The quick answer: it’s never too early. BUT, you need to do something else first. Go talk to a financial planner or mortgage professional, because it’s extremely important for everyone to understand their purchasing power. If you have credit cards, student loans and a car lease, which debt should you prioritize so you’re better positioned in the future? Or maybe it’s figuring out how much you need to be setting aside every month for a down payment paid on a home in two years. There is no way to be over-prepared with your personal finances.
As soon as you start finding yourself on Redfin on a Tuesday night (“I’m just curious…”), get pre-approved. All too often, buyers estimate, based on their income and monies saved, what they can afford. But, there are a lot more factors involved. In order to avoid the heartbreak of loving a home out of your financial reach, get pre-approved first. Then start going to those open houses!
Although we advocate getting pre-approved first, finding your agent can happen concurrently. The main benefit of connecting with an agent early in your search is education. An agent can tell you things like where to look based on your pre-approval amount, the most desirable schools, and how the market works.
In the Bay Area, where it is currently a sellers’ market, properties are usually on the market two weeks or less. For buyers, this means staying on top of the inventory and viewing properties soon after they come onto the market. The second benefit is your time saved, because agents can do a lot of the leg work for you. Between emailing you alerts direct from the MLS, sending regular market updates and informing you about properties not on the market (a.k.a. pocket listings), agents can be your eyes and ears on the ground.
Heard the adage “Success is 90% preparation and 10% perspiration.”? It applies to real estate too. To successfully buy a house, we hope that you only have to sweat 10% of the time because you spent the other 90% preparing yourself to compete in the market. Agents can help guide this preparation (and will do some of the sweating for you too).