You don’t want to mess around on a decision as big as the place you’re going to call home. When you buy a house, you’re making a long-term commitment to that house and everything that comes along with owning a home.
How do you know when you’ve found a place that’s commitment-worthy? Sometimes, a place will feel like home the moment you pull up to the curb. More likely, though, it’ll take some time for you to find something you like, with the process perhaps becoming more and more frustrating with each “not quite right” house you view.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do and tips to keep in mind that can make the process a little smoother.
Make Sure It Checks Off Some Essential Boxes
Before you start picturing yourself hanging out in the spacious living room or grilling out on the back porch, there are a few crucial tests your prospective new home should pass before you even consider purchasing it.
- Check the roof: Take a look at the roof and check for any signs of damage or disrepair.
- Look at the plumbing: Look under sinks and behind toilets for signs of water damage or leaks. Be on the lookout for telltale discoloration of ceilings and walls as well. Check the basement for a mildew smell.
- Do research on the area: Is the pond behind the house prone to flooding? Is it a safe area? How far away would you be from the nearest hospital?
- Test everything: Flip all the light switches and flush the toilets. Turn on the shower. Check to see if any of the windows stick. Turn on the tap and taste the water. Make sure everything works.
Figure Out Your Priorities
When searching for your ideal home, the “where” is going to be your most crucial factor, according to Jen Nelson, a REALTOR® based in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Well, the old real estate saying is true, ‘location, location, location.’ I’ve had home buyers find their absolute dream house – but as I try to explain it’s not the right location, they scoff. Until they see it’s by a railroad, a rundown part of town or, worse, a dump,” she said.
One of the reasons location is so vital is that you want your home’s value to grow over time. Even a great home might not appreciate as well in a less ideal area.
“A beautiful home overbuilt for the neighborhood is going to have a hard time appraising, a hard time maintaining value and can be a poor investment long term,” Nelson said.
A good location can give you more than just a higher likelihood that the home’s value will increase; it can mean a tolerable commute, an easily accessible downtown area with restaurants and shopping, access to good schools and more. Or it can mean the exact opposite if you’re looking for a home in a more secluded area, far away from the hustle and bustle of town. Finding the right location for your needs will likely make you much happier in the long run.
Nelson recommends making a list of “non-negotiable must-haves,” such as being in a good school district, being near work or having a certain number of bedrooms. Then she has her clients come up with a wish list of things they’d like, and they try to match up their needs and wants with their budget and what’s available in the current market.
When creating your own list of needs and wants, consider your lifestyle. Do you need a house with a lot of yard space? Do you spend a lot of time in the kitchen? You might not get everything you want, but having a list will help point you and your agent in the right direction.
Consider Old vs. New
Do you see yourself in a beautiful older home or a more modern, chic abode? There are pros and cons to each, depending on what you’re looking for and your lifestyle.
You’re likely going to have to funnel more money into maintenance and renovation with an older home, which may have outdated and inefficient heating, cooling and plumbing systems.
Nelson points out that if a home is considered historic, you’ll be subject to any national and local guidelines for historic homes, such as not being able to make any additions to the home without approval from your local historical office. However, she said, there are a couple benefits to owning a home in a historic district.
“There are often grants available if you keep within historically accurate guidelines. And sometimes your property tax bill is cut – by as much as 50%!” Nelson said.
Older homes can be good for people who want to be located in a well-established community that’s close to shopping and restaurants. They also tend to have better quality construction than more recently built homes.
Look at how well maintained the property you’re looking at is, whether it’s an old home or a more modern one. Think about any renovations you would have to make if you were to purchase it. Consider the actual cost of maintaining an older home, not just the asking price.
The house you end up with, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer, probably isn’t going to be your dream house.
It’s imperative that you end up with a house you’re going to be happy living in, but you might also have to adjust your expectations if the home you want isn’t one you can afford.
For people who are new to the housing market or have smaller budgets, a starter home may be a more realistic and advantageous choice. Starter homes aren’t great if you need a lot of space, as they’re often fairly small, but they tend to be more budget-friendly and require less upkeep. You also won’t need to spend as much money filling it up with furniture, and you’ll likely have smaller utility bills.
It helps to know your budget from the get-go. While you may be itching to start house hunting and comparing kitchen backsplashes, you should first get approved for a loan so you know what price range you’ll be looking at. This will help narrow down your choices and make the process a little less overwhelming, and it will make you look more serious in the eyes of the seller, which can only help your chances if you decide to make an offer.
You also want to make sure you’re thinking about your future finances. Even though a house on the more expensive end of your price range might seem worth it, take the time to think about whether you’ll still feel that way when you’re making your monthly payments.
Find out what the area’s property taxes are and, if you can, what the seller typically spends on utilities.
Keep in mind that homeownership very often comes with a menagerie of unexpected costs, some of them significant. If you spend all your money upfront on a large down payment, you may run into trouble down the line when your new house suddenly needs an emergency roof repair.
Consider Your Homeowners Association
This can be somewhat of an afterthought for some home buyers, but the rules and regulations (and fees) associated with a community’s homeowners association (HOA) can make or break your enjoyment of being a part of that community.
Your real estate agent should be able to give you the lowdown on the HOA’s conditions, covenants and restrictions. You’ll want to know what its rules on paying fees are, as it’s possible for the association to foreclose on your home if you don’t pay your dues, depending on what state you live in.
Be aware that some HOAs have very restrictive rules, like limiting what colors you can paint your house or not allowing you to plant a garden, which can limit some of the freedom usually associated with being a homeowner.
If you find a particular HOA’s rules to be intrusive or conflicting with your lifestyle, look elsewhere. You don’t just want to be satisfied with your house, you want to be satisfied (or at least mildly compatible) with your neighbors as well.
Take Your Time (but Not Too Much Time)
It can be a delicate balance between taking the time to make sure a house is right for you and making sure you get to it before someone else does.
Look at all the houses that align with your budget, needs and wants. Weigh both the practical and emotional factors. Think about the pros and cons of the houses you’re considering but consult your gut as well. Sometimes, when it’s the right house, you just know.
While it is time sensitive, you don’t want to rush this process too much, as this is one of the bigger decisions you’ll make in your life. But once you know what you want, don’t drag your feet.
“In some markets, hesitating to make an offer means you lose out – quickly!” Nelson said.
Be as organized as you can throughout the process so that once you’re ready to make an offer, everything is ready to go.
You Found the Perfect House … and Now It’s Gone
Whether you lost a bidding war or the house was sold before you could make an offer, it can sting to lose out on the home you were already sold on.
When the process takes longer than expected and potential home buyers suffer one too many disappointments, they can become exhausted and just want to get it over with.
If you start to feel as though you’re not having any luck, be careful that you don’t become too lenient with what you’re looking for in a house.
“Clients who are starting to lose faith in the process or are weary of looking for a home may begin to compromise on what they really want. In this situation, it really helps to work with someone you trust,” Nelson said.
While it can be helpful to re-evaluate your wants and needs to make sure you’re being realistic, you don’t want to compromise on things that are necessary for you to feel satisfied in your home. Talk to your agent for guidance, as they’ll know whether your wish list is feasible for the market you’re in.
Nelson also noted that this is the point where she likes to preview houses for her clients, so she can narrow down their options to what best fits their wish list. Your agent can keep you on track when you get fatigued with the process, so you don’t settle for something that isn’t a good fit, she said.
If you’re just coming off an unsuccessful sale, look for learning opportunities that could help make your next attempt successful. In this seller’s market, you’ve got to strategize your offer.
First and foremost, make your best offer. Now is not the time to go low, especially if you know you’re going to be competing against other bids. If you can, make a complete, clean offer without any seller concessions, like help with closing costs.
Another strategy is to make your offer personal. Selling a home, especially one they’ve spent many years in, can be an emotional process for some sellers. They place a lot of sentimental value in their home and might feel better about an offer that comes from someone they feel really cares about it.
“Personally, I advise buyers in these seller’s markets to make their best offer, often including a picture or handwritten note, and submit all that as quickly as possible,” Nelson said.
Are you ready to start the house hunting process and find your next home? Head over to Rocket Mortgage and get approved online in just minutes!*
*Based on a sample of Rocket Mortgage clients who met qualifying approval criteria and specific loan requirements at the time of application. Results may vary.
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