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It’s the Fun “House Hunting” Guide

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Week 6 – Buying a Home 101

This is the sixth article in our series called, Buying a Home 101: Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know Before You Buy Your First Home. This step-by-step series will take you through the entire home-buying process — from finding a buyer’s agent to settlement day, and even to maintaining your home after you’re all moved in. Make sure to tune in every week! 

House hunting can be overwhelming, time consuming, and yes, even exhausting some days. But there’s no reason it has to be that way if you follow some simple strategies that will streamline your search and make you “shop” productively. Before you know it, you’ll actually be having fun looking at homes!

First Things First!

Before you can actually go “house hunting,” you need to handle a few tasks and have a strategy in place for what you want in a home and location. Here’s what you should put on your to-do list:

Understand the Process and Get Pre-Approved

Your first step is to become educated about buying a home by meeting with an agent who will go over all the steps with you. Next, is getting pre-approved for a mortgage by a lender, where you’ll get an idea of your budget and what you’re able to afford to buy (remember think monthly mortgage payments you’re comfortable paying). Once you’re pre-approved and know the price range you can afford, then you’ll all set to start house hunting!

Remember Your Needs and Wants

You should have a written list of your needs and wants in a home that you went over with your agent when you first met. Now is the time to look over that list carefully and REMEMBER these items!!

It’s very easy to get sidetracked once you start house hunting and forget what your deal breakers are in a home. This list will make your search much more efficient and keep you focused on what is important to you and your family in a home, in a location, or in a lifestyle that you picture yourself in every day.

You might never find the “perfect” home but you must decide what you need and also want in your first home. Your needs are different than your wants. You need two bathrooms but want a master bath and suite. You need three bedrooms but a fourth bedroom would be nice for guests. See the difference.

It definitely can be hard to choose what you prefer more (location or three bedrooms) or what you’re willing to do without (large backyard or updated, renovated kitchen). That’s why you need to keep referring to your list of must-haves and deal breakers to stay focused.

Location, Location, Location

The location of your home will affect everything about your lifestyle – from whether it has urban conveniences or will mean a longer commute to work — so always keep that in mind.

First figure out WHERE you want to live in the metro DMV region — DC, MD, or VA?  Which specific neighborhood or even another similar neighborhood do you picture yourself living in?

Think about the characteristics of a neighborhood and ask yourself why is that important to you since it could be replicated it in another, less expensive, neighborhood.  Think about your daily life.  Love walking to work and don’t want that to change?  Then, that becomes a “must” and everything else could change (size, condition, etc).

There are certain factors in a location – both desirable and undesirable — that you should consider when you look at a home for yourself and for resale value. Does the neighborhood have good schools? Is the home on a busy corner lot? Also, keep in mind that revitalizing neighborhoods can be on your list if “desirable” neighborhoods are out of your price range. An up and coming neighborhood could be a bargain if you time it right but you need to tread carefully.

Once you narrow down a location, your budget will determine what type of home you can afford in that particular neighborhood – such as a detached home, townhome or condo unit.

Not happy with the results? Decide whether it makes sense to change neighborhoods, tweak your budget a bit, or maybe rethink your list of “must haves.”

Determine the Type of Home

Now you should have a better idea of what type of home you can afford in a particular neighborhood that fits your budget. There are pros and cons to all types of home, and that is something to discuss with your agent who can help you sort through the details of each.

For example, a condo unit in a building can provide homeownership for less cost since you don’t have a yard. You’ll also benefit from some onsite amenities such as a pool or gym, maybe a doorman … but remember you will have to pay HOA fees.

A townhome can give you a bit more privacy and independence compared to a condo but may cost more. You could probably grill out back and enjoy your small bit of yard. Plus, there is usually lower maintenance and cost than a detached, single-family home with the same interior space.

A detached, single-family home will give you the most independence but can be costly since it can require more maintenance both inside and outside. Are you ready for that responsibility?

You’re Ready to House Hunt!

Once you’ve gotten pre-approved for a mortgage and have a better idea of your wants, needs, and deal breakers, you’re all set to house hunt! However, it can start to get hectic when you look at homes. Here are some tips to keep you on track and, hopefully, make it less stressful and chaotic:

Stay Organized

Keep a record of all your research and handouts on the homes you visit. This is VERY important. Write down comments of your likes, dislikes and any other helpful, more detailed observations. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures to help jolt your memory when a day of house hunting is done.

You’ll be amazed that you start to forget what you’ve seen in certain homes: beautiful hardwood floors, amazing fireplace or perhaps odors from a nearby restaurant or a view of a dumpster!

You can then easily go through your notes and pictures to compare costs, neighborhoods, and home features. This also helps you stay focused on your needs and wants.

Make a Schedule

Make sure your agent is aware of your time schedule and expectations. Do you like to look at one or two homes in a session? Four? Eight? Weekends or certain weeknights?

Your agent can better serve you and any time constraints if you make these arrangements from the get-go. Your schedule also will be affected by your local market and if homes are moving quickly or not. You may need to up your pace so you don’t lose out on a potential home.

Ask for Drive-By’s

Don’t spend time driving around a neighborhood without a purpose! If you like driving around by yourself looking at homes, ask for a list of drive-bys or homes on the market you can consider from the outside (and at different times of the day and night).

If one appeals to you, then your agent can make an appointment to see the interior so you don’t just rely on Internet photos.

Many times, the outside, the street, the neighborhood is a deal breaker so just move on down the list.

Communicate With Your Agent (and Yourself)

Honest communication is essential. Express your likes and dislikes after seeing a home. Don’t be afraid to tell your agent what you really think since they won’t take it personally…they don’t own the home!

If you are more open with your agent, then they will know your personality better and can identify houses that will appeal to you.

When you’re looking, you may see a home that is in pristine condition and move-in ready. But still be honest with your agent if it still doesn’t meet your “must-haves” for some reason — even in its great condition. Never feel guilty or pressured!

Or, you may be interested in a home that’s a major “fixer upper” or is being sold “as is,” which means the seller has no intention to do any repairs. Your agent can help you determine if you are ready to undertake such a project in order to become a homeowner.

By following these smart house hunting strategies, you will find your new home in no time (and maybe have some fun along the way)!

Stay tuned for next week’s “Make Me an Offer” that Gets Results. You’ll get the rundown on figuring out your offer price, your earnest money deposit, and some clever negotiation tactics in this seventh article for our Buying a Home 101 series. 

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