or maybe you want a condo with a rooftop terrace and view of the city. In any case, do you figure it will take a full year to save enough cash for your major move?
If so, it’s not too early to start planning now for a home purchase in 2014, says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of “Home Buying for Dummies.”
“Smart homebuyers burn through many hours of research to select the ideal neighborhood and then to zero in on the perfect property there. This involves lots of due diligence,” Tyson says.
The choices you make when you buy any home are tremendously important — if only because there’s lots of money at stake. A big housing move is analogous to a big career change,” Tyson says.
Here are a few pointers for long lead-time buyers:
Locate an especially diligent agent if you’re relocating to new turf.
Anyone planning to move to an entirely new area is well advised to find an agent thoroughly familiar with that locale, says Michael Crowley, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org).
“A young agent who knows the new area could be a good choice if he or she is hungry for business and eager to help. But be sure the agent is backed up in the office by an experienced broker or colleagues who can give you their second opinions,” Crowley says.
Even before you start hunting for specific homes, a strong agent will help you navigate the new area, supplying you with data on home prices and valuation trends, relative school performance statistics and information on nearby amenities, such as parks and hiker-biker trails.
Drop any agent who tries to rush you into buying a home prematurely.
It’s true that agents are paid on commission — meaning they don’t make any money until a sale goes through. However, as Tyson says, a good agent won’t try to persuade you to buy any sooner than you’re comfortable.
He says a year in advance isn’t too early to line up a real estate agent to work with you. But it’s unfair to expect the agent to spend multiple weekends with you searching for a specific property until you’re ready to buy.
“It’s always best to be candid with agents and respectful of their time,” Tyson says, noting that every veteran agent has had to cut ties with clients who looked continuously before they were prepared to commit to making a purchase within three to six months.
Supplement your search with visits to open houses.
If you’re trading houses in the same area, you needn’t rely solely on your agent to help you sort through choices. You can do much of the footwork on your own, Crowley says.
“Go ahead and see all the open houses you want. This is a useful way to narrow the field and discover what you do and don’t like in a home,” he says.
How can you find open house listings? Just head for a neighborhood of interest on weekend afternoons. Most communities allow listing agents to post signs announcing their open houses. However, to find condo-apartment open house listings you may need to consult newspaper or Internet advertising.
Learn about neighborhoods through local residents.
As you develop a short list of community alternatives, Crowley says one of your best sources of information comes from local residents. You can expect them to give you an honest impression of the pros and cons of their neighborhood. They’ll tell you about the positives as well as about noise issues, traffic problems and controversies related to the local schools.
What’s the best way to approach neighborhood residents? Crowley recommends you walk through the community on weekend afternoons. Tell local residents you like their community and are considering a move there. Then feel free to politely pose a few questions.
“Saturday is a great time to talk to people because they’re usually in casual mode and are often outside doing yard work or walking their dogs,” Crowley says.
If you’re considering a condo-apartment, you could find it hard to approach the building’s residents. An agent who lists property in the building may be willing to line up contacts for you.
Think twice about taking an interim rental.
Are you uncertain you’ll like a new area you’re seriously considering? If so, you might entertain the idea of taking a rental there to confirm your choice before committing to buy.
Though Crowley normally endorses the idea of an interim rental, he questions the wisdom of locking into a lengthy lease in the current market. Rather, he recommends you intensify your research to reach a conclusion about the new area more quickly.
“Mortgage interest rates are fabulously low now, and house prices are starting to rise again. There’s no reason to panic. But people who lock themselves into a lease may be sorry they didn’t act as soon as possible to buy a home. Once you start looking, you may decide to move months earlier than you expected,” he says.
Ellen James Martin, a former real estate editor at The Baltimore Sun, gives advice for anyone buying, selling or financing a home.