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 , a Boston-based travel and food writer, has been a Travel contributor for U.S. News & World Report since 2017. Her work also appears in the Boston Globe, Food Network, Forbes Travel, Cruise Critic, Global Traveler, USA Today and various AAA publications, among many others. As much as she loves to travel the globe, she’s always happy to come home and write about all her favorite places in Boston.

She has written several books, including "100 Things to Do in Boston Before You Die" (2nd edition) and "Outdoors with Kids Boston: 100 Fun Places to Explore in and Around the City," and she has contributed to many guidebooks, including Fodor's New England and Fodor's Boston. Kim is an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and Association of Food Journalists (AFJ). Follow Kim on her adventures at www.escapewithkim.com and on Twitter and Instagram.

Recommended Articles

The Guide to Living in a Co-Op

Devon Thorsby | July 9, 2020

Here's what you need to know about how a co-op works differently from traditional homeownership.

What to Do if You Get Evicted

Maryalene LaPonsie | July 8, 2020

With government protections being lifted, many people could face eviction notices in the months to come.

How to Find a Real Estate Agent

Devon Thorsby | June 30, 2020

Here's how to find a real estate agent to help you confidently navigate a home sale or purchase.

Should You Buy a Condo?

Geoff Williams | June 26, 2020

Before you commit to owning a home, consider factors like maintenance fees and proximity to neighbors.

What to Know About Moving to Canada

Devon Thorsby | June 25, 2020

Planning and preparation can make your move to Canada a success.

The Guide to Buying a Home Sight Unseen

Dima Williams | June 24, 2020

While feasible, purchasing a home sight unseen requires more work and attention.

How to Look Up the History of Your House

Devon Thorsby | June 23, 2020

Find out anything from previous owners and environmental records to who died on a property.

Is My Agent Selling My Home Right?

Steven Gottlieb | June 19, 2020

A few questions can help you know if your real estate agent has the skills to sell your home at the right price.

Prepare Your Home for a Hurricane

Kimberly Lankford | June 19, 2020

Hurricane season runs from June through November, and even some small steps can make a big difference in protecting your home.

What to Know About Moving to Austin

Devon Thorsby | June 18, 2020

Find out if you should be one of the many people putting down roots in Austin, Texas.

How to Renovate a House

Devon Thorsby | June 17, 2020

Plan your home remodeling project carefully, and consider your skill level combined with your budget.

How Much Does a Tiny Home Cost?

Devon Thorsby | June 16, 2020

Living in a tiny house may sound like a great way to save, but some details require a hefty investment.

How to Prepare for a Long-Distance Move

Lisa Larson | June 12, 2020

Follow these 10 tips for getting your family and home ready to relocate to a new city or state.

Neighbor Rights Regarding Construction

Devon Thorsby | June 11, 2020

Construction noise can be a nuisance for homeowners and apartment dwellers, so it's important to know your options.

Do's and Don'ts of Buying Vacant Land

Devon Thorsby | June 9, 2020

Buying a home can be complicated, but purchasing land to build on is a whole new ball game.

15 Affordable DIY Backyard Games

Devon Thorsby | June 4, 2020

These at-home projects will get you and your crew outdoors this summer to make the most of your backyard space.

25 Affordable Home Organization Ideas

Devon Thorsby | June 2, 2020

These tips will bring order to your home – and keep it that way.

Outlook for the Housing Market in the Recession

Devon Thorsby | May 28, 2020

Are we in a recession? Here's a look at how the pandemic will affect the housing market.

What to Know Before Moving to Miami

Devon Thorsby | May 26, 2020

Beyond the sunny weather and beaches, Miami offers residents global business opportunities and multicultural attractions.

Should You Move to Florida?

Devon Thorsby | May 21, 2020

Whether you're aiming for South Beach or the Panhandle, there are a few things you should know before making Florida your new home.