Finding Your Perfect Home
By Kimberly Blaker
But, once you've closed on your new home and you're confident you made the right decision, you'll rejoice – and bask knowing it was worth every bit.
Still, there's no greater stress than making the mistake of buying a home that, for any number of reasons, you later come to regret. These recommendations will get you started on the right foot, and help you stay on course finding your perfect (or near-perfect) home.
Before You Begin Shopping
First, make a list of your objectives. Are you trying to reduce your commute? Is there a particular school district you'd like your kids to attend? What about proximity to shopping or recreation?
Also, think about the specific features you want in a home. Would you like a larger garage, finished basement, fenced yard, low maintenance lawn, certain number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a walk-in shower, an updated kitchen, ample closet space, or a home that's turn-key ready? Make your list as detailed as possible.
Now, go through the list again. Next to each item, mark if it's a must-have, prefer-to-have, or nice but not necessary.
The reason for creating this list, and then breaking it down, is two-fold. First, buying a home is a significant investment. The home you ultimately choose is going to affect your lifestyle. Since there's seldom a home that has every feature a buyer wants, you should prioritize what's most important to you.
As you begin your search, you can always add to your list or amend it. But it serves as a blueprint to narrow your search and help keep you on track.
When you find a home that wows you, look at your criteria to make sure the house has all or most of your must-haves. If it doesn't, maybe you'll decide your criteria have changed, and this home is just what you want. On the other hand, it might also bring you back down to earth and encourage you to continue searching for a home that better suits your needs.
How Much Home Can You Afford?
Determining this is a two-step process.
First, prepare a budget and figure out how much you can comfortably spend each month on a mortgage, interest payments, property taxes, and homeowner's insurance. Also, consider whether there'll be a substantial difference in your monthly utilities. Include an allowance for home repairs and maintenance as well.
Second, it’s a good idea to get pre-qualified through your bank or a mortgage company. Despite what you think you can afford; a lender will ultimately determine the maximum you can afford. Don't risk getting your hopes up on a particular home until you know how much a lender will loan you.
Another reason to get pre-qualified is that many realtors won't show homes to prospective buyers until they've been pre-qualified.
Getting Started in Your Search
Now you're ready to find a realtor! Working with a real estate agent has multiple advantages. First, realtors have access to the MLS system, the database in which all homes listed by real estate agencies appear. They're only able to access the MLS for listings within their own MLS region, however. If you're moving to a new area, choose a realtor in or near the city where you'll be relocating.
Another important reason to work with an agent is so you'll have someone to represent you and advance your interests. It's true if you find a home and want to put in an offer, in many states you can ask the listing agent to write and submit your offer. In states that allow this arrangement, the agent becomes a dual agent. But be careful - a dual agent is required to treat both parties with fairness and honesty. But in this capacity, the agent cannot always be equally loyal and advance your interests, because the agent is also working for the seller.
When choosing a realtor, a couple of factors to consider are customer reviews and whether the real estate agent is willing to sign an Exclusive Buyer's Agency Contract. Under an exclusive buyer's agency contract, the realtor is representing only you, the buyer, rather than both buyer and seller.
When you meet with an agent, make sure the agent feels like a good fit for you. The agent should ask plenty of questions to gain a solid understanding of what you're looking for in a home. Also, find out if the agent is available to show homes during your hours of availability. Finally, be cautious of high-pressure tactics to get you to sign an exclusive contract. Ultimately, you'll want to do this when you find the right agent. If you're not comfortable with an agent, be prepared to ask for some time to think about it… then listen to your gut, stay true to your interests, and stand your ground.
The Home Inspection
Once you've made an offer, getting a home inspection is crucial. This will help ensure you're making a sound decision. Unfortunately, too many homebuyers learn the hard way that inspectors are neither required to be licensed nor, in some states, have no special skills or training. Read reviews and look for a reputable company. You can also ask your agent for a recommendation. Do your homework! Ask about their qualifications and how long they've been in business. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau and read online reviews.
A knowledgeable, skilled inspector will look at every aspect of the home, including windows, foundation, attic, roof, plumbing, electrical components, and much more. Your inspector should alert you to all defects, big and small. He should also note any aging components that could require repair or replacement in the not too distant future.
Don't Make a Decision You Regret
Regardless of what the bank says you can afford, or an agent tries talking you into, you 're the best judge of what's really within your budget. Don't make a decision you're not confident in. Remember, your financial well-being and lifestyle are on the line.
Be Patient. Sometimes it takes a while to find just the right home. Although you may never find a home that has everything you've ever dreamed of, make sure it meets enough of the right criteria so you can live happily in your home for some time to come.
When you do find the perfect home, don't drag your feet. If it's a buyer's market in particular, or merely a desirable home, it could get snatched up before you act.
If you see flaws that'll require costly repair, weigh it carefully before making an offer.
Finally, once you make an offer, try not to get your heart set on the home until it has been inspected. If the report comes back reflecting costly repairs, you'll be able to make an educated decision as to whether to proceed or not.