Beginner’s Buying Guide, step 3: Start your house search process

Your agent will be able to set up an automated search of the database (known as the MLS, for multiple listing service) that contains all properties for sale in your area. You’ll need to set up some parameters for the search, since you don’t want to be sifting through thousands of properties that don’t meet your criteria. You’ll want to have a talk about the type of place you’re looking for; not just number of beds or baths, but what your wants and needs are for your new place. How broad or narrow your database search will be could depend on a lot of factors: Is it really important for you to be biking distance to work? Do you need access to a jogging trail for you and the dog? A specific school district? Or are you willing to consider anything that shows up below a certain price?

Once you get a sense of the possibilities, you can set up a time to go tour some properties. Your agent submits a request to the listing brokerage to go see the property at a specific time and they’ll send back a confirmation. Sometimes if a place is currently unoccupied you can get in to see it right away, any time of day. Other times you may have to wait a few hours (or even days) to get in, depending on the seller’s schedule.

Here’s a tip if you’re going to be seeing several properties on the same day: take your camera, and take a picture of the address as soon as you get to each place. Then take a bunch of photos as you look at the house. That will help you remember which house had the nice kitchen, the funky shed, or the weird bathroom. It’s easy to get them jumbled up in your mind after you’ve seen more than a couple.

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