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.
Figure Out Your Priorities
When searching for your ideal home, the location 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,’” Nelson said. “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 (garbage) dump.”
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.
Narrow Your Search to True Contenders
Starting your search online allows you to see all the available homes in your area and narrow down your search to homes you’re truly interested in, saving you the time of having to tour each one in person.
There are many resources and websites that allow you to search real estate listings in your area. The most helpful sites will be the ones that allow you to narrow down your search by your own criteria.
RocketHomes.com1, for example, makes searching for your ideal home easy, allowing you to filter by size, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, location, price range and more. You can also save your searches so you don’t have to keep resetting your filters, and you can choose to receive search alerts so that you’re notified as soon as homes that match your criteria hit the market. It even allows you to enter your monthly budget so you’re only looking at homes that are a possibility for you.
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 pointed 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,” Nelson said. “And sometimes your property tax bill is cut by as much as 50%!”
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.
On the other hand, newer homes tend to require less work, stress and money to get them into shape. This is not only true right when you move in, but likely in the years to follow as well, as more recently built homes generally require less maintenance and fewer repairs.
New homes are also more likely to come with updated technology built in, such as alarm systems, cable or smart thermostats.
However, the asking price for a newer home will likely be higher than for older homes of the same size. Newer neighborhoods are also often farther away from schools, shops, restaurants and other amenities than older neighborhoods. And if you’ve always dreamed of having a big backyard, you might be out of luck, as newer homes tend to be built on smaller lots.
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. You also won’t need to spend as much money filling it up with furnishings, and you’ll likely have smaller utility bills when compared to larger homes.
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 the monthly payments.
Find out what the area’s property taxes are and going to be moving forward. Many states have websites that help you calculate this. If you can, ask 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 repair.
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 out the vital components: Take a look at anything that would be costly if it needed to be repaired or replaced. Examine the roof and check for any signs of damage or disrepair. Make sure the windows open easily and are in good condition. Find out what state the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is in.
- 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? Go online and figure out the vital stuff like the area’s safety rating, as well as the fun stuff like what restaurants are nearby and where the closest gym is. RocketHomes.com aggregates all this information for each house you look at, so all the information you need is in one convenient location.
- Test everything: Once you’ve determined that the house is a real contender, utilize your second walkthrough to make sure everything works. Flip all the light switches and flush the toilets. Turn on the shower. Turn on the tap and taste the water.
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. They can also impose special assessments, which can be expensive.
Be aware that some HOAs have very restrictive rules, like limiting what colors you can paint your house, not allowing you to plant a garden and prohibiting you from parking a boat or RV in your driveway. These rules 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’s time sensitive, you don’t want to rush this process too much, as this is one of the bigger financial decisions you’ll make in your life. But once you know what you want and completed your research, 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,” Nelson said. “In this situation, it really helps to work with someone you trust.”
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.
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.
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. This will give you better odds of having your offer accepted.
Are you ready to start the house hunting process and find your next home? Head over to Rocket Mortgage® for a seamless experience.
If you’re ready to start touring homes, Rocket HomesSM will connect you with a top-rated real estate agent in your area.
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