If you are hoping Santa leaves a new house under the tree in Houston, now is a great time to get prepared for what happens next--once he is up the chimney you are by yourself for mortgages and moving. Even if you have purchased a house before, it is not a bad notion to freshen up on your home buying and moving skills so when the time comes, you navigate it like a professional.
Financial Check-Up in Houston
First, get your finances in order. Unless you are paying cash for a residence, you will require a mortgage. While mortgage lending rules have slackened some recently, you will still want to have all your money matters straightened out and tidy before you discuss anything with a loan officer (even a virtual one). Request a copy of your credit report to ensure you haven't been a victim of identity theft, and double check that all your bills have been paid on time. If you see something that doesn't appear correct, contact the credit reporting agency to report wrong information.
It is definitely a good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage. In some parts of the country the real estate market never slows down, and you want to be ready to make an offer on a house when you discover it. Anymore, a large number of sellers won’t even consider an offer without a pre-approval from a lender. Don't mix up a pre-approval and a pre-qualification; the pre-approval reflects that your credit and income are already okay--sometimes already underwritten--with the lender, you just need to find a residence. A pre-qualification says that they pulled your credit report and if all other factors check out then they will consider a loan.
You want it all in a new house—outstanding schools, outdoor kitchen, open floor plan, mature landscaping, privacy, fabulous neighbors, and low real estate taxes. Chances are you are going to need to make some adjustments somewhere, so go ahead and assemble your wants list and your needs list, and look at where the two intersect. Regardless of your budget you're not going to find every last thing that you want, so pay closest attention to on your needs. If you need to be in a specific school district, or you need to be within a radius of the airport, or you have five kids and need as many bedrooms, those non-negotiables should be at the top of your list. House-hunting is the ultimate Goldilocks experience, so don't even bother with houses that are too big or small, too far off the beaten track, or out of your price range.
It should go without saying, but needs to be said anyway, that your family should be on the same page with the needs and the wants. If you want a swimming pool in the yard and your spouse would be happy with a high-rise, work out those specifics before your realtor turns into a marriage counselor.
A Great Real Estate Agent in Houston
A great real estate agent is not the one who is a "million-dollar producer" (this might mean she sold ten houses in ten years) or whose ads are all over billboards. A great realtor is the one that you feel like you can develop a good working relationship with--after all, you are going to be spending a lot of time together, and she will be helping you through a large financial transaction. Look for someone who's easy to talk to, that you can trust, and who really listens to what you're saying--if your limit is $350,000, she should respect that.
Your responsibility when you're interviewing realtors is to be upfront about your budget and your expectations. If you've been pre-approved for $600,000, do not squander your time or your realtor's looking at houses in the $700,000s. If you are relocating and have one weekend to house hunt, make arrangements so that your realtor has blocked out the weekend just for you.
The internet makes house hunting so easy, you may find yourself falling in love and submitting an offer sight unseen. In that case, ask Santa to put some boxes under the tree.