Do you want to get the best house you can for the least amount of money? Then make sure you are in the strongest negotiating position possible. You see, price is only one bargaining chip in the negotiations, and not necessarily the most important one. Often other terms, such as the strength of the buyer or the length of escrow, are critical to a seller.
In years past, I always recommended that buyers get "prequalified" by a lender. This means that you spend a few minutes on the phone with a lender who asks you a few questions. Based on the answers, the lender pronounces you "prequalified" and issues a certificate that you can show to a seller.
Sellers are aware that such certificates are WORTHLESS, and here's why! None of the information has been verified! Oftentimes unknown problems surface! Some of the problems I've seen include recorded judgments, child support payments due, glitches on the credit report due to any number of reasons both accurately and inaccurately, down payments that have not been in the clients' bank account long enough, etc.
So the way to make a strong offer today is to get "pre-approved". This happens AFTER all information has been checked and verified. You are actually APPROVED for the loan, the only loose end is the appraisal on the property you want to buy. This process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on your situation. It's VERY POWERFUL and a weapon I recommend all my clients have in their negotiating arsenal.
If you have a house to sell, sell it before selecting a house to buy! I haven't seen a contingent sale work in the last 3 years, unless it's with a new home builder who has other houses to sell and can afford to put one on a contingency.
Let's pretend that we go out looking for the perfect house for you. We find it and you love it! Now you have to go make an offer to the seller. You want the seller to reduce the price and wait until you sell your house. The seller figures that's a risky deal, since he might pass up a buyer who DOESN'T have to sell a house while he's waiting for you. So he says OK, he'll do the contingency but it has to be a full price offer! So you see, you paid more for the house than you could have because of the contingency.
Now you have to sell your existing house, and in a hurry! Otherwise you lose the dream house! So to sell quickly you might take an offer that's lower than if you had more time. The bottom line is that buying before selling might cost you TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars. I always recommend that you sell first, then buy.
If you're concerned that there's not a house out there for you, then go on a window shopping trip. You can identify possible houses and locations without falling in love with a specific house. If you feel confident after that, then put your house on the market.
Another tactic is to make the sale "subject to seller finding suitable housing". Adding this phrase to the listing means that WHEN YOU DO FIND A BUYER, you will have some time to find the new place. If you don't find anything to your liking, you don't have to sell your present home.
Before house hunting, make a list of nine things you want in the new place. Then make a list of the nine things you don't want. I call this "NINE OF THIS AND NONE OF THAT". You can use this list as a scorecard to rate each property that you see. The one with the biggest score wins! This helps avoid confusion and keeps things in perspective when you're comparing dozens of homes.
When house hunting, keep in mind the difference between "SKIN AND BONES". The BONES are things that cannot be changed such as the location, view, size of lot, noise in the area, school district, and floor plan. The SKIN represents easily changed surface finishes like carpet, wallpaper, color, and window coverings. Buy the house with good BONES, because the SKIN can always be changed to match your tastes. I always recommend that you imagine each house as if it were vacant. Consider each house on its underlying merits, not the s eller's decorating skills.
Your agent should show you everything available that meets your requirements. Don't make a decision on a house until you feel that you've seen enough to pick the best one. Go to the Multiple Listing computer with your agent to make sure that you are getting a COMPLETE list.
In the late 1980's, homes were selling quickly, usually a few days after listing. In that kind of market, agents advised their clients to make an offer ON THE SPOT if they liked the house. That was good advice at the time. Today there isn't always this urgency, unless a home is drastically underpriced, and you'll know if it is.
Don't forget to check into the SCHOOL DISTRICTS of the area you're considering. Information is available on every school, such as class sizes, % of students that go on to college, SAT scores, etc. You can get this information from your agent or directly from the school.
Pick an agent you feel comfortable with and stay with that agent if he or she is doing the job. Agents work on commission and are paid by the seller, NOT THE BUYER! They charge NOTHING for their time when they work for you. To get 100% effort from an agent, they have to know that you value and appreciate their work on your behalf.
Did you know that many homes are sold WITHOUT A SIGN ever going up or an AD EVER BEING PUT IN THE PAPER? These "great deals" go to those people who are committed to working with their agent. When the agent hears of a great buy, who is he going to call? The client WHO IS COMMITTED TO HIM, not someone who just called on an ad. So to get the best buy on a property, I always recommend that you decide on an agent and stick with him.