Buying a House in San Diego? Local Real Estate Agents Share 15 Tips First-Time Buyers Need to Know

Updated on April 10th, 2023

Reading Time: 7 minutes

San Diego is one of the most desirable places to live in the United States, and for good reason. With its pristine beaches, year-round sunshine, and thriving job market, it’s no wonder that so many people dream of owning a home in America’s Finest City. However, the process of buying a house in San Diego can be overwhelming, especially for first-time buyers. 

To help you get started, we turned to some of Redfin’s top Agents and Partner Agents in San Diego to help you navigate the process with confidence. Whether you’re a local renting an apartment or an out-of-towner hoping to own your first house in San Diego, these tips will help you find the perfect place to call your own.

San diego

1. Get pre-approved for a mortgage

My advice to first-time homebuyers is to find a good loan officer and get pre-approved, fully underwritten approval is best. Work with that loan officer and their agent to understand what timeframes they’re comfortable with in an offer. Sellers want shorter contingency periods so they don’t waste time on failed escrows and are more comfortable that the deal will close on time. By shortening these contingency periods you’re making your offer stronger and your offer will look better to a seller. – Robert Cenzer | Redfin Agent

Don’t jump in and start house hunting until you have been pre-approved by your local bank or lender. You’ll want to know what your monthly mortgage payment is so you can fix your monthly household budget. This way you’ll know exactly how much house you can afford. You can make a stronger offer when you find the home you really like. – Gary Giffin | Redfin Partner Agent, AARE

2. Know the costs associated with buying a house in San Diego

I can’t stress enough how important it is for a buyer to talk with a lender and really understand the costs of the down payment, closing and monthly payments. Once we have that squared away, they can shop with confidence. Plus, once we have a budget setup, I can help set up a saved search that’ll hone in on what could work for them.  With the Redfin app, they’ll be one of the first to know when a new listing pops up in an area they want to be in. – John Copeland | Redfin Premier Agent

If you’re buying a house in San Diego, you’ll need to factor in additional costs like property taxes, home insurance, and potential homeowner association fees when calculating your budget. John Varon | Redfin Partner Agent, Avaron Realty 

3. Learn about different San Diego neighborhoods

When considering buying your first home in SD, I advise clients to start by talking to a local realtor to get a sense of which San Diego neighborhood might be a good fit. You’ll supplement that with online research to get a better sense of each area and how much you can expect to pay monthly. – Patrick Cohen | Redfin Partner Agent, Coldwell Banker Realty

4. Ensure you have sufficient savings 

Make sure you have enough savings in your bank account for a down payment and closing cost plus reserves.Joe Nichols | Redfin Partner Agent, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties

saving for a mortgage

5. Consider speaking with multiple lenders

Talking to different lenders when buying a home allows homebuyers to compare different loan options and interest rates. Each lender may offer different rates, fees, and terms, so it’s important to shop around to find the best deal. Different lenders may specialize in different types of loans, such as FHA loans, VA loans, or jumbo loans. Each lender may have different qualification requirements, such as credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio. By talking to multiple lenders, homebuyers can find the lender that best fits their unique situation and loan needs. – Sez Sezer | Redfin Partner Agent, Douglas Elliman Real Estate

6. Be prepared to navigate through high prices and high interest rates

In some areas, we’ve seen prices dip a little bit and some of the properties are staying on the market for a longer period of time. This can be a great opportunity to ask the seller for buyer credits to close and use those credits to buy down their interest rate, in turn lowering their monthly payments. Buying down a high interest rate is a great way to get the monthly payment down to a number that’s more affordable for first-time buyers. If the rate buy down puts the interest rate 1.5% lower than without the buydown, it can make a big difference in your monthly payment. – Steve Cazel | Redfin Partner Agent, AARE

7. Get a home inspection

For those buying a house in San Diego, I always recommend a home inspection. Preferably by a licensed contractor with inspection certifications, such as CREIA and/or ASHI. The state of California doesn’t license home inspectors so being a member of one of these organizations that require certain standards, helps give the buyer some additional criteria in choosing a home inspector. Spending the hundreds of dollars on the home inspections can save thousands of dollars for the homebuyer. – Virginia Edwards | Redfin Partner Agent, AARE

8. Find your dream team of San Diego experts

As a first-time homebuyer, there’s nothing more important than getting your “team“ in order upfront. This means finding a realtor and a loan officer to have in your corner to walk you through the process from start to finish and to look out for your best interest. Some agents, including myself, will have a comprehensive consultation with each client to evaluate their wants, needs, and timeline to get the full picture of their situation. This allows us to help homebuyers in the most effective way possible. – Jon Fields | Redfin Partner Agent, Keller Williams San Diego

Working with a Redfin agent

9. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole

Don’t settle and be patient because finding the right house is so important. Try not to enter each house scrambling for a way to make it fit, keep walking until the magic starts to happen. When the right house comes, you’ll know it and feel it. Carol LaRosh | Redfin Partner Agent, Compass

10. The San Diego market is competitive, be persistent 

The San Diego housing market is tough for first-time homebuyers right now with buyer competition, high prices and rising rates, but there’s still a lot of opportunity that buyers can capitalize on. In markets like these especially, it’s vital to act quickly and be prepared ahead of time on the lending side of things. Focus on something you can see yourself in for the next 2-7 years in an area that will appreciate the best of what your city has to offer. – Sara Swikard | Redfin Partner Agent, eXp Realty

11. Remember, your first home may not be your forever home

Remember that your first home doesn’t have to be your forever home, but rather a stepping stone to start building equity and get your foot in the door. Investing in real estate is a long game, so the sooner you start the better off you’ll be in the long run. Also, keep in mind that inventory is limited here in San Diego. With homes selling quickly, it’s important to be decisive and have your wants/needs list ready to go once you start house hunting. – Mark Seaberg | Redfin Partner Agent, Big Block Realty

Beige colored stucco home with green shutters

12. Be prepared to compromise

Buying a house in San Diego can be very competitive. Be realistic and be ready to make some compromises. When it comes time to make an offer on a home you love, talk with your Realtor about offer strategies that are working in the current market. It’s not always about the price of the home that gets the accepted offer. A good Realtor will have experience in different markets and a good team of supporting professionals to make sure you are successful. – Kevin Endres | Redfin Partner Agent, Real Broker LLC

13. Take advantage of the positives in the market

I know the conversation craze in the real estate market today is focused on higher rates, but there is a positive side. Buyers are seeing less competition (for the most part), are able to negotiate more repairs and credits, and if you plan ahead, you can refinance later down the road. – Jeanne Liebel | Redfin Partner Agent, Real Broker LLC

14. Remember that refinancing is always an option 

It’s best to stay focused on home ownership even when rates have increased. If you can qualify for a home ownership in San Diego then you’re golden. You can always refinance when rates drop and enjoy not dealing in highly competitive buyers markets while searching for your home purchase (as we were in 2021.) It’s almost always better to own than rent especially with rental rates being so high today. – Franchesca Meram | Redfin Partner Agent, Avenu Realty Group

15. Understand the current state of the San Diego market 

As a first-time homebuyer in San Diego, it’s important to be aware of the current market conditions, which are characterized by high demand and low inventory. It’s also important to be flexible and prepared to act quickly when a desirable property becomes available. With the right strategy and support, however, it’s still possible to find your dream home in San Diego’s competitive market. – Alex Sidransky | Redfin Partner Agent, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties


Partner Agents work for traditional brokerages, but have teamed up with Redfin to help customers buy or sell a home. Customers are connected with partner agents when Redfin Agents are experiencing exceptionally high customer demand or if a home is outside our direct service area

If you are represented by an agent, this is not a solicitation of your business. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice from a medical provider, licensed attorney, financial advisor, or tax professional. Consumers should independently verify any agency or service mentioned will meet their needs. Learn more about our Editorial Guidelines here.

Jenna Hall

Jenna is part of the Content Marketing team and enjoys writing about home improvement projects and local insights. Her dream home is a modern-style house surrounded by nature.

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