Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area? Dreaming of owning your own home?! Well, so did we and it only took us nine months! Well, we finally closed on a house and although it was at times a challenging process, I will share my three tips that may help you. You should also know before we settled on a specific area, we were searching the entire Bay Area from Berkley to Pacifica and the entire South Bay, which is a massive area, but this also helped us find the best balance between commute times and our budget.
I am not a real estate agent and have no prior experience buying a home, these are just my tips that may help you during the difficult process of buying a home in an expensive area. It seems that people have a lot of cash to compete with here, which makes it more competitive. You should also know, we did not have an all cash offer at our disposal, which obviously is a game changer if you do. The more cash you have here, the more attractive your offer, but you can still become a homeowner in this area with patience and creativity. We had a wonderful realtor who helped us navigate the complex process here and in the end are happy homeowners!
1. Check your expectations. When my husband and I were living in a small condo in D.C. (and by small, I mean 950 sf of living space), I made a list of the must-haves in our next place. It included such luxuries as a fireplace, a huge master closet, a double sink vanity in the master bathroom, and a garage. Well the joke was on me, because I had to toss that list right out the window here. Homes are tiny here in the Bay Area and price per square foot is high. Lucky for us though, we were accustomed to living in tight quarters.
So instead of focusing on all the musts I had thought I wanted, we simply reduced our expectations to three things – at least two bedrooms, a garage, and a yard. This would have to do, as we did not have a budget to be picky in this market. Also, be flexible with where you want to live. Certain areas area little less competitive than others, which you can use to your advantage.
We also started biding on homes that were under what we were pre-qualified for so that we could overbid. In the area, we were searching, it seemed most homes would get three or four bids and at least 10-15% over the asking price.
2. Be proactive. In addition to working with our realtor and checking in weekly to see what was new, we also checked the MLS ourselves almost daily. Our realtor would tell us which homes we had to see this weekend and we would ask her about other properties that were newly listed. An experienced realtor should set up a portal for you, where homes in your budget, are pushed directly to your page.
You need to be the one though constantly initiating conversation and interest! Home buying in this area is a huge time commitment. You will find yourself at open houses all day on Sundays or calling your agent the minute a home is listed to get a private showing. So you might as well make it a fun experience and plan a day of it. Try a new restaurant in the area before the open house or check out a local park or museum.
3. Write a personal letter. In my opinion, with this being such a competitive market, it is important to let the owners know who you are and what the house would mean to your family. Yes, some owners may not care, but someone who lived in a home for 40 years and loves their neighborhood and home may want to know who you are and how you will care for their home. Keep your letter to one page, write about who you are, the feelings you have about the house, and your vision for a future in that home. We did not include a photo, but I have heard other people included a photo with their letter to make it more personal. Just be honest and heartfelt, and it might speak to the owners.
With patience, lower expectations, and a little luck you can find the perfect home for your family. The minute we walked into the open house of our new home, I finally had that feeling that this was the house for us. I loved the layout and coziness of the home. You could tell it had been well-loved and we were very aggressive with our offer as a result. We were so thrilled when the owners accepted our offer and we are so thankful we now have a home of our own here.
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