So you’ve decided you want to buy a house… Congratulations! Buying a home can be incredibly rewarding – both financially and personally. In the 40+ years we’ve helped people find their homes, we’ve learned that there’s definitely a right way to approach your home search. Read on for our eight top tips for a successful home search.

Tip #1: Figure out your finances first

Before you do anything else, figure out how much you can comfortably spend on your new home. Go through your monthly budget and your savings. Figure out how much more you need to save and how long it will take.

Once you have a handle on your finances, get pre-qualified for mortgage. You’ll submit an application to a lender, along with all necessary documentation. The lender will evaluate your application and let you know what type of loan you’ve qualified for. You’ll know the maximum amount of the loan, the down payment requirements, and the interest rate. Keep in mind that you may qualify for more than you actually want to spend. Stick to your budget once you begin shopping!

Tip #2: Start your search online

You can use online home search tools to get a general sense of the types of homes available in your area and their pricing. This will help you understand the types of homes available within your price range. Take notes on what you like and don’t like about the homes that fall within your budget.

It’s also helpful to invite your spouse, friends, and family to join your online search. When you create a free search account on our site, you can create a saved search that meets your criteria. Then, you can invite others to join your search. You can share reactions and comments privately within your search party. This saves a lot of time and helps get everyone on the same page (and it’s fun!).

Tip #3: Explore the neighborhoods you’re considering

Visit the neighborhoods you’re considering – both in the car and on foot. Get a sense of whether or not they feel like a good fit with your personality and lifestyle. See how far they are from your work, shopping, restaurants, and other conveniences. It’s also a good idea to visit neighborhoods at different times of day. You want to make sure the neighborhood vibe doesn’t change dramatically at night.

Once you’ve honed in on a few neighborhoods, go back online to check home prices. Location can have a huge impact on pricing, so you may not be able to get as much house in a sought-after neighborhood.

Tip #4: Make a list of must-haves and would-like-to-haves

Now that you’ve done your research about what you can realistically expect within your budget, start making lists. Try to keep your must-have list limited to just three of four things. These are the things that you cannot or will not compromise on. Try to be flexible on everything else. Your “would-like-to-haves” list are things that you can give up or trade off to get your must-haves.

Tip #5: Meet with your Realtor to discuss your goals and develop a clear strategy

Share your budget and your must-haves and would-like-to-haves lists with your Realtor. Discuss the neighborhoods you’d like to target. Discuss your timeline for buying a home. Ask lots and lots of questions about the process of touring homes, putting in an offer, and closing on a home. Then, agree on a strategy and let the searching begin!

(Need help finding a great Realtor? We have more than a dozen fantastic Realtors on our team. You can also read this post about how to choose the right Realtor.)

Tip #6: Start touring homes and provide LOTS of feedback to your Realtor

All the research and legwork you’ve done up to this point will help your Realtor identify the right kinds of homes for your needs. Start touring the homes and take lots of notes about what you see. Share feedback with your Realtor about what you liked and didn’t like about each home. The more specific your feedback, the better. Your Realtor will use this information to further hone in on just the right home for you.

Tip #7: Put in a fair offer

When you find a home you love and you’re ready to put in an offer, sit down with a Realtor and discuss your strategy. Your Realtor will provide comps (recent sales of comparable homes), which will give you a better sense of the market value of the home you’ve chosen. Put in an offer that is fair and reasonable based on market value. It’s okay to leave a little wiggle room to negotiate, but don’t low-ball your offer. This can insult sellers and make them unwilling to work with you. It can also send a signal that you aren’t serious or aren’t properly informed, and again, sellers may be unwilling to work with you.

If your offer is fair and based on market research, you should be able to reach an agreement that works for everyone.

Tip #8: Get a home inspection

This is so important! Make your offer contingent upon a successful home inspection. If a problem is discovered, you have a few options. You can walk away from the property if it seems like too much to deal with. Another option is to negotiate that the seller will fix the problem prior to closing and provide proof that the work was done. Or, you can negotiate a lower selling price and take care of the work yourself after you’ve purchased the home.

Bonus tip: Use your Realtor’s expertise every step of the way!

You can engage a Realtor as early in this process as you’d like. If you’d like to get their input on how to figure out your finances, feel free to ask for their help. If you’d like them to narrow down your initial online search, they can do that for you. Your Realtor’s job is to make sure you understand the process and ultimately choose the perfect home. You can’t ask too many questions… A good Realtor is always happy to help!