Having recently been through the house hunting/purchasing/selling/moving journey ourselves, I am pouring out all of the real estate savvy that I’ve acquired into a series for you! Okay, maybe I don’t really have real estate savvy (and maybe I just like typing the word savvy)…but I learned a TON from the process and feel like maybe some of it might be helpful to someone like six-months-ago-pre-house-hunting-me!
If you missed it, be sure to check out the first post in this series – 8 Things to Think About Before You Start House Hunting. It’s not the most glamorous post ever, but it’s got some really great tips that helped my husband and I to really feel prepared for the house hunt.
Don’t you think it’s funny they call it house hunting? Why isn’t it more mainstream to say house shopping? I guess it’s because finding the “perfect house” is more like hunting than shopping. You can’t just walk in a store, go to the right aisle, and pick your dream house off the shelves. No, you have to lay in wait, prepared to strike at just the right moment for just the right house – and you very well may miss it if you turn away, even for just a second!
So, you’re ready to begin the all-important house hunting process? Here are some house hunting tips to get you through the most expensive “shopping trip” of your life!
Find a realtor you LOVE. Someone you are totally comfortable being honest with. You will have to work very closely with this person, and once you are putting an offer on a house, you will be in very close and frequent contact with them! The best way to find a great Realtor is by word of mouth. Find people you know that have recently bought/sold a house and ask if they would recommend their Realtor. (Also try putting out the question on Facebook – you may have some acquaintances that are FB friends that will respond too!) Whatever you do, DON’T call up the Realtor who is constantly putting their face on billboards or newspaper ads or local commercials – chances are they are probably someone that turns over a large amount of properties and won’t be able to give you much personal, one-on-one attention. If you are in the Central PA area, I HIGHLY recommend the Beth Richards Group with Kissinger, Bigatel, and Brower. They are AWESOME!!
Sit down and make a list of HOW you use your house. What do you love about your current home? What do you hate about it? How do you want to be able to use your new home? Music room, study, formal dining room, playroom, workshop, media room, craft room…what are the priorities? What are you willing to compromise on? Now, think about how you’ll use your home in 3-5+ years. Will you need a nursery? Extra bedrooms? A home office? Remember that things you think you absolutely need now (a media room with big screen TV, lots of seating, and a built-in bar) may change a few years down the road (when all you really want is a place for your 2-year-old’s enormous collection of toys). If you are house hunting with a spouse, make these lists separately and then come together to discuss and compare.
Yup, I said it, don’t make a wish list. It’s okay to dream, but unless you are building a house, there simply is no existing house out there that is going to have every single thing you’ve always dreamed of…so you’d just be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Instead, make a “must-haves” list of 3-5 things. And those “must-haves” should be things that are extremely difficult or impossible to change – things like location, yard size, floor plan…and not paint color, fixtures, or appliances. Reset that HGTV brainwash of “must…have…stainless steel… granite counters….” from watching too many episodes of House Hunters. Once you have your “must-haves” list, add a few more “nice-to-haves,” but don’t get carried away. Most importantly, keep an open mind!
Ok, so you’re finally ready to start seeing houses! Showings are the most exciting part of the process. I don’t know what it is, but there is just something about walking through somebody else’s house and envisioning it as your own…it’s fun! Try to look past the decor and imagine yourself in the home – how do you see yourself using it? Sit down at the kitchen table and envision what a regular weeknight in that house would look like. And here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you when you go to see a house that you’re somewhat serious about – walk through it TWICE. Top to bottom, then top to bottom again. Our Realtor recommended we do this with a few houses, and it was definitely worth it. It seems silly, and you may not think you need to after you walk through it the first time…but no matter how thoroughly you looked, you will notice SO much more the second time around. And if it’s a house you are thinking about making an offer on, go back again for a second showing the next day.
Don’t forget about that awesome budget you made after reading my last post! When looking at a specific house, figure out ballpark numbers for home insurance, property taxes, and utilities and be sure to factor that into each property as you look at it. Pay attention to the type of heating/cooling system in the house – i.e. electric baseboard heat and window A/C will be MUCH more expensive to run than a gas powered central heating/air conditioning system. Even though a house is listed $20,000 lower than another one, the monthly payment may end up higher once you factor in taxes and utilities.
Know the market in your area. Hopefully your Realtor will be able to help you with this. You need to know the general climate of the real estate market in the area and price range that you’re looking in – how much supply/demand is there, are houses moving very quickly or sitting on the market for weeks or months, etc. That will also help you prepare for when you make an offer. If there’s a lot of supply but not a lot of demand, you can go in with a lower but don’t expect to get a “bargain” on a house if there is a huge demand but low supply in your area and price range.
Stay on top of new listings. Even if you have an incredible Realtor, it’s safe to say that they aren’t parked in front of their computer all day long looking for the perfect house for you. They do have other clients and are frequently out of the office for showings or in meetings for most of the day. If you see a new listing that you’d like to go see – particularly if houses in your area and price range are selling very quickly – call or text your agent and ask to see it ASAP. There is probably an email alert you can sign up for through your Realtor that will notify you when a new house within your parameters comes on the market, so if they don’t offer that service to you be sure and ask about it. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for FSBO’s (that’s For Sale By Owner) – in your local paper, craigslist, and on Zillow.com. (Quick thoughts about Zillow – the estimated numbers on there for “Zestimate” are sometimes right on and sometimes WAY off, so don’t put too much stock into that…but it can be a VERY helpful resource for finding out information about past sales, year built, lot size, etc…but of course, confirm all those numbers with your Realtor on any properties you’re serious about.)
The strongest offer isn’t necessarily the highest one. At the BEGINNING of your house hunt, talk to your Realtor about the offering process. Decide up front on several things – how much you can offer in a deposit (higher deposit = seller knows you’re serious), timing (what’s your ideal time for closing), and most importantly – will you be making a contingent vs. non-contingent offer. Contingent means that your offer is dependent on you selling your current house – this is really unappealing to a seller, because they have no idea what kind of house you have and how quickly/easily you’ll be able to sell it. If you don’t have the cash on hand to be approved for a non-contingent offer (usually the lender wants to see you have cash to cover 6 months of payments on both houses), then you may need to sell your current home before you can buy a new one.
Finally, be sure to balance your emotion and your logic. You need both to buy a house. Too much of one or the other and you may end up with a house that doesn’t really work for you…or, on the other side of the spectrum, you may never ever buy a house and end up perpetually house hunting for eternity! It’s okay to take into consideration the warm fuzzies you feel when you walk into a house – just don’t let those warm fuzzies be the only reason you make an offer!
Take it or leave it, but that’s my two cents on house hunting. We were at it for about 4 months and saw LOTS of houses, so I feel like I learned a lot along the way. But even after we made an offer, we still had to stage and sell our house, and then actually MOVE! So, the story doesn’t end here. Be sure to stop by again in the coming weeks for the next post in the series – how to stage your house to sell! (And our house sold in 10 days – so we must have been doing something right!)
Do you have any other house hunting tips to add, or good house hunting stories to share? Leave a comment!!
Get your copy of my FREE meal planning binder!
Sign up to get a free copy of my meal planning system - an 11 page printable meal planning binder, complete with a pantry inventory, shopping list, and more to help get on top of your menu each week!