In a competitive real estate market, it can take months — sometimes even years! — to buy a home. Whether you’re consistently outbid by other buyers or it seems your shopping rivals are always one step ahead, it can feel as if you’re at a distinct disadvantage when you’re house-hunting in a market where homes can go under contract within hours of being listed on Trulia.
But there are ways to speed up the home-buying process — even if you don’t have a fat bank account. If you have an experienced real estate agent with a large network, you might be one of the lucky few who can submit a presale offer before your dream home for sale in Chicago, IL, even hits the market. Or if you’re shopping in an area that doesn’t have a buzzing economy, you might be able to close on a house in less than a month — if you put in a strong offer.
Here are some of the ways you can shorten the house-hunting process and buy a home fast.
1. Assemble a team of real estate pros
One of the best ways to speed up operations is to assemble a team of experts. “Shortening the home-buying process comes down to one thing: Preparation,” says Wesley Stanton of Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. “Pick the right team, including a real estate attorney, mortgage banker, and real estate broker, preferably a team that has worked together before, and let them do what they do best. You are the board, the rest of the team are your executive officers.”
2. Get cozy with your (awesome) agent
“Make sure you have an excellent mentor/navigator to guide you along the way,” says Nicole Krinick, also of Douglas Elliman. Part of what makes a terrific agent is the connections they bring. If they are plugged into a neighborhood, your agent will know what properties are coming to market weeks before the public does. And the better your relationship with the agent, the more likely they are to give you a sneak peek.
3. Get preapproved for a home loan
We’ve said it before: It takes a lot of paperwork to buy a home. And almost all of it pertains to the mortgage approval process. You need W-2s, 1099s, bank statements, debt info, gift letters, and so much more. So gather ye olde paperwork while ye may, then work with your mortgage broker to get preapproved before you start shopping for a house. That way, you can walk into an open house with a preapproval letter showing you’re a serious buyer who’s bank-approved and can afford the home price. And remember: Prequalified isn’t the same thing as preapproved.
4. Start looking in areas with high inventory
No doubt you have a wish list for your next hometown: walkability, great schools, easy access to public transportation. But here’s another one you should add to your list: a glut of homes on the market. Research shows that a lower home inventory slows down the home-buying process. It makes sense — you keep bidding on the same homes in the same neighborhoods as your fellow house hunters. But if you start looking in surrounding areas with sleepier markets, you’ll likely find more places that match your criteria. And if the area is less economically prosperous, and you’re coming in with a strong offer (including a 20% down payment), you might be able to secure a short escrow.
5. Have a firm list of “must-haves” and “nevers”
In competitive real estate markets, prospective homebuyers waste a lot of time trying to talk themselves into compromise-laden properties, bidding on homes they don’t love … and maybe don’t even like that much. (And then end up being outbid anyway.) But if you stop looking at properties that don’t fit your criteria and instead zero in on the ones that do, you’re less likely to waste time viewing properties that don’t meet your needs. “I believe buying real estate and finding a life partner via dating are quite similar in nature, so I often liken the two,” says Krinick. “Don’t waste your time looking at what you know is not for you.”
6. Sell your house before you buy
One of the easiest ways to slow down a purchase is to add in a contingency sale. And let’s be honest: In fast-moving markets, buyers often don’t want to deal with a contingency offer. But if you unload your home before you begin your search in earnest, you suddenly set yourself up for success. You’ll have a good amount of equity in the bank and flexibility with your closing date, both of which put you ahead of other buyers. You only have to be willing to put your things in storage for a few months and rent month to month. Bonus: You’re mostly packed before you’ve even moved!
7. Be available
Let’s say you’ve made an offer, and your offer’s been accepted. (Hooray!) Want to close quickly? Don’t go on a celebratory vacation. Once a home is under agreement, it is imperative that you be available any time of day or night to answer any questions/crises from your agent or the seller’s agent. Be available on email, by text, and by phone and answer every inquiry as promptly as you can. And while you’re at it, check in on the vacation schedules of the agents, lawyers, and brokers involved — the last thing you want is to push back the closing because your attorney is in the Bahamas that week.