When to Get A Buyer's Agent and Start Looking
Once we figure out when we are going to be ready to buy, how early is too soon to get a buyer's agent and start looking.
You are ready for a Buyer's Agent when you are ready to act on it if your agent finds you something that meets enough of your criteria. By act, I mean put in an offer and consummate the purchase. If you're not ready to act, you are just wasting everyone's time. If you are ready and willing to act, then there's no reason to wait.
If you are not willing to act, you're engaging in mental onanism. Kind of like fantasy stock market traders. Doesn't matter how well you do, it's not real. As Sir Sidney Poitier once observed, it produces nothing. If you don't understand the difference between playing with real money and playing with meaningless number scores, get a guardian. It frustrates the agent and wastes the time that they might spend prospecting for you, and productive agents have to be jealous of their time. If you waste their best efforts when you aren't ready to act, don't be surprised if you're not their top priority when you are. You avoid this trap by not approaching them until you are at least willing to act.
It does no good to store up "prospects for later." Good stuff doesn't last for months. It probably won't last for weeks. It may not last to the end of the day. It only lasts until one person who is willing to act discovers it. If you're not willing to act right then, you are wasting your time.
Markets change over time. The market today where I am is a very different market than two months ago, which was different from two months before that, and also different from the market as it's going to be two months from now. This is one of the many reasons why attitude is worth more than experience in an agent, but it also means that market research you do now is worthless a few months from now. The markets vary not just with macroeconomic factors, but also with time of year. The upshot is that the market today is different than it will be in two months, different than it will be in late summer, and is already different than it was a few months ago. You try to look at your fifteen to twenty-five properties today with an eye towards buying in six months, you are doing worse than wasting your time. You are actually confusing yourself with data that is very likely to be outdated by the time you go to apply it.
Furthermore, there's a well-known comedy schtick routine in the industry: Q: How often does the deal of the century happen in real estate? A: About once a week. The point of the matter is that if you are looking for a property that's a real bargain, they aren't that hard to find. The more difficult skill is recognizing them when you see them. The average buyer is looking for something that is both perfect and a bargain - and the intersection of those two sets is pretty universally null. The reason the current owners spent all that time, effort, and money fixing them up is because they expect that effort to be handsomely rewarded by buyers who don't understand the economics involved.
You probably want to talk to someone who does loans before you talk to a buyer's agent. Find out from them what real rates are that can really be done for you. This, together with how much you make, gives you your budget. It may change, going down if rates rise or up if they fall, but this way you know how much you can afford to spend. I have said this many times, but it's a good idea to repeat it: Shop by purchase price, not by payment. If you shop by payment, you are laying yourself open to all kinds of games by unscrupulous lenders and agents looking for quick, easy sales. Of course, if you find somebody who does both, that's fine, as long as they pass the tests you'd administer to both. Among which, of course, are Questions You Should Ask Prospective Loan Providers and being willing to work on a non-exclusive buyer's agent basis.
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