Buying Real Estate

Real estate is easy to find. It’s all around us but finding the spot that’s just right for you isn’t always easy. First you have to define your needs. If you’re a Millennial just starting on a career, a rental apartment may be the answer. If you’re a Boomer looking forward to retirement, your idea of Heaven may be a sun-splashed condo in a golf community. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin to narrow down the search.

Assuming you know what city you want to live in, you can find a Realtor who will do most of the work for you. But remember, Realtors are in business to sell property, not to act as your soothsayer and confidant. They’ll find you a property. Whether it’s the right one is another question. That’s why it’s important to do some research upfront.

At the moment, the two best tools for researching neighborhoods are Zillow and Trulia. Both will help you find neighborhoods that fit your demographic — where most of the other residents look more or less like you, share your interests and are likely to be good neighbors. They also help you locate neighborhoods with the lowest crime rate, best schools and most walkable neighborhoods, if those are factors that interest you.

Researching properties on Zillow and Trulia is also a good way to find the Realtors who work that part of town. They can help you narrow your search and often know of properties that are not yet formally on the market, perhaps helping you swoop in and grab a bargain before it becomes public.

Getting a mortgage

Buying real estate isn’t like buying a bottle of wine. You don’t just go in, plop down the money and walk off with the merchandise. Well, maybe you do but most of us have to jump through a lot more hoops, commonly called mortgages.

Of course, if you’re able to pay cash, it gives you a lot more bargaining power, since it means you will be able to close. This is a big deal with sellers and Realtors, who are too often left at the altar by would-be buyers who find they’re unable to qualify for a mortgage. This happens a lot more often than it used to because mortgage lenders have tightened their lending standards drastically after the financial meltdown of 2007.

Therefore to be an attractive buyer, you need to be sure you can qualify for a mortgage for the types of properties you’re looking at. A good Realtor will help you pre-qualify and will work with you to be sure that you’re not trying to buy properties that you’re not likely to qualify for. While it’s not as powerful as cash, a pre-qualification certification will make you look a lot more attractive to sellers than if you just walk in off the street.

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