First Suggestion: Find a Good Agent to Help You
Even if you’re just beginning, tentatively, to begin the home search process, the sooner you find a competent, dedicated, knowledgeable agent to work with, the sooner they can provide you with valuable help, guidance and information to make the process easier and more understandable, facilitate any financing arrangements you might need to make, introduce you to options you may not be aware of, and to help you understand current market values, conditions and trends. A good agent will not only save you time and effort, but may also save you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars when you move forward with your purchase. In the vast majority of home sales in the Bay Area, the seller pays the buyer’s agent commissions, so you might as well take advantage of a good agent’s services as soon as possible. Buying real estate is a big, complicated financial transaction and having the help and counsel of an experienced professional right from the beginning is very, very useful and it is not unusual for an agent to start working with a buyer six to twelve months before they actually make the purchase, adjusting the scale and pace of their help as appropriate to where you are in the process.
Feel free to interview multiple agents to find one who can truly be of assistance and is a good match for you and the specifications of your home search. Do not hire an agent who tries to rush you or push you into decisions you’re not comfortable with. Finding the right agent is as important a decision as finding the right doctor or lawyer when the need arises.
What and Where Do You Want to Buy?
The next step is to consciously consider what the most important issues, characteristics and amenities are to you in a new home and possibly, a new neighborhood. Make up a written list and then prioritize that list between absolute requirements, the highly desired and preferences. If there is more than one of you buying, you may need to reconcile different desires and start thinking about mutually acceptable compromises. As you start looking at homes, you’ll refer to the list and probably revise it as you learn more about the available options in home types and values, and different neighborhoods.
Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, and have met with a loan agent to learn your financial options and get loan pre-approved, it’s time to start viewing available properties. These are the best places to get started:
- Properties on the market: It starts with the current inventory. This will help you better define your needs, wants and options and to understand market values. When possible, we will preview properties that meet your parameters before showing them to you. Being available to view newly listed homes can be important—since the most appealing and best priced may sell quickly. We will also keep our eyes and ears open for off-market purchase opportunities that fulfill your criteria.
- Neighborhoods: You may want to investigate other neighborhoods recommended by your agent that seem to fulfill your desires regarding the location of your new home. Wandering around new neighborhoods and commercial districts on weekends can help you decide whether you wish to consider homes there. San Francisco has an astonishing variety of neighborhoods and most people only really know a few well, even if they’ve lived in the city for years.
- Sunday open homes: Most new homes are shown during weekend open houses. When it is not possible for us to do this together, we can compare notes soon thereafter. Tell agents at the open homes you visit that you are working with an agent; ideally give them your agent’s business card.
- Brokers’ tours: Each Tuesday in San Francisco, new home listings are open to agents and their clients. This is often the first showing of a new listing. If you’re available during the appropriate broker tour times, this can be a great way to see prospective listings efficiently.
- Showings by appointment: Here we make up a list of homes that seem worth consideration and set up a specific tour by appointment with the listing agents to see the homes one after the other.
How to Look at a Property
Each time you view a property, evaluate it against your list of needs and wants, and then rate it from 1 to 10 (10 being the perfect home). If you’re willing to do work, consider whether the home can be improved to achieve what you want—by painting, new flooring, remodeling or minor structural alterations. Typically, any property you’ve rated less than a 7, you can disregard going forward.
- Assess locations in greater detail. Measure the commute time – consider driving or using public transport to get a real sense of how long it takes to get to work. Evaluate local schools and the proximity to shopping, dining and other activities that are important to you. Perhaps investigate the Megan’s Law Database and local crime statistics.
- Visit the home during both day and night times to get a better sense of noise levels and light at different times of the day, traffic and parking conditions in the neighborhood, and your comfort level with how safe it feels.
- When determining the size requirements, keep in mind how your need for space may change in the future.
- Evaluate the floor plan against your style of living and how you plan to use the rooms. Consider what you want for entertaining and privacy. How do the outside spaces complement the inside? Think about utility as well as curb appeal and graciousness. Will your car fit in the garage or parking space designated?
Once You Find a Property You Wish to Consider Buying
- Are there recent inspection reports and a disclosure package available for review? If so, these should be reviewed very carefully before preparing your offer.
- Review with your agent the most recent comparable sales and current market conditions and trends to help you decide what fair market value is, and what you’d be willing to offer.
- What is the condition of the plumbing, electrical system and the roof? If these systems are dated, the cost for repair or replacement should be taken into consideration before making an offer.
- Are there any signs of dampness or poor drainage? These conditions are often difficult and expensive to correct.
- Are there any legal issues that you should investigate, perhaps pertaining to existing tenants or condo conversion or expansion possibilities?
- If improvements or additions were made, were they done with permit? If not, a home inspector can help you quantify the risks or the costs of remediation.
- For condominiums and TICs, what are the monthly homeowner fees, upcoming assessments, and restrictions regarding pets, working at home and future rental?