Why a Home Buyer Should Set Up 3 Search Criteria When Buying a Home

behind-door-3A prospective home buyer or investor might have a clear idea of what he or she wants in the property they’ll buy but the current market brings complexities that make setting up search criteria for this purchase a little more complicated. The difference between bank-owned, short sales and person-to-person transactions bring unique elements to this search process that cannot be dealt with by search criteria alone but that’s where preparation and planning should begin. There are different negotiating tactics, condition of properties and buyer timelines that must be taken into consideration with each of these types of transactions and they all have a bearing on search criteria for a home buyer.

Let’s use an example where someone is pre-approved for a FHA loan and the target purchase price should be around $180,000. Let’s assume that they want to be in their new home at least within 8 months of starting the process and want to buy in Saint Paul, MN (although these principles apply to most markets). How might this buyer benefit from 3 sets of search criteria?

Person-to-Person Sale Search:

In a person-to-person sale, there is no element of the transaction on the seller’s side that requires approval from a bank. The seller is free to negotiate solely on the basis of their own interest. I recommend setting up a search labeled “person to person,” enter your search criteria and be sure to exclude Bank Owned and Short Sale transactions so you know that these are less likely to have the property characteristics and negotiation differences that those transaction types would. Then, I’d investigate the local market data to find what the percentage of the original list price sellers are getting in that area. In this scenario it would be 91.1% (see chart below). If the seller is getting 8.9% less than asking price then you want to make sure that your search criteria is setup for 108.9% of the price you’re pre-qualified for. In this scenario that would be a little over $196,000. Skipping this step could cause a buyer to miss out on the property they’re really looking for.

Bank Owned Sale Search:

With your “bank owned” search, you want to make the same computation. In this case it would be 10.6 percent less than asking price and 110.6% of the pre-approved amount in this scenario would be a top end search criteria of a little over $199,000. When viewing the results of these search criteria, you want to keep a few things in mind.

The properties in the results are more likely to have physical deficiencies due to being abandoned by their previous owner. This can not only add to the costs of owning that home but present complications with financing. In this scenario, many of the properties showing up in the search might have problems that would lead to FHA work orders. Sometimes, even the presence of FHA work orders can kill a transaction as the bank/seller might refuse to do anything about it and won’t allow the buyer to cure the issue either. In this case, the transaction will fall apart. Additionally, depending on the city the property is in, these physical deficiencies can lead to code compliance issues which can present obstacles to being able to occupy the property or even have the title conveyed to the buyer.

Another feature of bank-owed transaction is that typically the contract used is the contract chosen by the bank and it is heavily favored towards their interests. Often times, it’s easier to lose earnest money and many have clauses for monetary penalties for delayed closings. Lastly, these transactions statistically close more quickly than any other type. This means that a buyer’s financing must be well organized and ready to go (not that it shouldn’t be anyway).

These won’t be on all bank-owned properties and I’m not suggesting that a buyer necessarily exclude them but when looking at a list of properties through a separate “bank owned search”, it’s nice to know when one is looking at them what one can expect should they proceed.

Short Sale Search:

Short sales are unique because it’s the only situation where the seller doesn’t have a true profit motive. Sellers in this situation are not allowed to make money so they are often inclined to take the first semi-reasonable offer with a buyer who looks likely to close. This can translate to very good deals for a buyer and that plays out statistically where we find in this scenario that sellers selling short are taking 83.4% of their original asking price. This would mean that we’d take 116.6% of the pre-approved amount and set this search at nearly $210,000. That’s a striking difference from a person-to-person or bank owned sale and can open up some excellent housing possibilities for a buyer who might otherwise have limited their search.

There are two concerns to be aware of with these purchases though. One is that there are sometimes physical deficiencies in these transactions that can be hard to cure if they’re significant since the seller is likely to be cash strapped. Nonetheless, these are typically easier to deal with in a short sale transaction than a bank owned transaction. The other, and most important one, is timeline. In this scenario, if the buyer wants to be in their new home within 8 months and want to consider buying a short sale, they’ll likely need to submit their purchase agreement within 40 days of starting their search since these transactions take the longest to get done (see chart below). The seller’s bank has to approve the transaction and that creates considerable delays. If this buyer has gotten 3 or 4 months into the home searching process with no luck, it might be wise to stop considering short sales as it would likely be unreasonable to get that process done in time to meet the buyer’s deadline.

What you need it a Home Searching Tool:

Different people will have different opinions about this but mine is that it can be tedious for both a buyer and their Realtor to establish these 3 separate searches and make the ongoing tweaks, adjustments and refinements that arise as a buyer narrows down what he or she wants. For that reason, a secure and buyer-driven search tool which allows the buyer to setup multiple searches and modify them as needed. The tool would have to be rich in options available to the buyer as far as crafting search criteria is concerned. Beyond the basics it would have to include the ability to require a search for short sales at the exclusion of bank-owned and person-to-person sales and any other combination thereof. I usually recommend the Home Buyer’s Scouting Report as it meets this need along with many other. I’m sure there are others that do this but I haven’t run into them as of yet.


Today’s market requires a buyer to look at their home search in three dimensions. This can help them find properties they otherwise might not find, avoid transaction inconveniences that otherwise might come up at inopportune times and it can also assist them in managing their home buying timeline. With the assistance of a Realtor in understanding all of the differences in transaction types, the best way to do this is to leverage powerful home searching tools to keep the search process organized and in context.


Percent of Original List Price Taken

Chart 1


Average Days on Market Until Sale

Chart 2

Charles Dailey – Branch Manager, Loan Officer, Certified Military Housing Specialist – CA DOC, MN DOC & WI DFI


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The Home Buyers Scouting Report® is provided directly to the buyer by HBM II, a licensed national real estate brokerage service company, not to or through a lender. The FREE home finding service is provided directly to prospective homebuyers by HBM II and its real estate brokers, as part of their ordinary real estate brokerage services. HBM II, Inc. works cooperatively with other real estate agents across the United States in attempting to find ready, willing and able buyers for homes listed for sale. The role of the Preferred Loan Officer is to assist in determining a comfortable home price range for Home Buyers Marketing II, Inc. (HBM II) to use when it is searching for property listings within the buyer’s search criteria.