How to get the home of your dreams

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How to get the home of your dreams

If you've ever sold something on Craigslist, then you know that the best offer isn't always the highest offer.

There's the potential buyer who says she definitely wants the dresser you posted (even though she hasn't seen it in person), but she just needs you to hold it for a week until she gets paid on Friday. There's the guy who's so rude on the phone, you'd rather give the dresser away than sell it to him. There's the couple who comes to look at the dresser two hours late only to realize it doesn't fit in their MINI Cooper.

Getting the house you want is about more than making the highest offer. Qualities like being likeable, being organized, and seeming sane go a long way in the home buying process.

Here are tips for increasing your chances of getting the home of your dreams--or at least a home you want.

1. Prequalify for a loan

How many times has someone told you, "I wasn't planning on getting one today, I was just going to look but…" and they ended up finding the perfect car, prom dress, boyfriend, etc?

If you are "just looking" at open houses on a Saturday and find a house you love, you can't expect a seller to hold it for you until you can call a mortgage broker on Monday.

Sellers take you more seriously when they know you qualify for financing. You take yourself more seriously when you know how much financing you qualify for.

2. Know your budget and don't torture yourself

No good can come of looking at houses you can't afford. You'll either be disappointed with every house in your price range compared to those out of your price range or you'll end up stretching your budget to buy a house you can't comfortably afford.

Repeat this mantra: No matter how much I like a house, it will not be worth it if it causes financial stress.

3. Get the right realtor and mortgage broker

What qualities do you need in a realtor? The detailed answer is here. The short answer is that you need someone who calls you back immediately and takes immediate action. Same goes for a mortgage broker.

I just had a friend lose out on a house she really liked because her realtor didn't look into it for a few days and by then the house had an offer on it.

4. Don't wait for an open house

Just because a house is open doesn't mean it's available. If you see a house that has potential, ask your realtor to try to get a showing prior to the open house.

Why would they have an open house if a house already has an offer on it?

Open houses are good ways for realtors to:

  1. Meet future clients: "I got a great offer for over asking price on this house. Are you considering selling yours?"

  2. Sell other houses: "This house already has an offer, but I have two others I'm selling nearby."

  3. Increase pressure on buyers making offers: "If you like this house, I'd make an offer soon because we're having an open house on Saturday."

5. Don't depend solely on your realtor

You have to give your realtor specifics like what part of town to focus on or how much of a fixer upper you're willing to fix up. She's only one person and she has many clients.

But maybe you don't know what you want until you find it.

With so many tools at your disposal, you can look outside the box. You should be checking Trulia and Zillow, driving through neighborhoods, letting friends on social media know that you are on a house hunt, etc.

Widen your search to nearby neighborhoods, consider taking on a small amount of remodeling (maybe you could knock down a wall without hating your spouse), check out that great house even if it doesn't have the two car garage of your dreams.

6. Let go of what you think you know about buying a home

The current housing market where you want to buy may not coincide with your preconceived notions of how the home buying process works.

I had this idea that the buyer has the power. I thought we'd look at a house, think about it for a few days, maybe make an initial low ball offer to kind of test the waters. I thought we'd make demands after the inspection and the seller would fix everything we asked them to fix.

But that is not the real estate market we were buying in. We were buying in a market where homes were going very quickly for well over asking price. We were in competition with 16 other buyers. The sellers didn't have to agree to any of our requests after inspection because they knew they had 16 other people who would happily take the house "as is" (or "as was").

Know the current market.

7. Make a good impression

Every person in your home buying journey has an opportunity to make or break your chances.

Act like the kind of person that a mortgage broker or loan officer would want to help.

Show respect to the seller. Give them the impression that you are someone they would want to sell their house to.

Be friendly and personable with the seller's realtor.

Dress like you care when you go to look at houses.

Be on time to showings.

Make a respectable first offer. Don't offend sellers with a ridiculously low offer.

8. Write a personal letter

For some sellers it's really not all about the money. They've invested years and dollars and memories into their house. It's nice to know that they're leaving the house in the hands of someone they like.

In my old neighborhood (I swear I am not making this up), a porn star made a very good cash offer on a house. The seller took a lower, financed offer from a couple who wrote a lovely letter about themselves and how much the house would mean to them.

We wrote a letter even though we were buying our house flipped from an investment company. Investors are still people. Realtors are still people.

Because the seller's realtor liked us, she kept us in the game even though we didn't initially make the highest offer.

9. Be organized and on top of things

Deals fall through all the time, often because a particular timeline isn't met (i.e. the buyer's loan doesn't get funded on time). Don't be the reason your deal falls through.

When your realtor or mortgage broker or escrow company requests a piece of information or a signature, get it back to them right away. Respond to emails and phone calls right away. Schedule inspections immediately.

Stay on top of your team to make sure things are running on time.

10. Don't hold on to your first impression

Ever stayed in a relationship too long because you kept holding onto how great it was in the beginning and ignoring all the red flags since? Acknowledge the red flags through the home inspection process and get out of the deal if your instinct tells you to.

Buyer's remorse is a real thing. You can avoid it in part by sticking to your budget, getting several specific inspections and acknowledging red flags.

Don't save a messy deal because you've got your heart set on a particular house. There is another house in your future, and it does not have a messy deal.

It's true of romance and housing, you can't find the right thing until you lose the wrong thing.

Photo: jessica wilson