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How To Know A House Is Right For You: Picking Your New Home

10-Minute Read
Published on September 18, 2019
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When you buy a house, you’re making a long-term commitment to that house and everything that comes along with owning a home. 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 make a decision. 

Fortunately, some helpful tips can make the home-buying process go a little smoother. Read on for guidance on how to know when a house is right for you.

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How Do You Know A House Is Right For You?

There’s a lot that goes into knowing when a house is “the one,” and factors both practical and emotional are worth considering before making a final decision. In addition to a house’s pros and cons, your gut feeling can say a lot as well. 

One important key to finding the right house is working with a REALTOR® or real estate agent who knows just what you’re looking for. Partnering with an expert on the real estate industry and market can save you a lot of time and frustration in your house-hunting journey.

How To Choose A Home That’s Right For You

An important step in buying a house is getting organized, both literally and figuratively. Let’s look at some ways to narrow down your search for your dream home. 

1. Figure Out Where You Want To Live

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.

“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.”

Deciding where you want to live is important because it’s best for your home’s value to grow over time. Even a great home might not appreciate that well in a less-than-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. But if you’re looking for a home in a more secluded area, far away from the hustle and bustle of town, you won’t have these same benefits. Finding the right location for your needs will likely make you much happier in the long run.

2. Make Sure A Home Checks Your Must-Have Boxes

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, and they try to match up their needs and wants with their budget and what’s available in the current market.

When creating a 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.

3. Narrow Your Search To True Contenders

Starting your search online allows you to see all the available homes in your area and can narrow down your search to homes you’re truly interested in, saving you the time of touring each one in person. Some listings may even include virtual tours.

Many resources and websites allow you to search real estate listings in your area. The most helpful sites will be the ones that let you narrow your search by certain criteria.

Rocket Homes℠, 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 you’re notified as soon as homes that match your criteria hit the market. You can even enter your monthly budget so you’re only looking at homes that are a possibility for you.

4. Consider Old Vs. New Homes

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’ll likely need 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 additions to the home without approval from your local historical office. She said owning a home in a historic district comes with some benefits, however.

“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. These homes 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 isn’t only true right when you move in, but likely in the years to follow, as more recently built homes generally require less maintenance and fewer repairs, at least in the beginning of their lifespan.

New homes are also more likely to come with updated technology, such as built-in alarm systems, cable and 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 since newer homes tend to sit on smaller lots.

Look at how well the property you’re looking at has been maintained, whether it’s an old home or a more modern one. Think about any renovations you would have to make if you purchased it. Consider the actual cost of maintaining an older home, not just the asking price.

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5. Be Realistic About Your House Goals

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 purchase 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 compared to larger homes.

6. Stick To A Budget

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 preapproved for a loan so you know your estimated price range. 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, only helping your chances if you decide to make an offer.

You’ll 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 are 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 needs an emergency repair.

7. Look For Potential Issues With The House

Before you start picturing yourself hanging out in the spacious living room or grilling out on the back porch, your prospective new home should pass a few crucial tests before you even consider purchasing it.

  • Check out the vital components. Take a look at anything that would be costly if it needed repair or replacement. Examine the roof and check for any signs of damage or disrepair. Make sure the windows open easily and are in good condition. Determine whether the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are functioning properly.
  • 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 nearby restaurants and the location of the closest gym.
  • Test everything. Once you’ve determined that the house is a real contender, utilize your final 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.

It’s important to have a home inspection done on any prospective home so you can uncover any major issues before it’s too late.

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Additional Tips For How To Pick Your First House

House hunting can be complicated with so many factors to consider, and sometimes the closer you are to finding the right home, the more there is to think about.

Keep these additional tips in mind when making the final decision on your new home. 

1. 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 experience in 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 its rules on paying HOA fees since 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. The HOA 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 take away 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 and community as well.

2. 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 since this is one of the bigger financial decisions you’ll make in your life. But once you know what you want and have 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.

3. Don’t Compromise Your Wants And Needs

Whether you lost a bidding war or the house sold before you could make an offer, it can hurt to lose out on the home you desperately wanted.

If you start to feel like you’re not having any luck, be careful not to 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 in areas that are necessary for you to feel satisfied in your home. Talk with your agent for guidance since they’ll know whether your wish list is feasible for the market you’re in.

4. Strategize Your Offer

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, 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 possible, 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.

The Bottom Line

Important decisions like buying a home shouldn’t be taken lightly. Narrow down your search by location, wants and needs, house types and affordability. Make sure also to get a home inspection and consider any other essential factors. Most importantly, work with a real estate agent who understands what you want - and always follow your gut.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.