Helping clients search for the home of their dreams is exciting, but also challenging. After long hours of reading through listings, attending open houses and scheduling showings, it can be easy for home buyers to feel a little burnt out. However, it’s all worth the effort because once they’ve found the perfect home, it’ll become the setting for countless happy memories, from birthday parties to holidays to all the quiet moments in between.
We’ve compiled some essential tips for real estate agents to share with clients to help alleviate the stress of looking for the ideal home.
Define the Dream
- Create a list of must-haves. This is one of the least sexy parts of searching for the perfect house, but it’s a necessary first step. A home buyer’s list of must-haves should be relatively basic—think the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, ideal square footage, whether they want a garage and so on—because it will serve as the foundation of their dream home criteria.
- Create a list of love-to-haves. Even if your client doesn’t have a dedicated Pinterest board for them, they probably have some idea of the types of features and design elements they want in a dream home, the kind of stuff they ooh and ah over every time they turn on HGTV. These features can run the gamut from the practical (a home office) to the purely aesthetic (teak flooring, granite countertops) to the luxe (a full-fledged dressing room off of the master bedroom)—but remind your client that the more extravagant the must-have, the more it’ll cost. So, whether they dream of soaking in a marble tub in their master bathroom or of playing rounds of pool in the family game room, home buyers need to take the time to put together a list of features they’d love to have prior to establishing their budget and starting their house hunt.
- Define your style. It might seem silly but it’s worth saying to clients — after all, what’s the point of a dream home if you can’t stand the sight of it? It wouldn’t make sense for someone with minimalist design sensibilities to make a down payment on an eclectic and ornate Queen Anne, nor for someone who prefers the traditional design elements of a Colonial to move into a retro-futuristic mid-century modern home. If a home buyer has an idea of which architectural style or combination of architectural styles they like best, they’ll be able to narrow down the number of available listings and make it easier to find a home that checks all of their boxes.
- Find your ideal environment. When your client pictures their dream home, where is it located? Is it in the city, the suburbs or somewhere in the countryside? Is it at the end of a sleepy cul de sac or at the top of a high-rise building? Is it up in the mountains, deep in the woods, on the beach or in the middle of the desert? A home buyer’s location will directly affect their access to public transportation, their proximity to schools, hospitals, stores and restaurants, and the type of recreational activities available to them, so they need to think long and hard about where they’d like to be to narrow their search.
- Keep your eyes on the horizon. Life can change in the blink of an eye and a home buyer’s housing needs along with it. Since they plan on staying in their dream home for a good long time — if not forever — it’s your duty to ensure that your clients consider all the ways their needs will change over that time. For example, say they’re newlyweds with plans to start a family in the next few years; clients that fall into this category might look for homes with multiple bedrooms that will give them room to grow. Or maybe they’re empty nesters who are approaching retirement; these clients might consider downsizing to reduce upkeep around the house. Whether they have plans to someday move their parents in, make the transition to working from home full-time or rent out space in their home, having some idea of what their future looks like will help your clients find the perfect home for their particular situation.
Make It a Reality
- Establish a timeline for moving. Setting a timeline will not only help your client stay on track through every stage of the house hunting and buying process—it’ll also give them the opportunity to get their finances in order. If your client has blemishes on their credit or debts to pay, they’ll need time to sort things out; doing so will put them in a much better position to afford the home of their dreams.
- Find the right mortgage option. Once they’ve straightened out their finances, your client will be ready to apply for a home loan. There are a wide variety of mortgage options available, each suited for a different purpose. For example, a Federal Housing Administration loan is a low down payment government loan intended for borrowers who might not otherwise be able to qualify for a loan, and a home improvement loan is exactly what its name implies.
If they intend to stay in their dream home for the forseeable future—say, 10 years or more — your client might consider applying for a fixed rate loan. A fixed loan enables home buyers to maintain a fixed interest rate for the duration of the loan, which allows for more predictable mortgage payments. If they aren’t sure which loan type makes the most sense for them, and which they’ll be most likely to qualify for, encourage your client to talk to a mortgage broker.
- Set a budget, and stick to it. When it comes to determining how much house they can afford, home buyers should observe the 28/36 rule, which dictates that their monthly housing costs shouldn’t exceed 28 percent of their gross monthly income, and that their monthly debt payments shouldn’t exceed 36 percent of their gross income. It’s smart for home buyers to incorporate emergency funds into their budget for things like repairs and small home improvement projects; whether they want a fixer upper or a new build will also affect their budget.|
Although home buyers are often tempted to see how much more square footage they can get or what amenities are available to them if they increase their budget, you should only advise them to do so if they’re in a buyer’s market and stand a chance of negotiating the list price down to their price range.
- Bring in an expert. They’re already working with a real estate agent, but your client should assemble a team of experts on the home buying process who can represent their interests every step of the way and significantly reduce their stress levels.
Roger Odoardi is a co-founder, partner and licensed mortgage broker at Blue Water Mortgage Corporation, an independent mortgage broker serving Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Florida with 20-plus years of experience in the financial services industry.