Top 7 Tips for First-Time Buyers Who Are Coming Up From Manhattan to Westchester

Most of the time I've been a Realtor I've been working with buyers, and here's the bottom line:  in a market like today -- a seller’s market --  you have to know how to succeed as a buyer. So I’ve put together my top 7 tips for buyers that don’t know Westchester in 2016 and want to find a dream house here.

Wouldn't this home set you up in style?

Tip #1 - Ask about the community so you know the real deal

If you are from out of town, you’re making a lifestyle choice as much as a house choice. So lean on your Realtor to show you around the town or city you’re exploring. Ask them to show:


  • Where’s the train station
  • How close is the nearest supermarket
  • The restaurants and nightlife, for example, a great eatery for foodies, or a place to grab a drink and enjoy the sunset. You shouldn’t have to go to Yelp for that info
  • Where are the schools and what’s with transportation.

It may seem self-evident that these questions will come up, but if you don’t ask directly you may find you have seen 6 great houses but have no idea whether your kids are going to school by bus or carpool. It does matter. Make it a point to ask your Realtor for the insider’s tour.


Tip #2 - Prioritize your dream house's checklist

Your dream house may be able to satisfy your top three needs, or even your top four needs. But if your list of must-haves is as long as the wedding train of a newly-gilded queen, then you are not being realistic. You need to prioritize what you really need, and consider the other features of a house to be negotiable -- in your price range, you may get some of them but not all of those second-priority features.

I have worked with buyers who simply did not understand this. For example, one family of four was waiting six months for a place to come on the market that had:

  • a finished attic
  • a finished basement
  • three good-sized bedrooms, and
  • a totally renovated, gorgeous kitchen.

And it had to be in their wallet (of course!).

And it had to be in one single school district that they were keen on.

What happened?

When such a house was listed, I got them in immediately but they objected to the lack of privacy on the back patio. They declined to go after it.

They are still renting, as I write this.


Tip #3 - Hire a professional Realtor and LISTEN to their guidance

This is a seller’s market, which means that for a well-priced house in a good neighborhood that features an attractive flow and good condition, there are going to be multiple buyers. There may be bidding wars, and it may even go over asking. Let your Realtor give you guidance as to what you should offer. Most likely, when they do the comparables they will give you a range for the house’s value. Listen to them. If they say you can safely offer from $x to $y, that means the house is worth that.

If you hire a professional and don’t listen to them, it is surprising.

Now, there may be circumstances where buyers lose a house because they cannot offer what a seller seeks. Or they lose a house because they simply don’t see the value. But sometimes, buyer’s ignore their Agent’s advice. Which is okay, they know best. But they don’t know everything. That’s why they hire a professional Buyer’s Agent.


Tip #4-Have your mortgage pre-approval in hand

I don’t mind taking a person, a couple or a family out once to see some places. Yet it takes less than an hour to get a mortgage pre-approval, and with a pre-approval in hand, you are that much closer to closing your deal.

Looking at places beyond your budget will sour your taste for what is realistic to buy.

Looking at places without a mortgage pre-approval may convey that you are not serious. Don’t get me wrong -- casually looking is okay. But when you really want to move, handing your Realtor a mortgage pre-approval will show your Realtor you are ready, willing and able to move forward.


Tip #5 - Be prepared to expand your geographic footprint

In this market of low inventory, I usually recommend that you don’t get your heart set on one town. Instead, consider an area that encompasses enough housing stock to have a range of options. When inventory is low, you will be sweating bullets if a house you like only comes on once every few months.

In a County like Westchester with so many excellent school districts and so many attractive towns and bustling villages and cities, there may be more possible places to live than the school district that your suburban friend is touting.

Consider two towns or even three, rather than a single neighborhood.


Tip #6 - Book a time and agree on the houses by Thursday night

Professional Realtors who are experts in their area are busy, and while they may be able to move their schedule around somewhat, the reality is that they are juggling multiple buyers and showing restrictions set by sellers. So decide by Thursday night when you are going out to see houses.... and then your Realtor still has Friday to firm up the home showings. If you delay, chances are that your Realtor of choice -- your most valuable partner -- will already be booked. Or, you can't meet the required advance notice. You may lose out through no fault of your own.

Plus, if you settle on when you are viewing properties, you come across as a more serious buyer. Chances are you will more likely get to see what you wish, when you find it convenient, if you have your ducks lined up by Thursday night.


Tip #7 - Take it in stride, if you lose a house know there is always another Westchester home for you


I know it is heartbreaking when what you seek seems elusive. But there is indeed a house for everyone. And you will find your hidden gem even if you lose one en-route. Do not give up! Your Realtor should always be letting you know, “if it’s not this one, there will be a next!”