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Tips for House Hunting

Updated on January 8, 2017
Supportive people and paint, you'll need a lot of both.
Supportive people and paint, you'll need a lot of both.

There might be some people out there who like the process of searching for (and buying) the perfect home. Maybe those are people with a lot of money, I don’t know. But I can say with certainty, that I’m not one of them. Much like looking for a new job, or trying to get a literary agent, house hunting was often a demoralizing and terrifying process. It helps if you have a supportive and proactive spouse (which I did) but there are also a few tips I think I can pass on to you, if you’re thinking of buying a home. The things on this list vary in importance, but hopefully you’re able to take some of it with you when you set out on your journey of home ownership.

When looking at houses:

Bring toilet paper and a jacket.

It could just be me, but there’s something about walking around in a stranger’s home that just gets the bowels moving. Maybe it’s because it’s not convenient to go, or maybe it’s just the movement. If you’re lucky, the current resident left you toilet paper. If you’re really unlucky, all the toilets have been winterized. If your bathroom habits are anything like mine, then play it safe and bring a bundle of toilet paper in your pocket. And, since vacant houses are drafty, bring a jacket with you.

Look for water damage, black mold and chipped paint.

Even an untrained eye can catch these things. But, when imagining where your couch will go, it’s easy to forget to look up at the ceiling. If necessary, make a checklist for yourself to inspect corners and window frames.

Check the furnace and hot water heater.

While new-ness isn’t the only indicator for quality, knowing you have an older furnace and/or hot water heater will clue you in about how soon it might need to be replaced. Don’t be afraid to crouch down and read stickers for dates. And you’ll probably want to bring a flashlight (or download a flashlight app on your phone) because the writing is often hard to see.

Read over the listing sheet carefully for things like year it was built, sewer/septic, gas/electric, etc.

Your agent should give you a listing sheet for each house you visit. But, if not, don’t be afraid to print out your own. These are incredibly helpful for learning the age of the house, and determining at a glance what stats it has.

Don’t let anyone pressure you into making an offer.

Depending on the state of the market when you start looking, it can feel like good houses are getting pulled out from under you. Unless you have money to burn, you can’t afford to get into a bidding war. So, if you have to make a decision to offer, while still in the first viewing, then you might be getting pressured. Everyone should be able to sleep on it. This isn’t a decision to be made lightly. You have to be prepared to lose the house, otherwise the process will be that much more stressful and you’ll be more likely to make a hasty decision.

Try not to let cosmetic issues dominate your opinion.

I’m guilty of making this mistake over and over again. Some ugly carpet and wallpaper is not a good reason to reject a house. It makes the decision process harder (because it seems like you’re buying something bad) but I can personally attest that new carpet and paint will completely transform a home. So long as the wood is solid, you can update any home into something new and modern. If you find yourself saying “It would be a good fit, if only…” then maybe you should look harder at that house.

Consider the driveway and yard.

You might not be a big yard-work kind of person, but when you have to mow the lawn in the summer, and shovel the driveway in the winter, you will suddenly care how big they are. Plus, if you like to have family and friends over, a short steep driveway might be a bad idea.

Don’t forget to look at the neighborhood.

A cheap and beautiful house might seem like a steal, but look into the surrounding area first. Is it in a weird location? Is there high crime nearby? Do the neighbors look like they will cause problems? Would you let your children walk on those sidewalks? Location is important for both resale value and peace of mind.

It may take time for your new home to feel like "your" home, but you'll get there.
It may take time for your new home to feel like "your" home, but you'll get there.

When purchasing a house:

Shop around for a mortgage lender and agent.

Not all lenders and agents are created equal. I’m not a big fan of shopping around, but for a decision this big it’s unavoidable. Make sure the lender helps you understand the financial side of things. If you find yourself more confused with one, than another, go with the one who is patient and doesn’t mind explaining things. If one realtor seems detached or uninterested, go with the one that engaged you and shook your hand. A real-estate agent should give you their expert opinions, not just serve as a key for the door.

Take any required classes in advance.

Depending on what sort of financial assistance you ended up with, you might be required to take some sort of homebuyer/homeowner class. If you do find yourself facing this requirement, I advise you to get it done as soon as you’re able. I understand the process can feel like a whirlwind, but often times these classes function on a specific schedule, and the next one might come months after your closing. So check early.

Get pre-approved and establish lines of communication between your agent and lender.

One of the worst things that could happen is that your agent and your lender don’t communicate well. Ideally, for both to function properly, they need to be kept in the loop. So don’t be afraid to CC emails or ask for an update from one or the other. Especially near the end when everything is out of your hands.

Don’t buy around a holiday (or winter).

In a lot of cases, you won’t have a choice when the right house comes along. But, if you can help it, don’t buy your house around a holiday or when it’s snowing. I did both and ended up moving in a blizzard. Again, you don’t always have control over this. But a good time to start your hunt might be in the early spring. That way you’ll have a better chance to find your house in the summer and move in the fall. (Assuming it’s a super slow process the way mine was.)

Obviously there is a lot more that goes into buying a house. But these are just a few things I ran into during my personal hunt. If I think of anything else, I’ll try to add it. But, otherwise, I hope these tips have helped further prepare you in some small way. And, if you ran into any unique challenges during your process, please feel free to share them in the comments below.


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