Guest column by Cindy King, principal broker, RE/Max Key Properties, for The Bulletin Special Projects

You’re new to the area and want to buy a home. What are your first steps? Who can you talk to that you can trust to give you valid, current information? Online searches help, but you might run into a lot of websites that require you to register for information when all you want to do is start researching. Having lived in Central Oregon since 1978, I am very familiar with the area, so when I work with newcomers, my expertise in neighborhoods is very helpful. When you are new to an area, you may not be sure who to talk to. Some call an agent right away based on a referral, while others are so new to the process that it feels overwhelming. Here are some tips that can help.

Asking trusted friends about parts of town is always a great place to start. Everyone has an opinion, so keep in mind their particular filters and focus on their input regarding neighborhoods, rumors of future development, schools, and other important factors. If you haven’t made any friends in the area yet, ask people you see in parks or shops what they think of a neighborhood. You may receive potentially fantastic unsolicited advice and input. For the most part, people are excited to share information about their neighborhood or their town.

Consider whether or not you need to be close to your work or have a particular school district in mind (for instance, many careers in the medical field require being within minutes of work). Keep in mind that with Bend’s fast and steady growth, the Bend–La Pine School District boundaries are redrawn every five to seven years. If it is important for your children to attend a certain school, talk to the school district so you know how to navigate should the boundaries change when your child enters kindergarten.

Pick up a real estate book. You’ll see many listings that may or may not still be available; however, you will get a sense of pricing and learn about particular properties. Keep in mind that not all active listings are featured in these magazines.

What comes next is delving deeper into your requirements. Do you want to be around more owner-occupied homes or non-owner-occupied properties? Do you prefer an older neighborhood or a new subdivision? Do you want to be near parks or do happy, noisy kids make you crazy? Do you prefer close neighbors or need elbow room? Do you have more than three cars or prefer to walk or ride your bike? These queries sound elementary, but trust me, these are extremely important questions.

If you use a real estate app on an electronic device, be aware that the information on these apps will be limited to the property description, sometimes past sales, and sometimes the automated valuation model (AVM), or what the computer program determines the home’s value to be at any given time.

AVM is a service that can provide real estate property valuations using mathematical modeling combined with a database. But a computer won’t know about a recent remodel that was done on a property, future street extensions, or a homeowners’ association that is in dire straits. Drive around the areas you’re interested in exploring. Stop by open houses if you can. Hosting agents will ask questions to start a conversation with you. Some agents will come right out and ask how you would buy this particular home—cash or financing? That bluntness works for some but is a turn-off for others. Don’t feel obligated to play any of your cards until you’re ready. It’s best to have a buyer’s agent at that point, as agents know how to navigate those questions without exposing any confidential information.

Compared to Portland and Seattle, Bend and other Central Oregon communities may seem small, yet there are many great pocket neighborhoods all around. Many buyers have heard of destination resort areas, but to live there full-time is another story. An experienced agent will know about these pockets and after spending time with you, you’ll have the advantage of hearing about potential listings before they hit the market.

Once you meet with an agent or two, you’ll be able to tell right away if an agent will be helpful or if he or she just isn’t clicking with you. Put their market knowledge and skills to work for you. They want to do an excellent job since they live in the same town and embrace professionalism in all aspects of the business. Good luck with your search and happy winter!