Real estate professionals share advice for home purchasing in 2023

By Sherry Gavanditti 

The Karen Eagle Group of Elite Sotheby’s International Realty in Chagrin Falls. From left: Liz Murphy, Jane Shami, Karen Eagle, Maddie Clegg and Kelsey Wolf.
Photo / Eagle Group

The process of finding and buying a home in today’s market can be overwhelming. And in some instances, it can even be traumatizing if you are unprepared. 

For that reason, Debbie Garson, broker/Realtor with Keller Williams in Pepper Pike; Karen Eagle and Kelsey Wolf with the Karen Eagle Group of Elite Sotheby’s International Realty in Chagrin Falls; and Brian Cantrall, vice president of Chestnut Hill Realty Inc. in Beachwood, share advice for what to consider when buying a home this year, aiming to help you better understand the entire process.


First, look inward: All four real estate professionals said potential home-buyers should reflect on why they want to purchase a home and what their goals are. 

Agents want potential buyers to be honest with themselves. It’s difficult to predict inflation, interest rates, property value, housing stock availability or even future locations of natural disasters. These factors can literally hit home with buyers and agents, the sources say. 

The Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index® found that in February 2023, 44% of consumers reported it was a bad time to sell a home, and 24% expressed concern about losing their job in the next 12 months. 

For that reason, potential buyers are urged to consider all variables and possible outcomes, the professionals explain. Some questions to ask yourself may be: Are your finances solid enough to take on a new home purchase at this time? How is your credit rating? How is your job security? Why are you in the market, and why do you want to move?

Speak to your lender: Garson says she stays on top of favorable rates and lending institutions to educate clients, and recommends they talk to their lenders before working with an agent. “Clients must have a pre-approval letter from a lender, or a proof of funds letter if paying cash,” she says. “I encourage buyers to speak with a lender prior to looking at homes so they have a comfort level and understanding of their financing options.”

Eagle says, “When starting the home search, it is important to figure out how much you can afford.” She also says speaking with a lender can help. “Don’t forget to factor in the money you’ll need for a down payment, closing cost fees, and the cost of remodeling or furniture. Remember that you don’t always have to put down 20%.”

Let professionals help: Garson says to hire an agent, and communicate. “When working with buyers and sellers, I walk through every piece of the process and I’m available 24/7 to answer questions along the way.” She says she wants to talk to all parties involved in the decision making. “I request an interview prior to working with clients. During COVID, and often even now, I find Zoom interviews to be a very efficient and effective way to connect with clients.” 

Zero in on a location: It helps agents better serve homebuyers if they can key in on exactly what buyers are looking for, Garson says. “Knowledge of the marketplace is key. Make sure your agent is familiar with the area you’re interested in,” she advises. “And it helps to have an agent that also has a good relationships with other brokers.” 

She adds that when clients ask to look for homes in a city their broker isn’t familiar with, it’s best to have them give a referral to someone that has expertise and familiarity in that area.

Know what you want and what you will not settle for: Wolf asks buyers, “What are the things that you absolutely need in the house? What are things you can live without? Once you know your must-haves, it can make deciding on a house much simpler.”

Talk to your agent and be open minded: Cantrall says in many cases, a buyer says, “I don’t want to live in a certain community or on a certain street,” or “I don’t like this or that community.”  Then, after their home-shopping journey, they end up buying in that very community. 

“This is a very emotional experience,” he says. “… When a buyer says ‘This is not what I want, I hate that,’ with that strong of an opinion, remember, love and hate are not so different.” 

Garson says to determine your deal breakers before you start looking at properties, and tell your agent about them. Some location considerations may be school district, and proximity to freeways, hospitals, retail and even neighbors. For amenities, consider the type of heating, air conditioning and appliances. Other issues may involve crime rate, bus routes, taxes, possible events affected by global warming and other natural disasters, and possible human-made disasters such as train derailments and toxic companies located nearby.

Do your research: Cantrall says don’t miss out on a great home by not going to see it in person. “That’s one mistake I see a lot of buyers make,” he says. “Everybody looks at school ratings … the neighborhood walk score, square footage, and a lot of buyers use that as a stepping stone if they are looking online to try to narrow by stats. But in my experience, most homes, outside of investors, are purchased with the heart. The stats start to dissipate once you step in the house and it feels like a home, and you think about your life lived in this home. A lot of buyers go into it thinking they’ve got to buy in a perfect state and buy a home that checks all boxes. Forget about the boxes – get in the home and see it in person. The space may look totally different, and you may love some spaces more and overlook some of the boxes that aren’t checked. I would love buyers to change up how they approach home shopping and not discount homes before they see them inside.” 

Cantrall says buyers may also overlook the importance of getting a real, in-person feel for a neighborhood. 

“Good neighbors and good streets can really make a difference in your lifestyle,” he says. “See what the neighborhood is like – are there kids playing, neighbors gardening or taking care of their beds? You may have a built-in community.”

Garson adds that while younger clients especially aim to be efficient and stay on top of inventory online, it’s important to prioritize seeing a property in person. 

“Never buy a home sight unseen,” she says, adding it is up to the purchasers to go through their due diligence process. “Once clients have zeroed in on a home, I research, often by talking with the listing agent, to determine the sellers’ needs so we can make an attractive offer to work toward a meeting of the minds and a win-win for both buyers and sellers. An inspection should be done within five to seven days of making an offer.”

Beware when buying a fixer-upper: The most important things to consider are the time, money and knowledge it will take to redo a home. Garson warns to not fall into over-improving a home as you may not be able to recoup the money when you sell.

Be willing to pay full asking price, or more: In this market, everybody wants a house that’s move-in ready, but you may get a better deal if you compromise, Cantrall says. “It’s a seller’s market, and there are not enough homes on the market for buyers, even in the three or four hundred thousand dollar range,” he says, recommending open mindedness.

He adds, “It’s a stressful time. Look at COVID and how hard the last few years have been with people working and spending more time in their house … they don’t want to live in ongoing construction. It’s very hard for buyers to win, and what ends up happening is the property with shag carpet or green walls … may feel like a good house to buyers. They may be able to get it for less than the asking price, and there may be less competition. Even if they don’t want a fixer-upper … it may be in their best interest to go see a couple of these marginal properties. You may be able to overlook things or stay in a rental or do changes before you move in.”

Have a cushion: Break down all costs, which include: the price of the home, association fees, closing costs, taxes, agent fees, needed changes or improvements, interest rates, down payments, and be aware of any repairs the seller may be responsible for prior to sale, such as unexpected problems found in the home inspection like bad plumbing, a leaking roof or basement flooding, Garson says. 

Beware of scams: The Better Business Bureau warns to check all emails coming in representing your agent or bank, especially if they are asking you to wire transfer money. Call the agent and contact on your bank paperwork, and speak to them directly before wiring any money. Scammers have been reportedly obtaining buyers’ actual closing paperwork and contacting them for money, sometimes getting away with huge down payments from unsuspecting victims.  

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