House Hunting Tips
Drive neighborhoods and see what kind of “feeling” you get. After all, this is not just a financial decision, but an emotional one as well. If you find some neighborhoods you feel comfortable in, go there on evenings and weekends to see what the traffic is like and if there are children playing outside. You might be thrilled to have instant playmates for your kids, or you might want a quieter neighborhood. Weekdays, when everyone’s at work and the kids are in school, is not the best time to judge a neighborhood.
Make a list. There’s a difference, obviously, between our wants and our needs. In one column, list the “must-haves,” whether it’s three bedrooms, three bathrooms or a three-car garage. Do you have to have a one-story house (commonly called a “rancher” or “ranch-style”) or is a multi-level OK? Make another column for those things you’d like to have in a home, but aren’t a deal-breaker ” things like a fireplace or a big backyard.
Speaking of yards, this is what I tell my clients, especially first-time homebuyers who “need” to have a big backyard for their kids to play in. A nice backyard is important when the kids are toddlers. They need someplace safe to play.
But they’re small ” they don’t need that much room. And do you know what happens when they get big enough to get around by themselves? They want to play ball, ride their trikes and bikes in the street with all their friends! So much for that big backyard you thought you “needed.” Now you “need” a herd of cows to take care of all that grass.
And what about the neighborhood schools? Do your homework on this one ” call the school district or the principals at the schools in the neighborhoods you’re interested in. Decide what’s important to you ” is it test scores, class size per teacher or just a sense that they care about your child’s education? Talk to other parents whose children go to the schools you’re interested in. They’re often more than happy to tell you what they like and don’t like.
Back to your list. If you have a spouse or you’re buying the house with someone else, would you believe they just might have an entirely different list?
A good place to start is to write down what you like and dislike about your current home and go from there.
My first house was a bi-level ” when you came in the door, you had to make an immediate decision to either go upstairs to the living area, or downstairs to the bedrooms. After we adopted our first baby, I lost 10 pounds running up and down those stairs. It was a good thing at the time, but 10 years later, my next house had the living area, master bedroom and washer and dryer all on one floor.
Do your homework. Those of us who learned to add using our fingers and toes, and thought that a ram was something out in the pasture, didn’t have the advantage of accessing information online. Today you can surf the Web and find everything from recent sales prices and neighborhood statistics, to market trends and homes on the market. A good site for general information is Realtor.com. sA wonderful new tool that many Realtors have on their Web sites is the IDX (Internet Date Exchange). If your Realtor has a Web site and subscribes to this service, you can visit their site and see current properties for sale in your area. The IDX is updated daily, so it’s far more current than Realtor.com.
Get preapproved for a loan. I discussed “prequalifying” in an earlier column, but this is the next step. Once you’ve found out your price range from your lender, you need to follow up with them and start the loan application. Getting preapproved means you’re serious about buying a home ” you’ve brought in all your paperwork (pay stubs, rental receipts, tax records, etc.) and the loan is being processed.
A preapproval letter from your lender will positively influence a seller who could be looking at two or more similarly priced offers to purchase their home. In their mind, it’s the difference between “the buyers are pretty sure they can get a loan” and “the buyers already have their loan in process.” If it’s your dream home, you need to be prepared to make the best offer possible.
Use a checklist. Bring a camera. I once represented a buyer who was an engineer. He took “checklist” to the extreme, using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the homes we looked at. But it eventually helped him make a decision he was happy with. There are often many homes in your price range, and it can be difficult to remember everything about each one, especially if you tour multiple homes in one day. Some of my clients have also used a disposable or digital camera when touring homes to take pictures of the inside. It helps them remember special features or things they liked about the home.
Dress comfortably (and leave the kids at home ” at least in the beginning). House hunting can be extremely tiring. Bring the kids when you’ve narrowed your choices down to two or three homes. Then you can turn their enthusiasm loose.
Be prepared to make an offer. If you’re not financially or emotionally ready to buy a home, don’t put yourself through this exercise. If you are ready, it’s a good idea to look at a blank purchase contract ahead of time so you know what decisions you’ll have to make when you and your Realtor write the offer.
Currently, the contract is 11 pages long. You can view it online and print it out (go to http://www.dora.state.co.us, which is the Colorado Real Estate Commission home page), or you can get a copy from your Realtor.
Have fun! If you’ve gotten this far, you’re doing great! And think of your reward ” you’ll soon be moving in to the new home you’ve been dreaming of.
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