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Tips for Finding Your Dream Home

There’s no place like home. It’s a haven from the hectic outside world, a place to relax, spend time with your loved ones, and truly enjoy yourself.

But finding a house that offers all the creature comforts your heart desires is easier said than done. It’s easy to get distracted, wistfully imagining relaxed Sunday mornings in the breakfast nook or making your home-grown produce dreams a reality. But, to get to that reality, you might have to put in some legwork.

The process required to find your dream home can be intimidating. It’s not just deciding what you want in a home—there’s a whole journey involved. Navigating the ins and outs of real estate and mortgages can be tricky, but with a little planning it’s possible.

Read on for a few ideas on how to find the house of your dreams.

Making a List of Priorities

Trying to figure out how to find your dream home? The first step is defining it. Everyone’s dream home is different. Is it a four bedroom house on a cul-de-sac where your kids can play? Or a trendy loft downtown? A Craftsman or a Victorian? Consider making a list of your must-haves.

It can be helpful to zero in on a style so you know exactly what you are looking for. Depending on the market, there could be a variety of styles available. Having an understanding of what works best for you and/or your family can help you decide which properties are worth looking at.

Your perfect house might be hard to find, so being prepared with a list of compromises could be a helpful tool as you start to look at properties. Knowing what you must have versus what you are willing to live without could help you eliminate properties from your list.

If a yard is a necessity, skip viewing the listing without one. Understanding what you truly want in your home can help you narrow down your search.

Familiarizing Yourself with the Area

Searching for your dream home in the area you currently live in might be easier than if you’re moving long distance.

You may want to hone in on a neighborhood. Considering factors like school district, commute to work, and walkability could be helpful in narrowing down your search.

If possible, you may want to talk to neighbors to get a sense of the area. You may also want to drive around at different times of day. If airplanes fly overhead at 10 p.m. wouldn’t you rather know that now, instead of after moving in?

Long distance house hunters may have to rely on a realtor to get a better idea of the neighborhood they are interested in. If possible, consider scheduling a trip—ideally two—to visit the area you could potentially be calling home in the near future.

Finding a Real Estate Agent

Hiring a real estate agent or REALTOR® to help you buy a house certainly isn’t mandatory, but it could help save time. Both are licensed professionals who help people buy real estate. The main difference is that a REALTOR® must be part of the National Association of Realtors, which requires them to uphold certain ethical standards.

Real estate agents and realtors are usually intimately familiar with housing markets and can help you find properties that fit your desires and budget. They can do some of the heavy lifting for you, potentially saving you from combing through online listings and spending countless hours at open houses. They also have access to the MLS, so they’ll know about homes still listed online but are actually under active contract.

Real estate agents may also have the inside scoop on what properties are about to go on the market, giving you a head start. You might benefit from their knowledge and connections.

Tracking Your Visits

You might think it’s easy to keep track of what you liked or didn’t like about a property. But by the time you are onto property number seven, your memory could get a little hazy. Try recording your thoughts as you tour properties to keep everything organized.

There are a few different options for keeping track. You could bring a small notebook with you and jot down notes as you tour each property, including a short summary of what you liked, didn’t like, and relevant contact information.

You could also take photos of each property, creating a visual archive. Most smartphones allow users to create folders of photos, and as you evaluate properties you can mark them as “contender” or “pass.”

Imagining Your Family in the Home

Sometimes, house hunting requires you to have a vision. Stumbling upon the perfect house is certainly possible, but it can also help to have some creativity when looking at spaces. It helps to have a sense of what you want to use each room for, and it may take more than one visit to the property, but having a far reaching vision could mean seeing potential others might miss.

Some houses might need a few upgrades or changes to transform them into the perfect space. Buying a bit of a fixer-upper could require more work when you do finally move in, but it could also mean you’re able to get exactly what you want.

But before buying a home that needs improvements, you may want to take this into consideration: Fixer-uppers can be expensive and if there are health and safety issues involved, extensive repairs could affect property eligibility for a mortgage.

It’s recommended to map out estimates for the upgrades you plan to make. Think about subtracting another five to 10 percent of the house’s renovated market value—in order to account for unforeseen costs.

Can you reasonably afford them or do the renovations push you way over budget? Doing your research to make sure the fixes are realistic and there aren’t larger issues that could keep your home from becoming a money pit down the line.

Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage

For many future homeowners, a mortgage is a necessity. As you get serious about your home search, getting preapproved for a mortgage can be very helpful. It indicates to sellers that you are a serious buyer, which could be a benefit when you’re ready to make an offer.

When it comes to loans, there’s a difference between being prequalified and preapproved. Prequalified means you fit the general profile of a borrower. Often times, lenders will provide a range of rates and loan terms that you could potentially be eligible for.

This step can typically be completed quickly since it doesn’t require a full analysis of your credit and income history, but it could mean that when you actually apply there’s a chance you may not be approved or could be approved for different terms.

To secure preapproval for a mortgage, a lender will review your credit and financial history. Based on that information, the lender will provide a letter that details the loan amount and rates you qualify for.

Typically, a mortgage preapproval letter is valid for about 90 days. If you don’t find the house of your dreams within that window, there are options to extend or renew the letter. This might require the bank or lender to review your financials again.

While rate shopping, you generally have a 30-day window prior to credit scoring where your score won’t be impacted while you’re rate shopping. In fact, if you’ve had your credit checked again by lenders outside of that 30-day window, that credit check may still be considered as part of the same inquiry.

Finding the Right Mortgage Lender

Finding the right mortgage lender is an important part of the home buying process. Different lenders may offer different terms or perks and it could take some research to find the best option.

While you research, consider a mortgage loan with SoFi. With SoFi, you could potentially qualify for a mortgage with as little as a ten percent down payment.

SoFi mortgages generally close in 30 days, getting you even closer to moving into your dream home. And if you run into any confusion, SoFi has a team of knowledgeable mortgage loan officers who can help you navigate the application process.

Ready to cross finding a mortgage off your home search to do list? Learn more about mortgages at SoFi.

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