1. Applied for a mortgage loan and completed the process of beng pre-approved by a mortgage lender
2. Narrowed their search to a couple of neighborhoods - usually based on Internet searches and "on the ground" investigation of schools, shopping, work commute etc.
3. Set up an online search with a Realtor so that an email will hit their inbox as soon as a new listing comes on the market that meets their specific buying criteria.
4. Sold their existing home, have their existing home under contract OR do not need to sell a home to buy a home.
As a Realtor who stays busy 100% of the time - I have to focus on these buyers.
Those who are "not looking for anything serious right now" can get in person or phone advice from me pretty much anytime they like. BUT - we are not going to go out an look at houses right now. Good listings stay on the market a couple of days - max. They are not going to be around if someone has not completed the above buyer preparation process.
Time will tell. As a professional, it is best to always qualify a buyers ability to purchase before investing your own time. Sometimes they don't even know what they would qualify for. It is in THEIR best interest as well.
As a full time successful Realtor those are not the type of clients I take on and waste everybody's time.
Good luck to you.