Before you ever put an offer on a property, before you even have a house in mind, there are a few things you should already have done. If you’re buying your first home or looking for a property to invest in, checking these steps off first will make your experience more enjoyable, rewarding and profitable.

First things first: Know where you want to buy. St. Louis has a lot of real estate in many great neighborhoods and they all offer somewhat different lifestyles. We all dream about what our lives could be like – go try to find that. If you’re looking for an investment property then keep the same things in mind, but instead think of it as trying to find an area you wouldn’t mind going to work at (since real estate investing is work) and where you either see demonstrated value or strong potential in.

You’ll have to have numbers. With a price range and target mortgage payment in mind you’ll narrow your field down quite a bit. Make sure that your budget includes and overhead for unexpected costs – surprises are part of purchasing property.

Now you’ve picked an area: Go spend time there. Walk around, go to the local shops and restaurants and talk to people who live there. Neighborhoods all have their surprises; take the time to find them out before you’re packing to move or grabbing your toolbox, whichever the case may be.

Who’s With You?

With an area in mind, now is the time to start building your team. The first pick, always, is who you will choose as your realtor. Let me be clear: buying property is a complicated process. There are a lot of small details to keep track of and not working with a realtor, at least as you’re starting the process, is a big disservice to yourself.

So make choosing the right realtor a priority. They’re the ones who will go to battle for you, and ideally your realtor is someone you’re already friends with, or someone recommended by a friend and who has a great reputation. In a perfect world the realtor you’d work with puts your interests first, not their commission. A general rule I’ve found is if they mention their commission more than once, they probably aren’t doing that. The ideal realtor also has their own team, meaning you don’t have to worry about finding the rest of your team; they have mortgage brokers, bankers, inspectors and contractors that they use. You should trust your realtor, and you should trust their team. Otherwise, find those people, again from recommendations and by searching multiple online sources that offer extensive client reviews.

The Right One(s)

The last step is fine-tuning your search for an individual property. How many bedrooms and bathrooms will you need? Do you want your laundry room on the first floor? Do you want a ranch house or a three-story Victorian manor? Do you want a fully-finished basement? There are a lot of older homes in Saint Louis, do you want one that already has central heating and air? Are you willing to do the work if the house needs rehab, or can you pay to have whatever issues that have come up fixed?

That last question has a number of ways you can find an answer. Either you can save money by fixing things yourself or roll the costs of repairs into your mortgage to cover them. If those aren’t options then you’re better off looking for properties that are more or less finished without any rough spots.

You’ll find more questions as you go along, but once you have your answers it will become easier to single out potential properties. Once you’ve found a property you want to make an offer on, read up on the next part of our series, How to Negotiate for Anything (and Real Estate).

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