Having access to an MLS database can put you one step ahead of the the market in pursuit of a home. So what exactly is and MLS? MLS stands for “Multiple Listing Service” and it’s a database of homes or properties for sale. These databases typically populate major real estate listing sites like Realtor.com, Redfin.com and the many others you see online but don’t always hold all of what’s available in the market. Generally speaking, it’s always smart to work with a broker, since they have direct access to more listings and will help you jump on great opportunities.

So how do you navigate real estate listings, find the best deals, and win big? I’ll take you through a couple points below:

Have your ducks in a row

Simply put: get pre-qualified. This should be your first step if you’re seriously considering a home because it’ll impact your next moves in a few ways. Being pre-qualified means a lender has evaluated your financial picture, including income, debt, and assets and feels that you’re qualified for a home at a certain price. Sellers want to know you’re serious and have pre-qualified for a mortgage, and one step further, have a pre-approval letter from the lender as well. In very competitive markets, a buyer with a mortgage can be at a disadvantage compared to partial or all cash buyers. All cash deals are quick and easy and don’t involve outside lenders to help the buyer. So, the lesson here is to have that pre-qualification, and if you want to make yourself shine a bit brighter, a pre-approval letter from the mortgage company willing to back you financially.

Be in front of the pack

Coming across a fresh listing will hopefully put you ahead of the competition. But don’t think a quick pick up out of the gate will give you a great deal. New listings tend to be priced high, with the idea of a seller decreasing the sale price over time depending on buyer interest and comped properties in the area. However, there’s always a chance of properties priced far below their actual value! In a very competitive market, these little blips on the radar can happen, so a ‘shark’ like attitude is necessary when pursuing listings. Additionally, you never know the circumstances of the seller; there may be underlying reasons as to why they are pricing a home so low.

Be the last

So I first spoke of being ahead and now I’m talking about being last? I hope to not confuse you, but there’s a reason for this. According to a recent Forbes article, selling a home can take time, and could cause a great deal if isn’t sold in a timely manner. In some cases, sellers could own two homes, two mortgages, and a financial burden rising every month. Because of this, prices are lowered and good deals pop up. Ask your real estate agent to send over properties past 6 months on the market, with the hope of finding one of these great deals.

These are just a few ideas to consider when starting the search for a home. Having a real estate broker, a good idea of your financial situation, and an understanding of how to approach listings in the MLS database will set you in a solid place for finding a great home.