How To Narrow Your Home Search

Most people take 3-9 months from the time they start shopping until they purchase a home. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in a strong seller’s market like we have in 2022. Buying a home is a huge purchase, and usually there’s at least a portion of it that’s either a bit stressful, or feels like a chore.

In order to keep your search as enjoyable and proficient as possible, it’s best to take a few steps before you start going on showings. Here are some tips that might help your journey.

1. Obtain a Pre-Qualification Letter

By obtaining a pre-approval letter, you’ll know the interest rate and how much you qualify to borrow. Most sellers in the Austin area require at least a pre-prequalification letter before they’ll accept an offer.

2. Visit Neighborhoods

As much fun as it is to look at properties online, the only way to get a feel for a neighborhood is to drive through it at different times of day. Neighborhoods might be quiet during the day but louder at night, or they might get congested during high traffic times like rush hour. In addition, most buyers have certain needs from a neighborhood, such as the ratings for its schools and local crime rates.

Click here to look up school ratings in Texas

Click here to look up crime rates on Crimegrade.Org

3. Research Your Favorite Neighborhoods Online and Talk to Locals

Do you already know the areas where you’re looking for a home? If not, the easiest way to get information about a neighborhood is to talk to its residents. Most people are glad to opine on an area, and they often can give you information that real estate agents and other professionals don’t know. If you’re not someone who wants to stop and ask the locals, you can post or read local forums.

4. Create a List of Deal Breakers

Is there anything you simply don’t want in an area, neighborhood, or home? Maybe it’s the commute, or not wanting a pool, or perhaps you don’t like that some neighborhoods have homes that all look alike.

If so, it’s best to recognize that upfront and avoid those homes, as your time is valuable. Everybody has a limit in the amount of homes they want to see before putting in an offer. If you don’t have any specific deal breakers, you can still create a list of wants and needs to help narrow down your search.

5. Create a List of Needs and Wants

How important are the size of closets? Do you want a mother-in-law plan? Create a list of features you’d like in a home, and whether those are absolute needs, something you’d really like, or something that would be nice if it’s possible.

Home searches have a lot of filters and options for you to narrow down your searches, and you should take advantage of them. As you continue your search, you might find that they change, and you can make accommodations in the search.

6. Shop For a Realtor

While The Doss Team is clearly the best way to find a home in the Austin area, that doesn’t mean you should just go with us. Similarly, even if you trust the person recommending an agent to you, that doesn’t mean you’ll like working with the agent.

Take the time to meet with multiple agents, and create a pros and cons list of each. It’s certainly not hard to find real estate agents, so there’s no need to commit to one until you know that you like them.

Please note that you can always use a real estate lawyer for any closing. Most lawyers will take residential clients as well as commercial ones, and real estate agents are bound to not offer legal advice beyond the scope of our training.

The main reason people don’t use real estate lawyers is that they’re paid upfront whether or not you purchase a home. With an agent, the seller pays the commissions for realtors unless the default settings of the TREC One to Four Residential Real Estate Contracts are changed.

One situation in which a real estate lawyer is handy is if you’re buying a For Sale By Owner property (FSBO). Sometimes, a person listing a FSBO doesn’t want to pay any commissions, or they may have paperwork that doesn’t cover every situation as well as the TREC One to Four Contracts.

Many people like the idea of forgoing a realtor entirely and doing their own shopping and paperwork. It’s true that most people can figure out how to buy a home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay less. As noted above, the commissions are paid by the seller. The commissions go to the listing agent, who then pays any buyer’s agents that are involved.

If there is no buyer’s involved, it doesn’t mean the listing agent will give up that commission automatically. Because it requires them to act as an intermediary, it means that they are restricted a bit in what they can communicate to their seller. In addition, from the agent perspective, it almost always means more time spent on getting the property through negotiations and closing.

With agents getting so few commissions per year, and often working for free if a customer can’t find a home, they might not be willing to cut their commission. At The Doss Team, we’re always willing to negotiate those kinds of situations, provided the seller doesn’t mind, but your experience may vary.

7. Check Out Some Open Houses

Even if you’re not ready to buy yet, going to an open house is a good way to get your feet wet. For safety reasons, you’ll likely be asked to sign in, but a good realtor will also give you the option of not receiving emails or contacts on the sign in sheet. Please keep in mind that, if you don’t have your financing in place, you might find a home you like but not be ready to put in an offer.

In addition, open houses are a good place to continue shopping for a realtor. The truth is that open houses don’t sell the home that often, but they do have a realtor running them. If the realtor appears organized and motivated, they might be the perfect fit for you.

8. Have Your Realtor Set Up MLS Searches

Sites like Zillow and are helpful, and they include similar features, but they’re also always trying to sell you either a realtor or on houses they feel are similar. Their valuations are automated, and if there’s any errors or omissions in the listing, they don’t know about them.

Signing up for email searches doesn’t mean you’re committed to the agent who set them up. Until you’ve signed the paperwork assigning them as your NAR certified realtor, you are free to move on from them to someone else. (We recommend only using licensed, NAR certified realtors to buy a house. It gives you the protection of having a fully licensed, committed realtor at your disposal).

9. Sign Paperwork with Your Chosen Realtor and Start Looking

Because real estate agents work for free until a home is closed, most will expect you to sign paperwork assigning them as your representative agent for a certain area, over a predetermined amount of time.

At The Doss Team, we try to be as accommodating as possible if you want to make a change after signing the buyer/tenant representative paperwork.

How much other agents are willing to make changes is up to them, but you always have the option of negotiating the geographic area of representation, length of time they represent you, and commission rates. We’ve often signed people who look at one listing with us to just that particular listing, as we can always expand it further if we continue to work together.

The best approach is to keep open lines of communication going with a realtor, and to let them know up front what your expectations are. If they’re not able to answer your questions fully, or if they don’t have good answers for any objections you have, then it’s best to move onto another realtor.