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Curbed U: The Home Buying Process, Part I

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to the tipline.

You want to make the jump from real estate browser to home buyer. Great! But where do you start? Unfortunately, the home buying process isn’t something they teach you in high school or even university (unless you majored in real estate like some of us - what were we thinking ?!) So in order to clear up the confusion and give you some insight, we’ve created a quick run-through of what’s entailed in purchasing a home. Of course, actual experience may vary.

Pre-approval

Before you make another move, get your mortgage preapproval in order. Smart Money puts it bluntly: “some agents and sellers won’t give you the time of day unless you have preapproval.” Besides saving face, having this bit of preparation gives you a nice reality check on exactly how much you can afford to borrow. That way you don’t choose “the one,” only to have the bank throw precipitation on your street festival. Once you have preapproval, the bank’s ‘offer’ is typically good for 90 days. If any aspect of your finances changes during that time, be sure to let the bank know so they can make the necessary adjustments.

Finding A Buyer’s Agent

It’s not difficult to find a real estate agent anywhere in the Atlanta area. Their uncanny smiling faces are plastered on billboards, benches, shopping carts, and just about anywhere else one can buy advertising space. Not to sound too much like Goldilocks, but the goal is to find one that’s just right: non-skeevy, knowledgable about market conditions and the areas you’re interested in, able to communicate in the right way, willing to give you the time of day, and so on.

You probably know what we’ll say first: ask your friends and family for referrals. And that is the first thing you should do. But what if no one you know has bought a house in the last decade? Or if someone did, what if they worked with a real noob? Maybe you just moved to Atlanta and know nobody.

If so, a little research is in order on your part. And where can you find all the answers? Online of course! Typing in “Atlanta Real Estate” will return about a gazillion hits, so you’ve got to narrow it down, preferably to the top agencies in your target area. As much as it would help, as of yet there is no Match.com: Realtor Edition. The website of the National Association of Realtors® will provide you with a tidy list of Realtors® working in your area, but notice that little circled “R”? As explained by Elizabeth Weintraub at About.com, all Realtors® are licensed agents/brokers, but not all agents/brokers are Realtors®. Less than half of those licensed to buy and sell real estate belong to that special club, so relying solely on their website could cause you to miss out on your dream agent.

If you’re more inclined to do things in a non-virtual manner, get out and explore. While you’re out and about in your target area, take notice of the “for sale” signs and the agencies that they’re advertising, especially ones that keeping popping up over and over. If you see an open house, pop in and ask the agent on-site if they have a good contact. And even though they can seem cheesy, it doesn’t hurt to check out the guy that’s got his mug overlooking I-75.

* Do I Even Need A Buyer’s Agent?

Given the ease of online home searches, it might not even seem necessary to seek out an agent to do the legwork for you. To be honest, it’s not. If you find a listing that piques your interest, the listing agent for that home is allowed to represent you as well as the seller, through a thing called dual agency. Both parties must give written consent. First time buyers will probably be the most advised to seek out a buyer’s agent, given that they will have a fiduciary duty to you (they’re loyal to you, not the seller).

· 7 Tips for Getting a Preapproved Mortgage [Smart Money]
· Home Buying / Selling [About.com]