If you’re pretty sure you will be in the hunt for a new house sooner or later—but have the luxury of being able to wait until you come up with THE perfect one—it’s all too easy to put off doing anything about it until some event or other forces the issue. Experience teaches that using the time at hand to prepare in advance can make the difference between actually landing that dream house and the alternative: just settling.

In case you fit into that category, there are some proven tactics you can adopt to make the most of your current time advantage. You might call these tips for “back-burner house hunting.” Here are four good ones:

  1. Assess your clout. Serious house hunters recognize the advantage of getting pre-approved for a mortgage before they start shopping in earnest. That can be put off until later (and it does involve some financial reporting that carries an expiration date). But the “back-burner” house hunter can usefully assess their readiness from the lenders’ point of view. It’s useful to clear up any credit misreporting, pay down any excessive credit card balance, etc.
  2. Keep a running list of ‘must-haves.’ Make a list of baseline requirements for your ideal house—and revisit it from time to time. Noting items that are added (or deleted) from the list will make it more meaningful—and clarify the difference between absolute gotta-haves and like-to haves!
  3. Drive around—with a purpose. Get to know the neighborhoods and their relative plusses and minuses. When “back-burner” turns into “front-burner” house hunting, this can be a great help in comparing otherwise similar listings.
  4. Buy a notepad and reserve it exclusively for tracking your findings. When your house hunt heats up in earnest, your notes about properties of interest, their list prices and attributes will provide a valuable 3-dimensional atlas of the market that will make you a standout among well-informed buyers.  

Doing some back-burner house hunting gives you a jump on the other prospective buyers. And needless to say, giving me an early call is another step in the right direction!