Top 10 Tips for Buying a Home in the San Francisco Bay Area

Buying a home in the highly competitive San Francisco Bay Area real estate market is a daunting task for nearly everyone. Tales of heartache abound — “everything goes for over asking price,” “we don’t stand a chance against all-cash offers,” “everything we want is out of our price range,” etc. If you only listened to the naysayers, you might not even set foot in the arena. As a lender who has observed the home purchase market, specifically over the last decade (2009 to 2019), I wanted to share my Top 10 tips for succeeding with your goal of home ownership. No doubt about it, it’s a worthy one despite all the challenges. I’m confident this advice will help you too:

  1. Get financially prepared. Before entering the housing market, establish a household budget and some fiscal boundaries. These will get tested but go through this exercise anyway. Then spend the few hours necessary to organize all of your financial documents amassed over the last two years. You’ll need some of them but reviewing all of them will provide firm financial footing for the next steps.
  2. Choose a lender but avoid the high-cost options that abound. I’m not going to name names, but as a veteran of this industry I can and will tell you which lenders will NOT be competitive for the type of loan you may need. The reason I’m aligned with Guaranteed Rate is because we have many options and we deliver these at competitive pricing. You should not have to settle for either service or rates. You can get both.
  3. Get pre-underwritten. First get your pre-approval with the lender of your choice, but then escalate this to an underwriting approval. It will help your offer when the day comes and it will help you close quickly once in contract. This is competitive leverage you may need.
  4. Choose your real estate agent wisely. If I could give advice to my younger, home-buying self, it would be to always align with a Realtor that knows your target market in a dominating manner. If you understand your finances and the geography in which you want to live, finding a real estate professional who masters that market will put your offers in the best light. A great agent will have a sixth sense about any specific market inside (properties not yet listed) and out (properties on the market, and for how many days and why). Need a referral? Ask me.
  5. Kiss a few frogs. Buying a home is a process and not an event. If you find a property that fits but you’re not 100% sure you’ll get it, I encourage you to take that shot. The process will educate you and the results, assuming you don’t get it, will prepare you for the emotional roller coaster that may come ahead.
  6. Don’t be deterred by the competition. Still, nearly every desirable home we see come on the market will elicit multiple offers. You will need to swim with other, bigger fishes, so be prepared to do so. We see some buyers decide to not even make an offer simply because the listing agent might say there are 12 disclosure packages out on a home. So what? Kiss the frog anyway.
  7. Be the strongest buyer you can be. Take enough shots and you will run up against all-cash buyers, higher offers, faster closes and generally, competition that is the proverbial “bigger, faster, stronger.” All you can do is control what you can control. Be the strongest buyer you can be. That doesn’t mean you can or will be the strongest buyer, period. But you don’t control that last part.
  8. Be flexible. As the Brits might say, you may find a spanner thrown in your works at some point. Perhaps the price point will force you to consider a different mortgage option. Perhaps you’ll have to consider buying before you sell your current home. Whatever the case, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can successfully buy in a tough market, you may be able to improve your loan terms later, if indeed you had to make a sacrifice in order to get in.
  9. Warm socks and shoes will help. Cold feet are a killer. Buying a home in the Bay Area is for grown-ups. Once you’ve had your offer accepted and are in process, take a one-way train to your destination. Cold feet, buyer’s remorse, or whatever you call them are all normal human emotions but keep them in rightful check. Like Napoleon said, “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.”
  10. Expect to win. Sellers, or at least good sellers’ agents, can read your mind. They can tell how many offers you’ve made, how many open houses you’ve visited and whether you are serious about buying their home. Even if you’re in the “fake it till you make it phase” of your search, a great way to convey conviction is to expect to win. An attitude of “this is the place we want and we will get it,” is electric and it transmits directly to the other party.

My wife and I bought our current home in 2016. The market then, as now, was fast, tough and unforgiving. We did not win on our first try, or second, or third. We could not sell our existing home in time to buy the new, so we had to be flexible on the loan program we chose, opting for 15% down instead of a 20% down payment, for example. Even though I am in the mortgage industry, I had to collect and organize all of our financial data, just as my clients do. We were not immune from underwriting scrutiny and requests for more information. We chose a Realtor who was an expert in our target neck of the woods and we learned from our heartbreaks. When an ideal match finally came along, we placed the best offer we could, informed by the experience we’d gained over previous attempts. We were prepared to lose, but we expected to win.

We love the place — one of the best decisions we’ve ever made — and we are not the only ones who’ve had this experience. Far from it. Are you next?

Sittin’ by the dock, 


Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Guaranteed Rate
NMLS: 22343
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959
Marin Office: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960
Berkeley Office: 1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA 94709

*The views and opinions expressed on this site about work-related matters are my own, have not been reviewed or approved by Guaranteed Rate and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Guaranteed Rate. In no way do I commit Guaranteed Rate to any position on any matter or issue without the express prior written consent of Guaranteed Rate’s Human Resources Department.

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