Nine Secrets of Successful Homebuyers

A popular real estate website recently compiled a list of the six habits all successful homebuyers have in common.

As someone who’s approaching the one-year anniversary of owning my own home, I found the topic fascinating. Not because I possessed so many of the habits outlined. But for the opposite reason.

Compare Mortgage Rates

Compare top mortgage lenders in your area and find the right fit for you.

When I purchased my house, I winged it, for the most part. I didn’t do a lot of research about the home buying process. I also did not shop around extensively for mortgages, which was mistake number one. Nor did I shop around for real estate agents (lesson learned!), or tour a long list of houses. Though I looked at dozens of properties online, I only did two or three actual walk-throughs before settling on the home I purchased.

Reading about the habits of “all successful homebuyers,” which were mostly financial habits, made me wonder how much different my outcome might have been had I seen the list ahead of time and adopted the behaviors outlined. I also felt the list was far too narrowly focused and left a lot out. While I didn’t possess all of the attributes mentioned, I brought other skills to the table that weren’t included, which helped me successfully purchase a home in Southern California, one of the most competitive and high-priced real estate markets in the country.

All of which inspired me to solicit opinions from a broad group of real estate agents from across the country to do my own survey of what makes a successful homebuyer, beyond just the financial habits. Here’s what the agents I polled had to say.

In this article

    Secret #1: Successful homebuyers are goal-oriented.

    One of the top-selling real estate brokers in New York City, Sheila Trichter of Warburg Realty has 25 years of experience working in the Manhattan market, another one of the priciest and most competitive places in the country.

    According to Trichter, the most successful buyers know what they want and they pursue that goal with their actions. That means, Trichter explains, that such buyers are actively working toward their goal regularly, beginning with familiarizing themselves with the market and then staying on top of new listings.

    “They should be regularly looking and know what the market is like,” said Trichter. “That doesn’t mean they need to be on every single real estate app every day, but they need to pay attention. And the more specific a buyer they are, the more they have to pay attention, because things come and go.”

    This skill even applies to first-time homebuyers, says Dana Bull, a Boston area realtor who specializes in helping those new to the buying process.

    “The most important thing I see in first-time buyers, in particular, that makes them successful is their ability to plan and strategize,” said Bull. “Buyers who get what they want, or recognize a great deal when they see it, are usually those who have spent a lot of time researching the market, including touring a home even if they think it’s not for them — so that they’re completely aware of what’s out there, what it’s selling for, and where the opportunities may lie.”

    Secret #2: They’re organized, too.

    Having your act together as a homebuyer takes on many forms, says Snezhana Conway, of Washington D.C.-based Snezhana Homes Group of Keller Williams Capital Properties.

    “Buyers who are organized from the very beginning are attending the homebuyers’ seminars to learn about the homebuying process, they’re collecting a file of their favorite home styles and amenities, and they’re organized with their personal finances such as tax returns and pay-stubs,” said Conway.

    Being organized also means ensuring your credit score is mortgage-ready well in advance of the purchase, and carefully determining what sort of home budget you’re comfortable with, says real estate agent John Myers, of Myers & Myers Real Estate, in Albuquerque, N.M.

    “Having your finances in order makes the homebuying decision much easier,” said Myers, noting that this habit allows purchasers to clearly understand exactly how much they want to spend and to stick to that budget.

    Secret #3: They avoid excess debt and pay bills on time.

    Another critical note on personal finances: Your credit score will have a huge impact on the mortgage you’re able to qualify for, potentially costing (or saving) you tens of thousands of dollars over time. And most lenders want to see a low debt-to-income ratio. So successful homeowners understand that this is not the time to start opening a variety of new credit cards, running up balances, or making late payments on your bills, said Trichter.

    “Running up a lot of debt will make it more difficult to buy a home,” explained Trichter. “So, successful homebuyers don’t go into every store that offers 10% off on a purchase if you get their credit card and open an account. All those [new] credit cards lower your credit score. You don’t want to be a person with a credit card in every store in town, that’s not really keeping finances in order. And they don’t close credit cards, because that lowers your credit score.”

    Secret #4: They stay realistic.

    Successful homebuyers have sensible expectations and clearly understand what their home needs are.

    “This is not fantasy, this is a reality,” said Trichter. “Sure, you want to dream and have your home be wonderful, with bells and whistles. But only the bells and whistles you can afford.”

    To that end, it’s important to define exactly what it is you want and, more importantly, what you actually need, says Michael Schaffer, broker and owner of Denver-based Reason Real Estate. This effort should also include narrowing down the geographic area you’ll consider to a realistically manageable area.

    “It should not be the entire major metropolitan area,” said Schaffer. “This way you won’t be so overwhelmed with the listings that you won’t be able to give adequate consideration to any of them.”

    Ultimately, buyers who understand the concept of balance and keeping their homeownership goals practical will usually make the most rational decisions throughout the buying process, added, Amanda Martin, of Fort Lauderdale-based The Real Estate Shoppe.

    Secret #5: They’re not afraid of a certain amount of risk.

    As with any major financial decision, buying a home presents a certain amount of risk. And while you absolutely need to do your due diligence, Trichter says, successful homebuyers don’t dwell on what-ifs or allow doubts to paralyze their decision-making.

    “There are plenty of risks. And people shouldn’t take undue risks — they should be sure they can afford the house, and that it’s not sitting on a swamp,” Trichter said. “But there are certain people who say ‘What if the sky falls in?’ ‘What if there’s a terrorist attack?’ ‘What if the banks fail?’ Buying a home involves some risk, and you need to be comfortable with that.”

    Secret #6: They’re careful about choosing a real estate agent.

    Don’t make the same mistake I did and choose the first real estate agent who comes along. In my case, that decision turned into a nightmare worthy of another story.

    If I had to do it again, I probably would have listened to the recommendations of good friends who provided glowing reviews of Realtors they had worked with, because my personal belief is that a recommendation from a friend who’s had a good experience is invaluable.

    Gary Lucido, president of Chicago-based Lucid Realty, says a real estate agent should have certain key attributes.

    “Get a really smart Realtor. Not the top producer. Not a self-proclaimed neighborhood expert. Not someone with signs all over the neighborhood. Not a neighbor, relative, or friend. But someone who is resourceful, knowledgeable, and responsive,” said Lucido.

    Secret #7: They shop for a mortgage early.

    Mortgage shopping should be done early in the search process, not after you’ve laid eyes on the home you absolutely must have.

    For one thing, getting preapproved helps you know for sure how much house you can afford. And in a competitive housing market, you’ll generally need a letter of preapproval from your lender if you want to stand a chance in a multiple-offer situation.

    Plus, shopping for a mortgage before you absolutely need one will give you time to find the very best rates. “Once you have a contract, you need to move quickly to get your mortgage, and you don’t have time to shop around,” said Lucido.

    Embarking on mortgage shopping early also allows buyers time to thoroughly educate themselves about the various types of financial products available, noted Luke Babich, co-founder of the nationwide referral brokerage Clever Real Estate, and a licensed real estate agent in Missouri.

    Secret #8: They set aside enough time for house hunting.

    The market moves fast, and buying a house isn’t like picking out a new coffeemaker on Amazon. So if you’re serious about your search, Conway says, it’s a good idea to budget time every week or weekend to see homes. Schedule the time in advance with your real estate agent, she adds. “No last-minute frantic calls to try to squeeze showings in.”

    Secret #9: They think long-term.

    When searching for a home, think about where you might want to be in five, 10, or 20 years, and how this purchase might help get you there, says Bull.

    “A great buy that’s not a long-term fit might be perfect for now and make a fantastic rental down the road or allow you to sell high and upgrade,” said Bull. “Having that vision helps buyers make informed decisions.”

    Compare top mortgage lenders

    Mia Taylor

    Contributor for The Simple Dollar

    Mia Taylor is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. She has worked for some of the nation’s best-known news organizations such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Taylor holds a graduate degree in Journalism and Media Studies and had a fellowship to study journalism at the San Diego affiliate of National Public Radio. Over the course of her career, she has won numerous journalism industry honors, including five awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association and the 2011 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.