As happy as most folks are about the chance to buy a new home, “fun” is not a word commonly used to describe house hunting. Many complications can cloud the fun, such as Loan approvals, interest rates, ten vs. twenty year mortgages — the pressure is definitely on, and by the time you set foot in your first potential home, the numbers dancing around your head can make it difficult to focus on what you actually want your home to look like.
For such an important decision, it is necessary to stay focused and get organized. Keeping track of what you have seen is the best way to make sure you get those granite counter tops in the kitchen without sacrificing the large back yard, the proximity to good schools, or the budget you worked out to pay for it all.
Helping your agent work for you
To do their jobs well, real estate agents need to be told exactly what their clients are looking for — and what they are not. The more specific you can be, the less time you will waste looking at houses that just do not fit your needs. Fewer wasted visits means more energy you and your agent will have for properties that fit the bill. This will simplify your process and streamline what your agent will be showing you.
Instead of just describing your ideals, put them in writing. Look your list over several times before giving it to your agent, and be sure to note which points are flexible and which are not. Good schools will be a necessity for a family with two kids already in grade school, but more negotiable for a couple just planning to have kids, who might decide to move before it becomes an issue.
If you see a house that is perfect but the location is wrong, be sure to make that clear – “we want this house, but we want it to be in that neighborhood over there.” Agents review properties constantly, so the more they know about what you want, the faster they can get you there, and concrete examples are always helpful.
House hunting from the inside out
When rating the homes you visit, be sure to keep track of both the house itself and the surrounding area. It is important to be objective about both. You do not want to wind up in a bad neighborhood just because a great deal on a beautiful home gave you a rose-colored perspective on the streets you drove through to get there.
Write down your rating of the neighborhood based on what you see before you look at the house – if you have doubts about an area, spend a little extra time driving around before you track down the address of the house you are planning to visit. If a neighborhood makes you really nervous, you might be better off skipping the visit – why torture yourself if you already know the area is not for you? Trust your instincts and move on.
Stick to your guns
It is easy to get burnt out on house hunting. There is a lot of pressure to make a decision, and knowing the significance of that decision just makes it worse. Make sure you do not allow that pressure to lead you into a bad decision. If you spent the last month agreeing with your spouse, “no ranch-style houses,” don’t settle for one just because it gives you a quick way out.
If you decide to change something on your list of priorities, look at several examples, not just the one that presented itself first. Making an offer on a ranch house your agent talked you into visiting because it is the first home you could afford in your target neighborhood might turn out okay. On the other hand, if you opened your search to include all ranch-style homes in that neighborhood, you might find one with several other features to set it apart from the rest.
Good cop/Bad cop
One method for checking out a potential home is the good cop / bad cop walk through. Either assign roles to different family members or walk through twice – once to note everything about the home that is absolutely perfect, once to note everything absolutely wrong.
This is a good way to get honest feedback about the pros and cons – you will have both “great kitchen” and “bedrooms are way too small” on your final list, instead of allowing the great kitchen to persuade you that those bedrooms aren’t really that bad. You can make a final decision on any basis you want, but it is important to be honest with yourself about what you are gaining and what you are sacrificing with any choice.
Patience, patience, and more patience
In the long run, a new home is a decision you will be living with for a long time. It is important to devote plenty of time to locating and visiting the possibilities before making a final decision. If you’ve ever spent twenty minutes deciding between two pairs of shoes on sale, multiply that by the cost of a home and you will realize that most people expect to move much faster than they should.
Give yourself plenty of time, and make sure to include breaks. A day off from house hunting might help you realize you haven’t seen anything that meets your expectations, and it is time to start from scratch with a new list of possibilities to visit.
On the other hand, you might realize you already saw the one you want — ask yourself which feature made you walk away, and whether it is one you should consider compromising on. Unfortunately, unlike shoe shopping, you can’t decide to just buy them all.