You’d think that people would put more effort into planning a home purchase over anything else. Apps like Zillow and Trulia put real estate into the palms of your hands which means you can just as easily look at homes for sale as you can buy clothes online.

As a real estate agent on the Western Slope, I specialize in lifestyle properties like farms and ranches, hunting properties, cabins, and country homes. Compared to a small, residential home, lifestyle properties should require even more planning to ensure you fully understand your rental income opportunities, how your water system will work, and how to maximize the use of your land.

I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of buyers who come to a showing completely unprepared. They don’t know if they have the money to spend, their purchase timeline, or a solid idea of what they need. If you’re looking at properties for sale in Western Colorado, pay attention to this list of things you need to do before you start looking at listings. This will save you, your buyer’s agent, the sellers, and the listing agent ample hours and hassle.

Avoid Sign Shopping

It’s tempting to drive around an area and call the brokers on the for sale signs, but that is the least effective method for finding a property. The agent you see on the sign is the listing agent which means they are contractually obligated to the seller, not you. The listing agent’s job is to attract qualified buyers, not show the property to curious passersby.

If you’re looking at property listings in your areas, you should retain a buyer’s agent to represent you. A buyer’s agent is contractually obligated to you, finding you listings that check your boxes, submitting strategic offers, and helping you negotiate the best deal. You have nothing to lose going this route because the buyer’s agent’s commissions are typically paid by the seller.

Get Pre-Qualified or Pre-Approved For A Loan

Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a loan shows sellers that you’re serious about the property and helps you define your budget and list of must-haves. Chances are, you don’t want to pay in cash for a property and you’re going to need a mortgage loan. Don’t wait until you find a property you like to start the loan application process.

Getting pre-qualified for a loan is the first step and lets you know what price range you can afford. To get pre-qualified, you supply information such as your income and expenses to a mortgage lender to give you an idea of how much money you might qualify for.

Getting pre-approved is a more extensive process and puts you in a better position to make an offer if you find the right property. Pre-approval means that you have gone through a complete review of your credit and financial history and a bank or loan company has agreed to give you a loan up to a certain amount of money. Sellers find pre-approval very attractive because it speeds up the closing process.

Figure Out Your Timeline

Are you thinking far in the future or ready to make an offer tomorrow? If you haven’t gotten pre-approved for a loan yet, then you’re definitely not in the final stages of your home buying journey.

There are so many things to consider when you’re buying a property. If you need to sell your home before you buy, it should at least be listed for sale when you are ready to make offers on a new property. If you’re moving from out of state, you need to have a date on the calendar so you can plan enough time to make an offer, get a home inspection, finalize your loan, and close on the property. Contingent offers are not ideal for a seller, but knowing the buyer is being proactive with a contingent sale will at least give a seller a better sense of security.

Get to Know the Area First

If you’re only in the beginning stages of buying a property, looking at specific listings shouldn’t even cross your mind. By the time you’re ready to pull the trigger on a property purchase, those listings won’t even be on the market anymore.

Instead, solidifying bigger ticket items will help you narrow your search when the time comes. Spend your time touring certain neighborhoods, and getting a feel for where you would want to look for properties. Take note of amenities and access to recreational activities, outdoor spaces, grocery stores, schools, and other things that you need nearby.

Know What You Need In a Property

Knowing what you need in a property will help your buyer’s agent find relevant listings and it will save you a lot of time. Make a list of features that are essential and features that would be nice. If a property doesn’t meet all of the essential criteria, then don’t waste your time looking at it. For example, if you know you need four bedrooms, don’t look at three-bedroom houses because you think you can make it work.

It’s your agent’s job to find you properties that meet your needs. Your job is getting prepared by getting pre-approved for a loan, deciding on a timeline, and arming your agent with detailed criteria, not filtering a list of available properties on Zillow.

Be a Serious Buyer

Think about your home purchase with the utmost detail, preparedness, and introspection. There’s no harm in dreaming while you’re looking at listings online, but never let that be the end-all-be-all for your purchase. Find a qualified buyer’s agent and make yourself a qualified buyer if you want sellers to take your offers seriously. Sellers and their listing agents will thank you.