How to Buy a Home Before the Rush

Planning to buy a home this spring? Right now—yes, during these last days of winter—is the time to get rolling.

“Spring is peak home-buying season, which means you’re going to have competition from other buyers,” says Peggy Yee, the supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA. Hence, winter is the ideal time to get ahead of the curve. Follow these steps and you’ll be way ahead of the pack once the spring season heats up.

Step No. 1: Find a buyer’s agent

Since business is slow, an agent can take the time to help you identify what type of home you want and educate you on the local market so you’ll have realistic expectations of what’s available.

“Your agent may hear of properties that will be on the market in the spring, so you get a sneak peek before other buyers,” Yee says. “If you’re laser-focused on a specific neighborhood, you’ll want to work with a specialist—someone who knows the community really well”.

Step No. 2: Prepare your finances

Before you begin house hunting, you should consult lenders who can help you understand what you can afford. They will determine how much money they’re willing to lend by checking out your financial details, from your income to your credit score. If your finances need improvement, you’ll find out in plenty of time to make amends.

“Depending on what shape your credit is in, it may take a couple of months to raise your score,” says Richard Redmond, a mortgage broker at All California Mortgage in Larkspur and author of “Mortgages: The Insider’s Guide.” Aim to get credit advice from a professional a few months before you plan to buy. If your credit score is strong, getting pre-approved for a home loan now makes sense.

“Pre-approval is usually only good for 90 days,” says Redmond, “but it’s easy to renew it if the borrower’s financial picture doesn’t change. When interest rates are trending upward, it’s better to lock in your rate sooner rather than later.”

Step No. 3: Start previewing homes

You won’t really know what type of home you’re looking for until you actually step inside, says Lisa Cahill, co-owner of Evolve Real Estate in St. Petersburg, FL.

Step No. 4: Scrutinize prospective neighborhoods

Have your sights set on a particular neighborhood? Winter is a good time to see whether the community is going to be a good fit. Online research won’t reveal the noise level or what the neighbors are like. Concerned about traffic? “Go and test-drive your commute,” says Yee.

Step No. 5: Don’t rule out buying early

If you’re willing and able to move earlier, keep an open mind about buying a home during the winter. There are fewer homes to choose from and less competition.

“You’re less likely to encounter a multiple offer situation,” says Yee.