Timesaving tips for home buyers

House hunting can be fun, but it can also be very time-consuming. Home buyers often find themselves scouring real estate listings in free moments at work, and spending countless hours touring homes. However, there are many steps you can take to save time and reduce stress along the way. Here are ten quick tips for streamlining your home search.

Know the costs up front. Before you dive into real estate sites, use a free mortgage calculator to figure out all your monthly expenses, including estimated monthly payment, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and more.

Get documents together. Talk with a lender to get a preapproval letter outlining the loan amount and terms they can offer you. Ask your lender what documents they’ll need once you apply for a mortgage. This way you can have everything ready as soon as you find the home you want.

Learn about the home buying process. Google terms like “free home buyer guide” and you’ll find plenty of free resources to familiarize yourself with buying a home. These can be handy for first time buyers as well as those who might want a refresher on the home buying process.

Set up your real estate team. Ask friends, family, and colleagues for recommendations of buyer’s agents, home inspectors, mortgage brokers, and real estate attorneys ahead of time so you have your real estate team lined up early on. Facebook, Twitter, and customer review sites like Angie’s List are also helpful when evaluating providers. You can read existing reviews or ask for advice from others who recently bought a home.

Choose a community first. It’s easy to get drawn in to gorgeous homes online but if you’re new to an area, it’s best to choose the communities of interest to you first before looking at individual homes. Here are some places to start:

- Do a search on Google or Facebook for terms such as relocation + the city you’re interested in, and you’ll find plenty of forums where you can find information and ask specific questions about the area.

- Check out the town’s official website.

- See if there’s a Chamber of Commerce for the town or region. They often have a lot of local information.

- Contact someone at the town’s newcomers or mom’s club to ask their advice. They’re often more than willing to share the pros and cons about the area.

- Enter the town or city name in YouTube and you’re likely to find community videos that give you a feel of the area.

- Check out school ranking sites. For example, Boston Magazine’s annual ranking of the top high schools in the state highlights student/teacher ratios, per pupil spending, graduation rates, AP classes and more. U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek also produce annual rankings of top high schools around the country. You can also find parent reviews at sites like Greatschools.org.

Get a community tour. Once you’ve selected a handful of communities that look like a good fit, find a local realtor who can show you around the area. This might include a tour of the town center, popular neighborhoods, and local amenities of interest. This way you’ll get a real sense of the community, and have an opportunity to ask questions along the way to decide whether the town is a good fit.

Set up a property comparison tool. Many real estate companies offer free online property comparison tools you can use to keep track of homes you’re considering. Often people like to take along their iPad to showings and jot down notes in the property comparison tool the moment they leave the house so it’s fresh in their mind. They write down likes/dislikes as well as any outstanding questions about the home.

Check the satellite. Before visiting a home, click on the online map to get a satellite and map view of the area. It’s a quick way to identify potential pitfalls (for example, nearby high tension wires) that would rule the house out for you. This way you can focus on touring the homes that will work best for your needs.

Find a buyer’s agent who’ll do some legwork. Choose an agent you feel comfortable with and who’s willing to preview homes for you. This can save you considerable time in your home search.

Get a mobile app. Many real estate companies offer free mobile applications to make house hunting easier. This way if you find yourself driving through a neighborhood you love, you can instantly access details and photos of homes for sale there.

Do you have a real estate question? Contact our real estate blogger Leslie Mann, c/o Hopkinton Crier, 33 New York Ave, Framingham, MA 01701 or realestatequeries@yahoo.com. She’d be glad to answer your confidential questions here. Follow her at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/onthemove. Mann is a real estate agent with Hallmark Sotheby’s International Realty in Hopkinton.