Searching the internet for real estate is easy, but if you want to find a house to buy that truly fits your needs and circumstances, you’ll have to work a bit harder (and may even require help). It’s important before we even begin that you understand that finding the ‘perfect’ home means different things to different people. We feel the perfect home is any home that you can afford comfortably and live in happily, regardless of how it measures up to every single expectation you have. Truly ‘perfect’ homes rarely, if ever, exist (we’ll make the slight exception of saying that a $45,000 house found to be hiding several million dollars is a pretty darn perfect buy). However, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind while hunting for a new home that will help you find the property that best suits your goals and needs.
How to Find a House to Buy – Essential Tips
Tip #1: Utilize Multiple Resources
There are lots of ways to begin your search, from leafing through local home guides at the supermarket to searching MLS databases online, to simply driving around and looking for the tell-tale sign in a front yard in an attractive neighborhood. Our advice to you is to use whatever resources are available and comfortable for you; the more, the better. If you rely only on local sources, your search will likely take a very long time and the property you really need may pass you by. On the other hand, most homes available in the area you want to research will be posted online, but perhaps not all of them.
A real estate agent can be a great additional resource in your search, as they will have access to information that may be harder for you to find, and they can send this information (property listings, community research, etc.) directly to you. Whether or not you feel you need this extra help is entirely up to you.
Tip #2: Stay Within Your Limits
Window-shopping can be fun, but if you seriously want to find a house to buy, you’ll have to know where your limits are. Few things smart more than finding a great home and having to come to terms with the fact that it’s out of your price range. For the most part, it’s best to stay within a reasonable range for your budget. This will also help you narrow your search and save you valuable hours of wading through inappropriate listings.
Tip #3: Start with the Most Important General Criteria
Even after you’ve narrowed the price range down, there could still be hundreds of listings for you to sift through, particularly if you’re searching online. Try to organize your housing goals into several categories, starting with the things you absolutely need (such as locations, number of bedrooms, etc.) and things you cannot accept. Then, list the things you’d like and the things you wouldn’t (though you might put up with them if the positive qualities more than balance them out). Start narrowing down your list of search results by weeding out properties that don’t meet the most important criteria first. You can refine your search as much as you like from there, but remember to open the search parameters up every once in a while. Keeping to a very narrow field from the beginning could cause you to miss out on some great home choices.
Tip #4: Keep Notes
This tip cannot be stressed enough. It is probably one of the most important things you should know to do if you really want to find a home to buy. You’ll be surprised by how quickly the number of qualified homes begins to add up. It can be hard to keep track of which ones are your favorites, particularly if you do a lot of walkthroughs and open houses. Was it the 2 bedroom with a fireplace that had the bay windows? Or was it the one down the block with 3 bedrooms but a tiny backyard? Let’s just say it can get confusing faster than you think!
When you’re taking notes, don’t just mention the amenities or features you could find in a listing. Take note of your feelings, your favorite aspects, and the possible issues. When searching online, copy and paste the web IDs for prospective homes into a word document with plenty of space between each listing. If and when you decide to see any of these places in person, you can print the document out and write your notes in the blank spaces. In the future, you’ll be able to refer to the online listing as well as your personal notes in order to make comparisons. Of course, don’t forget to write in any deadlines or important dates regarding each of the properties as well.
Tip #5: Ask Questions
Whether you enlist the help of an agent, are walking through an open house, or have the means of contacting an owner directly, always ask plenty of questions. Often there are times when something useful you’d like to know simply doesn’t get mentioned, either because it’s negative and the person informing you would rather not bring it up themselves, or because it doesn’t occur to them that you’d like to know. Some questions come easily, but others may only come up once you’ve initiated a meaningful dialogue. The more questions you ask, the more questions you’ll be able to think of, and ultimately, the more information you’ll have with which to base your decision.
Tip #6: Pay Attention to the Details
Paying attention to the little things is especially important when moving out of state or far from your comfort zone, but it matters when moving to a nearby city as well. Make sure that you research the surrounding area and neighborhood, as well as the house itself. How far away is the supermarket? Is the support structure wood or steel? Will the pipes freeze in winter? This goes along with asking lots of questions, of course, but may also include information you can readily gather yourself by searching online. If the deck is untreated, look up how common termites are in the area. If it’s close to a train track, find out how often the trains run (there’s a big difference between having one 10-car train run by every few days and having a 30-car train run by every few hours!). Sometimes these less-obvious details can make a very big difference.
Tip #7: Think Long-term
Regardless of what your overall plans are, it’s always possible that you will end up staying in a home for longer than you originally anticipated. If you were planning to live there 20 or more years, this isn’t much of a problem. But if your first thought when you saw the house was that it would suffice for 2 or 3 years (just until you can get something nicer) you should probably save your money and keep looking. The fact is, no one can foresee the future; not yours, and not that of the housing market. It’s quite possible that circumstances will change. What if you can no longer afford to move when the time comes? What if it isn’t a good time to sell? Your best bet is to find a home you can be reasonably happy and comfortable in, even if you end up staying there longer than you initially planned.
Tip #8: Look Before You Leap
(…and don’t let the process wear you out)
Buying a house is a huge financial decision, and not one to be made lightly. As long as you think through your options carefully and do your research, you should be fine. Unfortunately, sometimes the process is a little more arduous and emotionally taxing than we realize. A person who’s nervous about finding exactly the right house, who is afraid they’ll miss their one opportunity, or who is simply too worn out to ask all the right questions anymore stands to make a less than objective and careful decision. Remember that there are plenty of houses out there and more than one is sure to suit your needs. Don’t forget to take time off to unwind and de-stress when you need to. Even if it takes a year to find, you’ll sleep much more soundly at night in a new home that matches your budget and lifestyle. If you find yourself getting pushed seriously concerned about an impending deadline (because you must move for work or are selling your own home) and just can’t seem to find a house to buy, remember that you can always rent a home while you’re looking. It’s an additional expense, but sometimes a necessary one if you find yourself running out of time. In the end, when you find just the right home for yourself, you’ll be glad you waited.
Ready to move on? Step 4: Understanding the Real Estate Open House