Buying a Home on a Fast Timeline
Real estate experts often refer to the impact and strategies of "motivated sellers," but the needs of another group are sometimes overlooked: motivated buyers. Home buyers can have many motivations for wanting to buy quickly: a desire to take advantage of low interest rates, the need to address their housing situation before starting a new job or school, or to prepare for the arrival of a new family member. Whatever your individual reason, smart planning is the trick if you're in the position of buying on a tight schedule.
Every buyer has some vision of what they want in their next home. Buyers form a list (literal or subconscious) of the required elements and desired features that comprise their ideal house. Some items on that list may be seen as crucial; such as the number of bedrooms or size of the backyard. Other elements of that vision may be less essential but still highly sought after; such as hardwood floors or a two-car garage.
Every home buying adventure requires the buyer to weight the items on that list against each other. If you're trying to buy fast, identifying the most core home requirements is absolutely vital. Adaptability is the name of the game when you don't have the luxury of comparing months and months of homes on the market.
Before you ever start the housing hunt, write out a list of features you need and want in a home. Next, rank them from most important to least important. You may even want to separate them into two categories: "necessities" and "wants." The least critical items on your list (particularly if in a "wants/desires" category) should be those on which you are most willing to compromise.
There is no substitute for touring homes in-person or getting to know neighborhoods firsthand (either on your own or with agent guidance). Yet home showings are typically limited to reasonable hours (no one wants to host buyers at midnight), and face-to-face visits can be time consuming. If you are on a short timeline, prolonged in-person home tours should be reserved for only those homes most likely to meet your needs.
Online home searches are the perfect way to fast-track the home search process. The easy-to use property search tools on the website allow you to browse through thousands of homes, filtering by core home elements such as price and number of bedrooms/bathrooms as well as detailed home features in the advanced criteria. Searching within the Google map view allows you to quickly compare the available homes on the market in different neighborhoods and areas.
For individual listings, online photo galleries and virtual tours (when available) give you a peek inside each property from the comfort of your own home. Registering for a free account gives you the ability to save individual favorites (which can then be organized and rated) or entire property searches. Email updates allow you to stay up to date on individual properties or particular saved searches. Many of these search tools are also now available on your web-enabled mobile device, allowing you to find and save homes while on the go.
Using the web to efficiently search will save time and more effectively narrow down your options. Online tools also offer night owls and early birds a great way to advance their home buying strategy while competing buyers sleep!
Even highly motivated buyers should still make sure to secure financing before plunging headfirst into the house hunting stage. Obtaining loan preapproval gives you the flexibility to make a qualified offer as soon as you find a home in which you're interested. While you can shop for home loans after finding a desired home, many sellers won't take buyers seriously if they don't have preapproval in hand. In fast moving markets, waiting a day or two for preapproval can put you at risk of losing the home to (or entering a bidding war with) a more qualified buyer.
The preapproval process involves the lender verifying your income, assets, debts, and credit history before issuing you a letter stating that you are approved for a mortgage up to a specific amount within a certain timeframe. Remember that prequalification and preapproval are not synonymous. Prequalification can serve as a good indication to sellers of your overall creditworthiness, but is nonbinding to the lender.
In addition to making you more attractive to sellers, having preapproval further helps you establish your price range (because the maximum approved amount is stated in the letter) and saves you time at closing (the lender will have already completed the necessary qualifying and underwriting steps).
Receptive sellers are always a buyer's best friend, but are even more so when the buyer also wants to streamline the transaction. Ways to look for motivated sellers:
Price reductions: In some cases, price reductions may simply indicate misjudgments made in the original pricing of the home relative to the market conditions. But sellers who reduce the listing price once or multiple times may be looking to attract buyers in a hurry and speed the sale along.
By the same token, a home with an original asking price that is below the market for comparable homes may indicate the seller's desire to unload their property sooner rather than later.
Vacant homes: If a property is vacant, there is a good chance that the seller is currently carrying both the listed home's mortgage as well as one on their new home. At the very least, they may be paying rent at their current residence on top of the listed mortgage. Sellers in either situation are more likely to be motivated to sell quickly and with fewer concessions. Also working to your benefit is the fact that vacant homes translate to a faster move-in.
"Stagnant" Listings: Check for homes that have been on the market for six months or more (or listings whose "days on market" number is far higher than for comparable homes). The sellers of these homes may be more inclined to sell with a somewhat quicker negotiating and closing process.
Other upgrades offered by sellers include allowances for kitchen facelifts, bathroom remodels and new landscaping.
Listings in Saturated Markets: If the local market for homes in your range is flush with far more listings than qualified buyers, sellers might forgo a drawn-out closing in exchange for the assurance that their home doesn't have to continue competing with dozens of other area properties any longer.