Let’s face it. The house hunting process can be a stressful experience. This is especially true when it’s your first time buying a home. There’s a lot of money on the line, and a level of unfamiliarity that can create stress for the first-time home buyer.
But there are also some things you can do to make the house-hunting process less stressful. Below, we’ve offered seven of those stress-reducing strategies for home buyers.
A Less Stressful House-Hunting Experience
Research your local real estate market ahead of time. Get your financing squared away in advance. Give yourself plenty of time, and keep an open mind for compromise. Those are some of the things you can do to make house hunting less stressful.
1. Research your local housing market.
Have you ever walked into a high school or college exam totally unprepared for it? Stressful, right?
The same goes for the house-hunting process. If you start shopping for a home without researching your local housing market, you’ll be in for a more stressful and confusing experience. Like driving at night without any headlights. Fortunately, you can avoid this with a bit of homework.
Start by researching home-price trends in your area. Pay particular attention to the prices of similar and recently sold homes, within the area where you want to buy. You can find this kind of information online, using websites like realtor.com and Zillow. This kind of research gives you a better idea of what to expect when you enter the market.
In some cases, the stress associated with house hunting results from having an unrealistic view of the market. On the other hand, home buyers who conduct thorough market research in advance often have a smoother and less stressful house-hunting experience. They go into it with “eyes wide open.”
In addition to home prices, you want to get a feel for how active your local real estate market is. This may require a bit more digging. Do a Google search for “housing market trends” followed by the name of your city. Click over to the news side of Google, to find recent market reports and updates.
Some of the things you want to know:
- Is it more of a buyer’s or seller’s market in your area?
- What’s the inventory situation?
- How long are homes sitting on the market?
- Are they selling quickly?
- Are there bidding wars?
- Or is the market more sluggish and slow-moving?
The more you learn in advance, the less stressed you’ll be when you actually start house hunting. And speaking of that…
2. Start house hunting sooner rather than later.
We’ve communicated with a lot of home buyers over the years. And one of the things we’ve learned is that many of them underestimate the amount of time it takes to find a suitable property. That’s especially true these days, when many cities have relatively low levels of housing supply.
Giving yourself plenty of time to search for a home can reduce the stress of house hunting. It’s never too early to start. And this relates back to tip #1 above. If you start looking at homes online today, you’ll have a better sense of what’s out there.
Depending on where you live, it might take anywhere from several weeks to several months to find a suitable home. The sooner you start, the better.
3. Get pre-approved for a mortgage loan (if applicable).
If you’re going to pay cash for a house, you can skip this stress-reducing tip. But if you’re like most home buyers, and you need to use a mortgage loan to finance your purchase, you can make the house-hunting process less stressful by getting pre-approved for a loan.
We’ve written about pre-approval elsewhere on the website. Basically, this is a kind of financial pre-screening process where lenders look at your income, debts and other financial factors. They do this to determine how much they are willing to lend you.
Mortgage pre-approval and house hunting go hand-in-hand. By getting pre-approved for a certain loan amount, you’ll have a more efficient and less stressful house-hunting experience. You’ll be able to zero in on a specific price range and avoid wasting time looking at homes that exceed your budget.
Related: 7 steps that follow the pre-approval
4. Get a real estate agent on your side.
This is arguably the most important stress-reducing tip covered in this article. Having a real estate agent can make house hunting a lot less stressful, compared to buyers who navigate the process on their own.
An experienced real estate agent can bring you up to speed on current market conditions, help you find a suitable property, evaluate the asking price, and put together the offer paperwork. That’s a lot of work.
And when you consider the fact that sellers generally pay the agent commissions, it’s even more of a “no-brainer.” Do yourself a favor. Make the house-hunting process less stressful by working with an experienced buyer agent.
5. Don’t get too attached to a home just yet.
If you get emotionally attached to a home the first time you see it, only to have it slip through your fingers to a stronger offer, you’re going to have a stressful house-hunting experience.
Going through that once is bad enough. Imagine going through it half a dozen times or more. That’s exactly what can happen if you put the cart ahead of the horse and develop emotional attachments to a property you haven’t yet secured.
Remember, you’re not the only home buyer out there looking for houses in your market. Depending on where you live, there could be a lot of other folks competing for those same properties. You might even be up against investors who are flush with cash and can make a stronger, more enticing offer.
Sure, you’ll feel some emotion when you walk through a home and imagine yourself living in it. That’s only natural. But don’t let those emotions get out of control — not during house-hunting stage anyway. It’s much too early to develop an emotional connection to a house. Doing so will only bring additional, unwanted stress.
6. Be flexible in terms of location and property features.
In some real estate markets, housing supply can be pretty tight. That means home buyers don’t always get what they want, in terms of location, property features, square footage, etc.
This is especially true for buyers at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. If you’re buying a “starter home” with a limited budget, you can’t expect to have it all. You want to set realistic expectations and remain open-minded.
It’s rare for home buyers to get every single item on the wish list when purchasing a house. Compromise is the more common scenario. You compromise in one area to get what you want in some other area. Being open-minded will result in a less stressful house-hunting experience.
Location is another area where being flexible can pay off — sometimes literally. For example, a home buyer considering a purchase in the Seattle area might find more properties at a lower price in some of the surrounding areas. There might be less competition from other buyers as well.
That’s just one example of how open-mindedness can reduce the stress associated with house hunting.
7. Make a strong offer, the first time around.
We get a lot of emails from home buyers who want to know if it’s wise to “lowball” the seller with their first offer. In other words, they want to know if it’s a smart strategy to offer well below the asking price.
But that’s not the kind of question you can answer across the board. It depends on the situation.
If the house is already priced competitively, offering an amount below the asking price could lead to a rejection from the seller. They might have another offer right behind yours, for the full asking price. Going into the home search with this kind of “hardball” mentality can be a recipe for failure. It can also make house hunting more stressful than it needs to be.
Sure, you want to get a good deal. You don’t want to overpay. But at the same time, you don’t want a reasonably priced home to slip through your fingers and go to another buyer — especially if it meets most of your needs. You can make the house hunting and negotiating process less stressful by making a strong offer the first time around.
This is where that market research you did earlier will pay off again. By understanding what similar homes have sold for in the same area, you and your agent can put together a strong and realistic offer. This will increase the chance of having the offer accepted.
There is no way to remove all of the stress associated with the house hunting and home buying process. It goes with the territory. But by using the seven strategies outlined above, you can make the process less stressful — and more successful. Good luck!
Brandon Cornett is a veteran real estate market analyst, reporter, and creator of the Home Buying Institute. He has been covering the U.S. real estate market for more than 15 years. About the author