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Are you thinking of buying a home? Do you know what things you should look for when buying a new house? I’ve bought three houses in the last 10 years, so although I’m not an expert, I have learned a few things about what to look for when making a decision. Check out these tips for house hunting so you can make the perfect decision on a new home for you and your family!
House Hunting Tips
Buying a house can be stressful, whether it’s your first time or your twentieth time. There are tons of things that you have to consider, especially as a first-time homebuyer. How do you pick a realtor? Which neighborhood should you live in? Are there any hidden costs? Where do you even start with house hunting? These house hunting tips will answer all these questions, plus questions you didn’t even know you had!
Where Do I Start with House Hunting?
The most important question when beginning your quest for the right home is where do you start? Obviously, the first step is all the hardcore finance stuff, like determining how much house you need (and can afford) and getting pre-approved. But this post isn’t really about the buying process of buying a house. If you need information on that check out this real estate resource page on Your Money Geek– you can find everything you need about rate quotes, down payments, and more. This post is about finding the house that’s right for you, and the first step in that is finding a great realtor.
1. Find the Right Realtor
It’s hard to stress the importance of finding the right realtor when house hunting. Some realtors are super shady, and only looking for what will be best for them (those sweet sweet commissions). Others will actually listen to you and have your best interests at heart. Don’t feel obligated to use a certain realtor because they are a friend of a friend, or because they showed you a few homes. Shop around for a realtor, and go with one that you trust and that respects your wishes.
It’s incredibly important that you find a realtor that you trust on your house hunting journey. You absolutely do not have to buy a home from the first realtor who takes you out. If they make you uncomfortable in any way, drop them and find someone new. I had to do this when I bought my first home. I went house hunting with a highly rated realtor team, but they seemed very pushy. Every home was the most amazing home ever and any concern I had wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t buy from these people and I didn’t go out house hunting with them again. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable with your realtor, find a new one (it won’t be hard, they are everywhere!).
You also need to find a realtor who will listen to you and respect your needs. My second home buying experience was a lot harder than my first because I was doing it from 2000 miles away. I contacted a realtor with awesome reviews, and the first thing I did was discuss my budget. I was savvy at this point, and obsessed with the idea of financial freedom, so I knew I didn’t want to spend more than 200K.
What did this realtor do? She sent me a bunch of listings for homes priced between 220-240. She sent me zero listings under 200k. The other realtor I contacted sent me tons of listings between 150 and 200. He sent me a few listings over 200K, and explained that he could probably get them down to 200 if I really loved those. Guess who I went with? Definitely realtor number 2! He obviously respected my wishes way more than the first one.
Don’t let a realtor bully you into going over budget. If they aren’t respecting you and your budget, find someone new who will.
2. Find the Right Neighborhood
Choosing the right neighborhood is almost as important as choosing the right house. There are so many considerations in choosing a neighborhood that this probably could have been its own blog post. However, these are all super important things to look for, so I didn’t want to leave any of them out. A whole lot goes into scouting out the neighborhood! First and foremost, you should actually like the neighborhood. But you should also take a few more things into consideration:
You can check the crime (and other demographic) data of any neighborhood that you are interested in at NeighborhoodScout.com. Sometimes there’s a reason why that house is so cheap! In Savannah, there are some beautiful reasonably priced homes in some super sketchy neighborhoods. I’m not going to sacrifice my safety and peace of mind for a bigger home. I’d much rather live in a smaller, more expensive home in a neighborhood that is relatively safe.
Look at Walk-Ability and Transportation
I really really wanted to buy a home in a walkable neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of the walkable neighborhoods in Savannah are either too close to a bad neighborhood for comfort or priced above 200K. But walkability may be a must-have for you. If you want to be car-free or bike to work, you need to buy a home in a neighborhood that allows you that option.
I moved to Savannah with an ex, and he didn’t have a job or a car. Unfortunately (for him) the home I chose was in the way back of the neighborhood. That meant he had to walk almost a mile just to get to the bus stop! Even worse, the bus routes through our neighbor were very sparse, so he’d spend hours riding the bus just to go a few miles! Talk about a waste of time! If you don’t have a car you definitely want to make sure the neighborhood you chose has ample transportation.
Check out the Schools
I don’t have kids, so the quality of schools isn’t super important to me. But most people do have kids, and if you do it’s important to check out the schools in any neighborhood that you are considering moving to. You want the best for your children, so it may be better to buy a smaller, more expensive home in a neighborhood with good schools than a bigger, cheaper home in a neighborhood with poorly rated schools. This is an extremely personal decision, but its something to keep in mind. I went to mediocre public schools and I turned out just fine!
Does your neighborhood have a Home Owner’s Association (HOA)? If so, what types of amenities do they offer? Which are important to you? Some HOA’s offer clubhouses, pools, fitness centers, and parks. Some don’t offer anything. If any of these items are important to you, you can probably find an HOA that has them.
In my opinion, amenities also include local shopping. Is there a grocery store close to your potential new home? How far are you willing to travel to pick up a gallon of milk? Do carry-out restaurants deliver to your neighborhood? These are things that may be important to you. It would suck to buy a house only to realize that your favorite pizza joint refuses to deliver to your new area. Whether that’s a deal-breaker or not is up to you, but you should know before you buy. These are important things to consider when house hunting!
3. Know the HOA Rules
I mentioned HOAs when I was talking about neighborhoods, but they do far more than just provide some cool things for the neighborhood. They can also provide some really ridiculous rules. Did you know that most HOAs in Savannah don’t allow you to have an RV in your driveway or on the street? Seriously? This restriction might be a problem when I’m getting ready to live the RV life.
Some HOAs are really strict about stupid things, like the length of your grass or whether there is a spot on the side of your house. Others won’t let you make any improvements on your home without their approval. It’s important to be aware of the HOA rules for any neighborhood that you are considering living in, so you can know if the home is the right fit for you.
There are also benefits to living in a community with an HOA. They generally help keep the property values up. Most of the stupid rules are to the benefit of the community as a whole…the entire point is to ensure that values don’t drop. One of the most helpful tips for home buyers is to read through the HOA manual of your new community before committing to a purchase. Make sure you can live with the rules, because life will be miserable for you if you can’t.
4. Don’t Skip (or Skimp on!) the Inspection
The inspection process is where I failed epically in buying my second home. I like to say it wasn’t my fault though, its hard to find time to take a trip across the country for a home inspection when you are trying to sell a house and move. But it’s definitely not a step that I would ever skip again!
Technically, I didn’t skip the inspection. I just trusted a representative from my real estate company to be there and catch any problems. The issue with that is the realtor isn’t me. They don’t know what I’d call a problem. And they are probably more concerned with ensuring that the sale doesn’t fall through than they are with identifying major problems.
There were a few huge easy to identify issues with the house that were not caught during the inspection. The sprinkler system had a major leak. The garage door didn’t work. Water seeped into the garage whenever it rained (maybe not easily identifiable until it rains, but whatever). If I was present during the inspection, I would have easily caught the fact that the garage door didn’t work, and could have had the previous owners fix it before I moved in. I made sure to be present during the inspection of my third home (though that was a bit of a fixer – so I expected problems!)
5. Stick to Your Budget
If you remember any of my tips for home buyers, make it this one! One of the biggest mistakes that first time home buyers (and second time, and third time!) make is not sticking to their budget. Sometimes this is because they didn’t take the hidden costs of buying a home into consideration. Other times though, it’s because we let our realtor smooth talk us into looking at this fabulous house that’s just a little over budget. We fall in love with the house and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Don’t let your brain fool you! You’d be just as happy living in the 190K house as you would be living in the 210K house, as long as both meet your basic requirements. You don’t need a luxury jet hot tub. It would be nice, yeah, but you could always install it in the cheaper house for less than 20K. Be realistic and don’t get swept up in the “I have to have it” mentality. That’s how they get you!
6. Know What You Need
I had some absolute requirements for my new home. I’m sure you do too, and that’s ok! We are going to live in these things for hopefully a very long time, so we should get something that we are happy with. But the key is to know exactly what you want before you start house hunting. Know what you absolutely have to have, and know what your “nice to have’s” are.
My absolutes were two bathrooms, a yard, and a master bedroom big enough for a king bed (you’d be surprised at how many master bedrooms were the size of utility closets). My “nice to have’s” were an open kitchen, a 2-car garage, and covered patio. I ended up buying a home with a semi-open kitchen and no patio, but you had better believe it has two bathrooms! Knowing what you need verses what you want will help keep you out of the “I have to have this!” mentality that realtors hope to suck you into. Make a list and stick to it.
7. Look for Easy Fixes
It’s amazing how many people will pass on a home because the paint is ugly or the carpet is dirty. These are relatively cheap and easy things to fix, so why are you passing on a great house because of it?
The house I bought in Savannah had the ugliest master bedroom you had ever seen in your life. The room was painted poop brown and had a tan/brown mix half shag carpet. The lighting was so dim that you could barely see a thing! However, the size of the room was perfect, and the rest of the house was pretty great too (except one random wall in the living room that was also poop brown for some reason).
These were super simple fixes! I paid about $800 total to create my perfect master bedroom, and I couldn’t be happier with the house. Don’t let minor, fixable, details deter you from buying your perfect home! Know what you can DIY, and know what would be huge problems. And, you could even use the fact that you need to fix some things as a negotiating tool!
8. Both Go!
I know this seems like common sense. But as they say, common sense isn’t always common, so I figured I’d include it as my last tip for home buyers. If you are buying a house with someone, you should probably both go check out the house prior to purchasing.
I bought the house in Savannah with an ex (and I use the phrase “bought with” loosely…it was all mine but he was going to live there with me). Unfortunately, the location of the home didn’t quite work out for him because he didn’t have a car (I stupidly remedied that though!). There were also some issues with the house that he might have been able to identify had he gone with me to check it out. In the end, he moved out a few months after I bought it, so that didn’t matter so much. But, if you are in a real committed relationship and actually buying a house together, ensuring that you both have a say is probably ideal.
Bonus Tip for Home Buyers – Get the Warranty!
Did you know that you can buy a home warranty when you purchase a new home? I only learned of these magical things when I bought my house in Savannah. It’s basically an insurance policy for the things in your house that aren’t generally covered by homeowners insurance.
What happens if you buy a new house and the refrigerator or hot water heater craps out? These things are usually out-of-pocket expenses that the insurance won’t cover. But most home warranty policies do! Tacking one on at closing is only a few hundred extra dollars, and it will give you peace of mind that you won’t have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for repairs two weeks after you close.
Find The Home that Works Best For you
Buying a home is a super exciting and super stressful experience. There are tons of things to take into consideration during the home-buying process, and the most important things will be different for everyone. Make a list of must-have verse nice to haves and stick with it. Set a realistic budget for the purchase price and any renovations. You may not find a perfect house, but it will be a perfect home for you.
Do you have any additional tips for homebuyers? Add them in the comments, we’d love to hear your opinions!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.