Do you want to spend unnecessary time LOOKING at many homes hopefully finding one to buy or do you want to buy a home so you can spend your time LIVING in said new home? If all you really want to do is look at homes, that's easy -- there are many homes and pictures online and there are countless open houses each Sunday. But if you are ready to buy, there are several things you can do to make your home search quicker and less stressful.
1. Where do you want to live?
While you might think willingness to live anywhere within a 20 mile radius of a central location would make it easier to find a home, it actually makes it more difficult. Narrowing down your search to one (or two) neighborhoods/locations will allow you to be more focused and aware of what is going on with real estate in the area. It's much easier to decide between a dozen homes than hundreds of homes.
Still having trouble deciding where you want to be? What's important to you? Is it a school district; being close to work; being close to restaurants and shopping; being close to trails and parks; being close to friends and family; being close to church?
2. Get pre-approved for a mortgage.
Note, this does not say pre-qualified. PRE-APPROVED. Find a mortgage agent you feel comfortable working with and get all of your documentation to them so you are as far along in the mortgage process as possible once you find your new home. Many sellers require a pre-approval letter even for showing their home. A pre-approval letter is going to be required for nearly any offer that is submitted. In today's low inventory market, you can not afford to be delayed a few days waiting for a pre-approval letter before you submit your offer.
In addition to the need for a pre-approval when you buy a home, having the pre-approval will help in your search as well. Knowing what you are qualified for and what type of payment you are comfortable with will certainly help you when you are searching for your home. There is no reason to look at a particular home if you would not feel comfortable with the monthly payment. On the other side, you might find that payments aren't as high as you were expecting and you can afford more home than you thought - you are likely to find a home you like more quickly in a higher price range.
3. Work with one Realtor.
There is no need to waste your time contacting a different Realtor every time you have a question about a home. Every Realtor in an area has access to the same information. And every Realtor can show you any home on the market. Find one Realtor you are comfortable working with and you will only have to contact them.
If you haven't already done numbers 1 and 2 above, a Realtor can help you with those as well. Beyond that, a Realtor has access to the most up to date information regarding homes currently on the market. Further, they can tell you when a home that would be of interest to you comes on the market.
Most importantly, Realtors have access to market data and will be able to provide you with information on what homes in the area have sold for and what range your offer should be in so you are not paying above market value.
4. Look only at up to date data.
It's no secret that there is a lot of real estate data available online. But how accurate and up to date is the information? Nearly every real estate website updates their data with information from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In Indianapolis, the local MLS is the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors (www.mibor.com). Knowing where the information comes from, where do you think you will find the most up to date data?
Some websites update hourly, others seem to take weeks or months. But even those sites that update regularly may show a property as available that has an accepted offer but is just waiting for closing. There is no need to waste your time looking at and getting excited about a property that is no longer available.
5. Be realistic.
The days of a buyer's market are over (for now). Inventory is low and prices are rising. While short sales and foreclosures do still exist, there are fewer on the market than in recent years. And banks are wanting more for those that are on the market. Generally speaking, homes priced below the market value for the area need quite a bit of work and have a lot of deferred maintenance. If there is an updated home that has been well maintained that is priced below market value, it will likely sell quickly, with multiple offers and above list price.