Maybe you were priced out by the “Covid Rush” to the suburbs and are planning to relaunch your search next year. Maybe you’ve long planned to leave New York City for greener backyards and more square-footage. Or, maybe you’re staying in the City but have the resources for a weekend house. Whatever your motivations, if you plan to buy a home in 2021, read on!

Traditionally the “kick-off” to the spring real estate market has been Superbowl Sunday, but this year, activity could pick-up weeks before that thanks to seemingly insatiable demand.

You’ve likely heard this is one of the most competitive markets for buyers in recent history. What does that mean? You need to be organized with your financials in order and ready to “pull the trigger” as soon as you find a house you love.

  • Decide what you want

    Are you set on a certain town, have you narrowed it down to a few places, or do you have no idea? Now is the time to do your research. Talk to friends and friends-of-friends, calculate commute times (the vaccine is finally here, after all!), check median sales prices. Suburban Jungle can be a good place to start if you’re completely unsure where you want to move, as they offer free services to help “pair” you with the towns that best fit your checklist. The New York Times’ “Living In” archives have good information on towns in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that include everything from commute times to school rankings.

    With colder weather here and few indoor activities at the moment, now is also a good time to take some drives and check out towns and neighborhoods if you have a car.

  • Determine what you can afford

    This sounds obvious, but in a time when desirable houses in in-demand locations are getting multiple offers within days of hitting the market, you should know your absolute limits. You don’t want to be in a bidding war under pressure to submit your best and final offer ASAP and not have completely figured out what you can afford.

    Mortgage rates remain at their all-time lowest and could slide even further in 2021, so it’s a good time to borrow cheaply! Sit down with your partner and family members and have a frank discussion about financials. How much money do you have available for a down payment? Will you be borrowing or receiving any money from family? If so, have those discussions now and the logistics figured out.

    There are mortgage calculators all over the web to help you determine how much you can afford to borrow. 

    Making a spreadsheet of current and projected expenses can help you budget for the future as well.

  • Get pre-approved

    Houses are getting snapped up and going to contract days after being listed. Being pre-approved for a mortgage can help your chances of getting an accepted offer. Many sellers and their agents want to see a letter of pre-approval from a lender, or even a letter from your bank with proof of funds along with your offer.

    Shop around now, if you have a sense of how much money you intend to borrow to purchase your home, you can compare rates from different lenders. You can also use a mortgage broker.

  • Make a wish list/Can live without list

    Make a list of all the things you want in your home. Know that it is very unlikely you will get them all! No house is perfect, and unless you have an unlimited budget you will likely have to make certain compromises. Decide what compromises you’re willing to make and which you aren’t, it will help you tailor your search. But also know that it’s easy to get hung up on features you think you need. My husband was set on having a basement, so for the first year and a half of our search we didn’t look at houses that didn’t have a basement. We ended up buying a house that has play space and storage elsewhere, and guess what? We are very happy!

  • Find a realtor you trust

    For full disclosure, I am a Realtor. But having been on a verrry long, two-plus year-long house hunt, I can also say we couldn’t have done it without ours. Yes, sites like Zillow and often have real-time updated listings, but a Realtor who knows his or her community well and is well-connected can make all the difference. Often agents get advanced notice of new properties before they hit public Multiple Listing Sites, and can get you in to see a house early. The agent should be able to get information on the property that’s not readily available to the public, like whether it has all the legal certificates of occupancy (there are issues with basements and additions all the time!). The agent should know alot about the neighborhoods you’re interested in and be able to provide data to help you make an informed offer when the time comes.

    If you don’t have an agent, now is the time to start making calls. Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Yes, top, established agents whose names are at the top of a Google search are great at what they do, but they also may have a lot of clients, and less time.

    Make sure the agent is “available” and responds to calls and texts right away.

    Responsiveness is KEY  in this crazy market, when a few hours can make a difference in terms of getting your offer in on a property.

    Lastly, home buying is emotional, you will probably change your mind a few times before you are ready to commit, so you also want to find someone who is patient and won’t pressure you to make any decisions you’re not ready to make.

This post was contributed by Stacey Delikat, a television journalist and licensed real estate agent with Houlihan Lawrence, where she specializes in helping families make the move from New York City. Formerly a resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she now lives in Riverside, Connecticut with her two young children and husband. Contact Stacey at if you would like to have a conversation about moving.