Insider’s Guide – 50 Home Buying Tips from the Top Real Estate Experts in the World

Home Buying Tips and Inspection ChecklistHow’d you like to see my secret stash of home buying tips that I personally learned from the top real estate experts in the world?

Well consider yourself very lucky…

… because today I’m taking you behind the scenes and revealing 50 of my absolute BEST, out-of-the-box  strategies with you.

Warning: you are NOT going to find the same old tired advice about ‘getting prequalified before you buy’ (yawn) or ‘be sure to work with a Realtor’ (zzzzzz) here.

I’m bringing the goods.

The Home Buying Tips “Dream Team”

Two weeks ago, I asked 200 of the top real estate agents and mortgage brokers in the nation a simple question:

“What’s your #1 most overlooked or out-of-the-box home buying tip?”

Our responses came from every corner of the U.S., from Los Angeles to New York City, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago, Houston, Oklahoma City, Nashville and Phoenix, just to name a few.  We even heard from some our friends up North in Canada.

I selected the top 50 answers.  These tips and tricks are nothing short of GOLD.

For your convenience, we’ve arranged them topically.

Top Home Buying Tips by Category (Per Our Panel of 50 Experts)
#1  Avoiding Pitfalls -12 Tips
#2  Beyond First Impression – 11 Tips
#3  Negotiation Strategies – 9 Tips
#4  Finding a House – 9 Tips
#5  Financing & Loan Approval – 8 Tips
#6  Vetting the Perfect Agent – 3 Tips

So feel free to browse by area of interest, or sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and commence scrolling.

Responses displayed in the order they were received.

Avoiding Pitfalls

Tips on avoiding common mistakes when purchasing a home.

Grace Keister - Real Estate Irvine CAGrace Keister – FirstTeamLearn EVERYTHING you can about the house’s history.Find out past problems and improvements, ask about average utility costs (ask for several months back plus different seasons), and contact the city too about the area’s history i.e. major construction planned for the future, water contamination problems, etc. All of these things affect the future of your new home and you don’t want to be blind sighted by anything you could/should have known.
Leo Dunn - Bay Capital MortgageLeo Dunn – Bay Capital MortgageDon’t assume that the current property taxes are the property taxes that you will pay.The seller may have a homestead exemption and be assessed at a price substantially beneath your purchase price.
Tony Pomykala - Scottsdale AZ RealtorTony Pomykala – Tony Pomykala & Patricia RoosThe #1 most overlooked thing buyers do is that they don’t consider their future “plan”.Most often buyers are looking for a new home to solve a deficiency in the home they currently live in. But after buying a new home that addresses that, they soon discover that the new home didn’t have what they really need moving forward. Sure it fixed the old problem, but only to be replaced by future inadequacies.For instance, their 14 year old kid will be driving in just a couple of years and it sure would have been nice to have a 3 car garage instead of just 2. Buyers should identify what is important to them and what they’ll likely need in the near future, as well as what they need now. This will go a long way towards saving them from having Buyer’s Remorse down the road.

Click to Tweet – “Must see these secret negotiation tips for buying a home.”

Shirley Brass - Las Vegas NVShirley Brass – ShirleyBrass.comCheck the height of the garage doors for larger vehicle clearance.  Also, is the home under a flight path or near train tracks?

Tom Mayer - Realtor NJThomas Mayer – Thomas Mayer HomesWhen making an offer for a home, I usually insert under additional contractual provisions “Seller states there are no underground storage tanks. Should the existence of a underground storage tank(s) be determined, seller agrees to remove same at seller’s expense.”I then follow-up by having the site swept to determine if there in fact was a tank at one time. Why wouldn’t it be on the seller’s disclosure?

  1. It wasn’t disclosed to the seller by the previous homeowner
  2. The seller doesn’t want the buyer to know as it may hold up the transaction
  3. No permits exist at the local building department
  4. The basement walls may be finished off and no longer visual signs of an in ground oil tank

I insert additional language should a tank be located and is later removed and require remediation. We generally don’t want to have to wait several months to get a “No Further Action” determination from the EPA. The additional language essentially kills the deal should remediation be required.

Valentina Ogden - Real Estate Agent FLValentina Ogden – Coldwell BankerWhen buying brand new construction, it helps to have a Realtor represent the buyer because most builders have their own preferred lenders and will provide incentives to buyers only if they go with their lenders.A seasoned Realtor will negotiate on behalf of the buyer to reduce the purchase price and/or obtain better buyer incentives without getting them stuck with the builder’s lender.
National Association of RealtorsJane Dollinger – The National Association of RealtorsPotential home owners should never buy the largest, most expensive house in their neighborhood if they are hoping to recoup their investment.The most expensive house will only depreciate in value over time and are usually the last to sell because they are overbuilt for the neighborhood. Buyers should consult a Realtor® who is familiar with the areas and neighborhoods they are considering and help them gain the most value from their home purchase.
Ryan Gable - StartingPoint RealtyRyan Gable – Starting Point RealtyWhen looking at condos / townhomes, change your mindset.  Understand that you are buying into a business, the home owner’s association.  How does the building present itself?  Is it well cared for?  More importantly, get a hold of ALL the financials regarding the association.
Lenore_KnutzenLenore Knutzen – LenoreKnutzen.comWhen purchasing a home, many buyers fall in love with upgrades or staging, and don’t always think about the resale end.An experienced, ethical agent will take the time to point out the negatives, such as a busy street or noise or overhead wires that may impact the desirability of the property when it comes time to sell.Today’s seller’s market can easily turn into a buyer’s market again, making it more difficult to sell homes that are less than ideal.
Craig Blackmon - Quill RealtyCraig Blackmon – Quill RealtyNo matter how perfect the fit – it’s the Dream Home! – don’t neglect your due diligence. You’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a long-term asset, you need to know what you’re buying.
Joe Hayden - Realtor Louisville KYJoe Hayden – Joe Hayden Real Estate TeamMy #1 most overlooked home buying tip is to remember that the day you close on a home you become a potential home seller. At some point in the buying process, you need to step back and put yourself into the shoes of the seller – what would you have to reasonably change to bring the home to market yourself? What costs might be involved in making those changes? Consider everything from the seller’s position prior to making final negotiating and purchase decisions.
Steven Clark - Realtor in Winter Park FLSteve Clark – Coldwell BankerI think many buyers purchase with price and cosmetics in mind and probably in that order.My thoughts are that a home purchase is most likely the largest and most important purchase we can all make in our lives so be sure the location and “bones” of the home are what you’re looking for. You can change the cosmetics but you can’t change the location and most buyers don’t have the financial resources to change the “bones” (structure and floor plan) of the home.


Beyond First Impression

This section is gold.  You’ve toured the house and know you “like” it.  The following advice will help you determine what else you should be looking for.  You can use this section to create a home buying checklist.  Before you make an offer, simply hit every item on the list first.

Patricia_Ades_-_Stratton_Real_EstateTrish Ades – Stratton Real EstateWhen working with Buyers (especially first-time home buyers), I really try to get them to look past the four walls and how the seller has it staged or decorated.It’s so important to research the property and thoroughly look at the property disclosure….how many people have previously owned/lived in the house, additions, etc.?  I also have my clients check out the neighborhood with local authorities and inquire about the crime rate in the neighborhood – especially if they have children.
Anthea ClickAnthea Click – Fresh PerspectivesPay attention to master closet. If it’s neat and organized, it’s very likely the owner took good care of the property.
Barb Grey CRSBarb Grey – Grey RealtorsBuyers should be aware that the characteristics of the specific street location of a home can impact the value.  For instance, homes located on cul-de-sacs are highly desirable.Corner lots get mixed reviews, as some people like not having neighbors on one side, while others don’t like the exposure to an extra street.  A street with houses fronting on only one side only is known as a “single-loaded” street. Since these are less dense and often visually pleasing, this characteristic may add some value.A yellow centerline on a street indicates higher traffic and is less desirable.  Backing onto open spaces is generally considered a “plus”, but buyers need to be aware that such proximity to Nature can impact the cost for Homeowners’ insurance due to the higher risk of fire.
Chad Rogers - Real Estate ExpertChad Rogers – Chad Rogers BlogHire a contractor to look over your inspections to give you a realistic quote on important repairs.
George_CookeGeorge Cooke – GeorgeCooke.comI always advise my Buyers to go back to the property during different times of the day and the week.See how it looks during rush hour, or on the weekend, or when school is getting out, or when the sun is setting.  See how the traffic changes, and see who is out walking around, and how the neighborhood feels.Best of all, if you have a chance to run into any of the neighbors, ask them how long they have lived there, and how they like the neighborhood.  They will tell you more things about the neighborhood, the neighbors, and the house for sale, than you could not possibly learn in any other way.
Tom Hall - Real Estate OKCTom Hall – The Tom Hall GroupMy two things I look at that most buyers overlook is looking under rugs and pulling up floor registers to look for rust and possible signs of a failing hvac.
Barb Grey CRSBarb Grey – Grey Realtors(Yes… Barb’s tips were so good that I gave her 2 spots!  With my 2 tips, that makes a total of 52 tips from 50 contributors, to be exact.  Thanks Barb!)  And now, here’s her 2nd tip:Sometimes buyers fall in love with a house they find online, but they have little knowledge of the actual neighborhood in which it’s located.Here are a few ways to gain familiarity with the area:1)  Drive around!  Observe how many cars are parked on the streets and see if the nearby homes show “pride of ownership” or not.   2) Visit the local grocery store, as this is a great way to observe a cross-section of the people who live nearby.  3) Check local crime statistics, if that’s a concern.  One source is  4)  Even if you don’t have school-aged kids, check to see how the local schools are rated.  And of course, ask your Realtor, friends and colleagues what they know about the area, too.
Vickie Cohen - Realtor PhiladelphiaVickie Cohen – Hearthside RealtyFor buyers, it would be considering resale.  You may love the house, but is it a good investment?  Will you be able to unload it, when you want to move?
Tarris Rogers Bend OR Real EstateTarris Rogers – Becky Breeze & CompanyHaving your real estate agent do a market analysis on the homes in the specific neighborhood you are looking at buying in.  It will help you know how good of a deal you are getting on the home you are considering purchasing.
Melanie Lazenby - Real Estate Agent New York NYMelanie Lazenby – Douglas EllimanI recommend always you buy for what you can’t change (location, light, size, and views!)

David Cronnin Indianapolis Real Estate Agent and BloggerDavid Cronnin – a quick aside, out of all the mortgage broker and Realtor sites I visited while putting this round-up together, David’s is in a league of its own.  Be sure to visit his blog for an excellent example of content marketing.  I don’t know David personally yet, but can confidently recommend him to anyone needing an agent in the Indianapolis area.)  And now for his quote…Never make an offer on a home without visiting at least 3 times.Visit #1 – Meet the HouseVisit #2 – Date the HouseVisit #3 – Buy the House!

Click to Tweet: Must see tips for “Dating Your Home” before making an offer


Negotiation Strategies

This section is filled with firepower to help you get the best deal possible when purchasing a home, as well as getting your offer accepted.

Susan Ballou - Keller Williams RealtySusan Ballou – The Wemert GroupSomething I use often is an Escalatory Clause Addendum when I feel there are going to be multiple offers (which we have quite often in Orlando due to low inventory).This way, my buyer offers what he/she is comfortable with, but also offers to beat any other offer by a certain dollar amount (perhaps $1000) and not to exceed a certain dollar amount in purchase price.  It helps to win deals!
Maureen Megowan - Los Angeles Real EstateMaureen Megowan –

I write a letter of introduction about my client to the seller to try and get a personal connection made.  If it is a family, I especially add information about the children and how much they love the house.

Linda Chauner - Real Estate BrokerLinda Chauner –

In a buyer’s market, there are always sellers whose homes are overpriced and oftentimes the sellers are aware of that fact, but say, “bring us offers and we will negotiate and consider a lower price,” but they won’t lower the actual MLS list price.

What they don’t realize is that many buyers will not make offers on those homes.  

As a buyer’s agent, if a property is overpriced and the comps can show that, I strongly encourage my buyers to make an offer and we will provide the support to justify our offer price.  We all know properties that are overpriced and that have been on the market forever.  At some point, sellers eventually have to accept the reality of the market.  Respectful supported offers help that process and every once in a while, your buyer is the lucky presenter!!!

Michelle Elliot - Realtor San JoseMichelle Elliott – Michelle Elliott – Coldwell Banker

Ask your agent to find the motivation of seller!  Would a quick close help?  Do they need extra time to move?  Match your offer to the needs of the seller!

Click to Tweet: “Must see these Secret Negotiation tips for buying a home”

Jay Valento - Long Beach CA Real Estate ConsultantJay Valento – Keller Williams – The Red Wagon Team

Always work with your own agent as a buyer agent on your behalf instead of the listing agent.

Barbara S. Werner - San Jose RealtorBarbara S. Werner – Keller Williams Realty

Make contact with listing agent BEFORE making offer. In this competitive market, the more personal the better.

Phyllis HarbPhyllis Harb – Harb & Co.

In a competitive bidding situation, I use the escalation (or escalator) clause to make my buyer’s offer stand out.  This is an offer that includes a clause saying the buyer will increase his or her price to make it higher than the highest offer the seller receives (not to exceed a certain dollar amount.) 

With an escalator clause, you’re far less likely to be outbid.  While this type of clause is not uncommon, I’m still amazed by how many listing agents I run into that haven’t ever heard it.  That said, be sure the listing agent understands the clause.

Vija Williams - Seattle Real Estate AgentVija Williams – The Vija Team

The buyer’s agent should be in constant communication with the listing agent. It’s the best way to win in multiple offers, and is the most overlooked tip.

Brad ReynoldsBrad Reynolds – Keller Williams – Nashville

My #1 thing I do for buyers in an environment that is competitive and inventory is tight is I ask the home buyer to write a personal letter for the seller telling them about their family, and include a family picture which I then present in person with the offer. You wouldn’t believe when you put a story with an offer how sellers are more likely to accept your offer, even if it is slightly less than another one that has been submitted.


Finding a House

Little known secrets to finding motivated sellers & locating a home that is not listed on the MLS.  In addition, we also have a few tips for buying a second home or purchasing a home in Canada.

Jeff Sibbach - Realty One GroupJeff Sibbach –

The best houses are not listed.  My advice to a buyer would be, “Don’t use an average agent.  Identify a very active broker that is super knowledgeable and is actively networking to find the newest homes going up for sale.”

Elizabeth WeintraubElizabeth Weintraub – ElizabethWeintraub.comDon’t assume that homes that have been on the market for a long time have something wrong with them and pass them by because they could be a gem.
Matthew Coates - Phoenix AZMatthew Coates – Living Chandler

Look at the homes with no pictures.  Could be an awesome house with a lazy listing agent.

Jeff Spoelstra - San Jose RealtorJeff Spoelstra – Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate

My #1 tip:  In a hot, high-demand market, look for overpriced homes on the market 30+ days in addition to new listings.

Danielle Alexander - Real Estate Consultant Columbus OHDanielle Alexander – Coldwell Banker

The most overlooked home buying tip is considering new build homes. After viewing 10 used homes, the next step is to buy a new build.

Nicole_MazzolaNicole Mazzola – Andrew Arroyo Real EstateFor our high-end clientele, the operative goal is often a second-home or weekend getaway property. In my experience, many of the best properties in this category are not posted on the open market.It’s crucial to align yourself with a broker who has existing relationships with these homeowners. We also maintain relationships with agents operating on a wider basis, both nationally and internationally; particularly those with clients that own high-end properties here in San Diego and are open to a sale.Over the years, we’ve built or our own private MLS, and connected our buyers with some one-of-a-kind properties using these methods. Our buyers appreciate the private tours and insider knowledge of off-market properties that are an exact fit for them.
Matt Dally - Realtor Nashville TNMatt Dally – Silverpointe PropertiesDon’t be afraid to rent for a year.  Make sure you know what area of town you want to put your roots down.

Jim Sparrow - Calgary RealtorJim Sparrow – (Canada)Canada is a huge country, and each province has slightly different regulations that need to be considered prior to making any property purchase.In Alberta, the only restriction to a US citizen purchasing property is that rural property purchases (country residential or land) is limited to a maximum of 20 acres. No exceptions.There is no title transfer tax on Alberta property purchases (there are in the province of BC and parts of Ontario).We’d always suggest US citizens contemplating purchasing in Canada discuss their particular situation with a qualified local legal council for a full understanding of tax implications. Foreigners (non-residents) will be charged a capital gains tax on any increase in value when you sell the property.As always, real estate is local. Determine where you’d like to purchase and find an experienced REALTOR who knows the local market.

John Linders - CanadaJohn Linders – Remax Nova (Canada)Ask your REALTOR to write up a “Closing Cost Sheet” prior to submitting an offer on a property so that should the offer be accepted and the transaction go “firm”, there will be no surprises on the day of closing.This may not be “out of the box” but it is a step which is quite often missed in the highly charged atmosphere of making an offer. For example, some first-time or out-of-town Buyers may not have heard of “Land Transfer Tax/Deed Transfer Tax” which, in our neck of the woods is 1.5% of the purchase price. This oversight could have the potential of killing a deal at the last minute and land everyone in court or at a very minimum, create bad feelings between the agent and their client.


Financing & Loan Approval

Strategies to get you qualified for a home loan and at the lowest rates.

Shanne Sleder - San Diego Mortgage BrokerShanne Sleder – The Mortgage PlannersIf you are trying to get approved for a loan and are declined at one lender, do not stop! Keep trying.Different lenders have different guidelines or interpretations of guidelines.  Some are willing to make exceptions that others are not.  Mortgage Brokers may have 20 different lenders they work with.  One may decline the loan and another may approve it.  Make sure your broker tries multiple sources before he takes no for an answer.Some Mortgage Brokers may be able to get loans approved that regular banks won’t do.  Some Retail Banks may have programs that only they offer and may allow you to get your loan approved.  There are also Credit Unions that are now starting to offer unique programs that other sources may not have.  There is not always a solution for every situation, but don’t give up until you have tried multiple sources.

Daniel Buksa - Mission Realty GroupDaniel Buksa – Mission Realty GroupThe lowest mortgage rate is not always the best option.  For example, you might be comparing an FHA loan at 4.25% to a conventional loan at 4.5%.  With FHA loans, you generally see high PMI rates, in which case, the conventional loan (even at a higher interest rate) may end up costing less.

Click to Tweet:  “Must see these out-of-the-box home loan tips”

Bill Rayman - Guaranteed Rate MortgagesBill Rayman – Guaranteed RateThe most consistent mistake people make is being unprepared for loan qualification.   The lending environment is rough.  Guidelines have become more stringent.Government compliance has increased hugely and lenders aren’t looking to do loans.  Whether you’re interested in refinancing or planning to purchase in the coming months, you’d do well to consult with a broker to make sure your credit is solid (remove derogatories, reduce debt, eliminate mistakes which appear on 20% of the returns), your assets are sufficient and of the right type to be used, and that employment issues are addressed.
Sean Young - Home Loans, Highlands Ranch COSean Young – First CalMy number one most overlooked, out of the box home buying tip is:The Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC)which is different than the standard mortgage interest deduction many people are already familiar with.If you are a first time homebuyer or buying in a targeted neighborhood the MCC can save you an additional 20% off your annual mortgage interest as a tax credit for the life of the loan, saving you hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.
EW_King_Coastal_MortgageE.W. King – Coastal MortgageJust like the Boy Scouts’ slogan “Be prepared”, you as a home purchaser should be the same.  Spend some time with a mortgage professional and ask for a pre-approval letter.Also insist on receiving a Good Faith Estimate and a Truth in Lending Statement from each lender you have shopped.
Donna Austin - Realtor Pueblo CODonna Austin – Donna Austin HomesPay one extra payment per year to turn your 30 year mortgage into an (approximately) 23 year mortgage.
Shanne Sleder - San Diego Mortgage BrokerShanne Sleder – The Mortgage PlannersIf you are thinking of paying Points to buy down your interest rate, take several factors into consideration.1) Compare the monthly savings on your mortgage from the lower rate versus the cost of the points you are paying.  If it takes longer than 4 – 5 years to recoup the cost, you may want to think again.  2) How long are you going to keep this loan or stay in this home?  If you are going to stay in the home or keep the loan long term, then it may make sense.  But if you are going to move or refinance within 7 years, which is the US average, then paying points does not make sense.  3) Take into consideration inflation.  If you pay points, you are buying down the rate in today’s dollars, to save monthly over time.  Inflation will eat into the savings over time making a savings of $30 dollars a month worth less in the future.  It may not make sense to use today’s dollar to save inflated dollars in the future.
Bill_GassettBill Gassett – Maximum Exposure Real Estate… here’s a late entry I literally read the day this post went live (6/11/14).  I guess this technically makes it 51 experts!I would emphasize how important it is for a buyer to understand the difference between a mortgage pre-approval and pre-qualification.  These two documents are almost always completely different and frankly a pre-qualification does not mean much. With a pre-approval the lender will pull credit, check a buyers employment and verify their income. These things are almost never done with a pre-qualification. A savvy listing agent will recognize the difference between these two documents. This could put the buyer in jeopardy of losing out on a home they really want if there are other buyers bidding at the same time.


Vetting the Perfect Agent

We all know it’s important to find a knowledgeable agent.  But why?  And what should you look for?

Andrew Fortune - RealtorAndrew Fortune – Summit Realty

Don’t Use the First REALTOR® That You Know.

Statistically, most home buyers will use the first REALTOR® that they are introduced to, referred to, or meet at a showing.

Real Estate Agents are taught this information in their first year of training. It encourages new agents to get in front of home buyers and start showing homes because most consumers will not search for a better agent when they are buying a house. This is especially true for first-time home buyers.

Sellers typically pays all the real estate agent commission fees, which is why sellers are more likely to do some research on the agent that they hire. Relatives, church buddies, co-worker REALTORS®, and/or any other referral source can be risky. My advice is to do some research online and search for an agent with good reviews, a strong online presence, and a high productivity rate. It can greatly reduce your chances of experiencing the emotional roller coaster of a bad real estate experience.

For a more information on this topic, check out my article here: Real Estate Tips: Don’t Hire The First REALTOR ® That You Know and be strategic about who you use to represent you in any real estate transaction.


Joe Manausa - Real Estate Tallahassee FLJoe Manausa – Joe Manausa Real Estate

Take the time to learn the process first – The very first contact that we have with most home buyers is when they have found a home they want to see.

This is a mistake. If they build a relationship with a real estate agent based upon a home, they are likely to work with an unqualified real estate agent, and that will cost them money. To better understand how to buy a house, first learn how to hire a real estate buyer’s agent.

Stan MunroeStan Munroe – Royal LePage

I think the #1 most overlooked, out-of-the-box home buying tip is finding the right agent. Most purchasers just call a relative or a real estate office without really looking into the agent’s experience and expertise.

Ask friends or coworkers who they used and what they thought of their agent.  Ask the agent what areas he works and the number of years in the business. How can you get a good deal without the advice or a qualified agent and an experienced negotiator? Anyone can find a cheap house but can they find a house that will have a good resale value in the years to come? Get off on the right foot and the rest will fall into place.


Additional Home Buying Resources and Thanks

That wraps it up for our contributors’ home buying tips.  I’d like to offer a special thanks to all of our contributors.

I can honestly say that after working as a mortgage broker for over 10 years in San Diego, with hundreds of transactions under my belt, I hadn’t heard of a lot of these out-of-the-box tips.  Thanks to all!

Additional resources on my site:

Last, if you enjoyed this post, please share with your friends!

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