House hunting is both exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. If you really want to stress yourself out, go through the process with your spouse or significant other. When couples talk about pre-marriage counseling I think they should just go house hunting together instead. Hit a bunch of open houses on the weekend and pretend you’re buying one. You’ll discover quickly whether this marriage is going to last or not. And it’s way cheaper than paying a therapist.
My husband and I are in the process of looking for a new home. The last time we did this was twenty years ago and we are a little out of practice. For those of you just jumping into the real estate market, below are the top ten things to consider when searching for a new home.
1. The first (and most important) thing to do is decide on the price range of your new home. There are many factors that go into this decision. Your income, the price you can get when selling your old home, how much debt you currently have, whether or not you want to actually ever buy groceries again, and how willing you are to raid your child’s college fund.
2. Once you’ve agreed on how much you are willing to spend on a new home, it is time to prioritize your list of “must haves”. Make sure the list includes at least one item that will either add significant cost to the home or is almost impossible to find. For example: ocean view, updated kitchen with granite countertops, in-home theater or pool, built-in tanning salon, etc. Make sure at least one of you considers this item non-negotiable.
3. When you contact a realtor or agent, go over your list of “must haves” in detail. However, you must remember, the agent’s job is to sell homes. She doesn’t get paid until you actually purchase a house. And as much as you might enjoy spending every weekend touring open houses, your agent probably feels about this the way you feel about taking out the garbage. It’s something you have to do, but it’s probably not the high point of your week. So don’t be surprised when she starts showing you homes that are missing those essential requirements, especially if those “must haves” are things you could actually install yourself at a future date.
4. Know that looking for homes is sort of like computer dating. You’re going to get introduced to your dream home and then find out it’s being courted by other buyers, while the depressingly average home down the street can be yours for below market price if you desire. Of course, unlike dating, you probably should judge these books by their covers.
5. Now that you have an agent working for you, spend at least two hours a day browsing real estate listings so that you can email your agent links to all the homes you find and ask questions like: Do you think they’re serious about the price? or When do you think we can look at this one? When your agent points out that you are doing her job and by the way, these homes don’t actually meet your criteria, go ahead and change your list. If you do this often enough you will probably have to find a new agent.
6. When you do actually visit a home, ask your spouse to stand outside and inspect the roof. This involves staring critically at the roof while saying loudly, “I don’t like the look of those shingles.” Make sure the realtor is within earshot. You can also add, “Hmmm that looks like a patch job to me. Let’s look inside for leaks.” This is supposed to help when you negotiate the price, but I haven’t yet verified this.
7. Tell yourself over and over to ignore the cosmetic stuff because you can always replace things like paint and carpeting. Of course, what you are forgetting is that by the time you’re done buying this house you won’t have any money left to make those upgrades.
8. If you are buying a house with a significant other, realize that one of you will fall in love with each house you visit, and the other one will actively dislike it. This will not be a problem until one of you actually wants to make an offer on that house. Then it will be time for some serious negotiation (also known as bribing, compromising or veiled threats of bodily harm).
9. If you are lucky enough to both fall in love with the same house at the same time, congratulations! Remember, if you think it’s a great house, so do at least three other buyers. Act quickly! Throw all reason out the window as you and your agent prepare an offer. If someone else is making an offer at the same time, treat this like a high school love triangle. Tell yourself you will beat out all competition! Ignore the little voice in the back of your head telling you to be rational. This is no time for reason!
10. And finally, if your offer is the one chosen, spend at least three days indulging in buyer’s remorse. Was that black spot at the base of the closet door a stain or highly toxic mold? Maybe you hould have bought the two-story Craftsman down the street. Is it too late for you to back out and still get the earnest money returned?
I have finally concluded that finding the perfect home is mostly a matter of luck and being in the right place at the right time. And if you can’t find the home you want, you can always stay put and spend the money on marriage counseling instead.
Coming soon….essential tips for selling your current home (also known as, “Why are we sinking all this money into a house we’re getting rid of???”).