7 tips to finding the right home
While viewing a house in Oregon wine country, potential buyers mentioned to real estate agent Beth Caster that the sellers really should have set a higher price. Bad move. The sellers had a video surveillance system, heard the conversation and slammed the door on any negotiations.
The moral: House hunting is not exactly what it used to be. Finances aside, how can you land the house that’s right for you in today’s market? Much of it is common sense, but here are seven tips that may not always be apparent:
- Don’t buy without an agent.
In today’s technology-driven world, it’s easier than ever to go it alone, relying on sites like Trulia (www.trulia.com), Realtor.com (www.realtor.com) and even social media. However, while you’re likely to get a lot of data, without representation you risk missing out on analysis and negotiating skills.
Brian Carothers, of RE/MAX Advanced Realtors in western Pennsylvania, says, “If your realtor represents only you and not the seller, the agent can convey the reality of a house to help you make the right decision. I let clients fall in love with the bath, but I look for anything structural.” Carothers will warn clients, “This house is going to make you spend money where you don’t want to spend it.”
- Consider the neighborhood too.
For many people, what’s most important in a neighborhood is “safety and proximity to work, good schools, family and friends,” says Steven Long, of Long Realty, a Berkshire-Hathaway subsidiary in Tucson, Arizona. While those things are critical to your long-term happiness, there should be other considerations too.
“Get out of the car and walk around. Are the neighbors friendly? Do they offer information?” says Caster. Carothers urges clients to revisit the area without him. “Go at different times of the day. Does it feel different in the evening? And drive to work from the neighborhood, especially during rush hour.” If there’s a homeowners association, be careful, but don’t jump to the automatic conclusion that it’s a negative.
- Know what suits you, and be honest.
Beyond the obvious (like the number of rooms), you have to determine what floor plan suits you. “Open floor plans have become the new standard,” says Carothers, but they’re not for everyone. An open floor plan can be great for entertaining or keeping track of children. “If, on the other hand, your family members want more privacy or you want to contain or manage clutter, then a traditional house with more walls is better.” It may be better for zoned heating and air-conditioning too.
Remember, your agent is on your side. “Give honest feedback to your realtor,” says Castor. “These aren’t my homes, you won’t hurt my feelings by telling me exactly what you feel.”
- Know the trends, but think twice.
McMansions and three-car garages were once the rage, but they have since lost some of their allure — as many trends do. “I see buyers more interested in energy efficiency, solid construction, and safety of the neighborhood. They want smaller lots with less grass and upkeep,” says Caster. Carothers says personal preference should take precedence over trends or even resale value. What matters most, he says, is this: “Do you like the space? Can you live with the space?”
- Delve further into the house.
When it’s time for a house inspection, Long encourages buyers to accompany the inspector. “The inspector will not only reveal issues with the home but will tell you how the home operates. Meet with the sellers prior to close of escrow, too, so they can explain how things work.” This could range from tips on the heating and cooling systems to making sure you know where the owners’ manuals are for appliances.
- Investigate homeowners associations (HOAs) and condos.
Talk with the other owners in the neighborhood or complex and ask them how well the complex is managed. “HOAs can be a pain,” admits Long, “but they maintain the integrity of a subdivision, and hence property values.”
Understanding condo regulations is even more important: “How many parking spots are there? What about pets? Some condos will not even allow Christmas wreaths on doors,” cautions Caster. “And make sure the association or condo is financially able to make needed repairs.”
- Be realistic.
“No house is perfect, even when people build their own,” says Carothers. Compounding that, he adds, is a current lack of inventory in some markets. Therefore, buyers have to be realistic and keep asking themselves, “Does this work?”
Here’s the paradox: “Buyers today must be patient and aggressive at the same time,” he explains. “They’re unlikely to find the exact house of their dreams, but when something close does come up, they must leap at it.” Carothers pauses, then adds, “It’s a delicate balance.”