Boston’s highly competitive real estate market, which is especially stressful for potential buyers, is not for the faint of heart. While it’s commonplace for a Friday open house to lead to multiple offers by Monday and a signed contract days later, would-be buyers have to be as prepared as possible before they step into what could become their new home.

With the spring buying season right around the corner and the market heating up, now’s the time to make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row so that you’re ready to make a competitive offer when the time comes. U.S. News spoke with some of Boston’s top real estate agents to ask what steps homebuyers need to take to ensure they’re ready to buy. Here’s what they recommend.

[Read: A First-Time Homebuyer's Guide to Boston.]

Pick the right real estate agent.

Brian Clinton, Realtor with Donahue Real Estate Co., says every potential buyer should interview multiple real estate agents to find the one who's the right fit. Clinton, who specializes in the Greater Boston area, says he most likely wouldn’t take on a client looking for a house in Cambridge since that’s not his area of expertise.

“A Realtor should be able to add value,” Clinton says. “To not only advise you, but to be able to answer specific questions about neighborhoods, like what the schools are like and how close is public transportation.”

[Read: 4 Real Estate Trends to Know Before Selling Your Home in Boston.]

Agents should be able to point to their experience and explain where their strengths and weaknesses lie. “Transparency is important," says Redfin real estate agent Nancy Schiff. She also says a good agent should have a team who can tour homes on their clients' schedule, and should be prepared to respond quickly to their questions, understand what they are looking for and write offers quickly. In all, homebuyers should be able to trust the agent has their best interests at heart, she says.

To find an agent to fit your needs, it's good practice to look at comprehensive online reviews and talk to friends for referrals, Schiff says.

Get preapproved.

Many potential buyers think getting prequalified for a loan is enough, but in a hot market like Boston's, getting preapproval from a lender gives you an advantage.

Michael Stein, another Redfin real estate agent, says potential buyers who go that extra step to get their financials in order have a “leg up,” and sellers have more confidence in those buyers.

Schiff agrees, saying, “In Boston, it’s so competitive, you have to be ready. Buyers need to work with a lender to make sure everything is in place. If you can get your financing secure, you can move with a quick decision.”

Another reason to speak with a lender is to really understand what you realistically can manage to pay for a home. Clinton says, “Setting realistic expectations is important. You might not qualify for what you think you can, but once you have an amount, you can narrow your search area based on your preapproval price.”

[Read: 6 Tips for Selling Your Boston Home in Winter.]

Do your homework.

Everyone has to start somewhere, but simply driving around to open houses and looking at endless online listings isn’t exactly practical. Home seekers need to at least narrow down what they're searching for before they actually start looking in person.

Clinton advises his clients to make a list of needs versus wants. “You may want a garage, but do you need it?” he says. “It may not be practical.”

Stein says it's good to research things like neighborhoods, schools, shopping centers, public transportation and tax rates in advance, if those things will influence your decision.

Coming up with a realistic list can help focus your search. If you must have a driveway but don’t care about schools, or if you don’t care about having a yard but need two full bathrooms, that’s important to know in advance.

“The more things they can take away, it allows you to see what obstacles are in the way,” Schiff says. So if a client is averse to living next door to a cemetery or too far from public transportation, for example, she can easily cross those properties off her list of houses to visit. In such a tough market, it's important to come in with as much knowledge as possible.

Looking for a real estate agent in Boston? U.S. News’ Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who’s most qualified for the job.

Tags: real estate, home prices, housing market, Boston


Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based editor, journalist and travel writer. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Travel + Leisure and USA Today, among others. She has also written and contributed to several guidebooks.

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