What to look for when buying a house — and what not to do
The only thing more exciting than shopping for your first house is the day you move into it. And in your eagerness to get to that day, there are a bunch of opportunities to botch the shopping. Here are some house-hunting tips you’ll need to avoid them.
“I Saw the House Online. It’s Perfect — Let’s Make an Offer Before It’s Gone!”
Buying a house sight unseen?!? Whoa. Online photos are a fun sneak peek — and that’s all. Before you plan marriage after the house equivalent of swiping right, consider this:
- It’s the photos that aren’t in the gallery you should worry about. You won’t see the hastily patched cracks in the home’s foundation. Or the mold in the attic.
- Your other senses need to evaluate the place. There could be traffic rumbling by or a stinky recycling facility downwind.
- Three words: Wide angle lens. (They make small spaces look deceptively big.)
So before you make an offer, tour the place. And the yard. And the neighborhood. It’s worth it.
“I Want to Buy This House. And Look, There’s an Agent Right Here!”
While that might seem mighty convenient, it’s not in your best interests. The real estate agent at an open house most likely represents the seller.
That means they’re obligated to work in that person’s best interest. If you start blabbing about how you’re pre-approved for $285,000, but you’d rather offer $260,000, you’ll compromise your negotiating position.
As a buyer, you should contract with a buyer’s agent who works on your behalf. They’ll understand your wants and needs, counsel you based on your budget and priorities, and advise you through the negotiating process.
“I’ll Rely On an Online Home-Value Estimator.”
Google “home-value estimator” and you’ll get pages of tools that promise you a free estimate of home value. Plug the address into the tool, some algorithms do their thing, and in seconds you know what a house is worth.
But unless that algorithm’s been poking around the basement with a flashlight, it’s a ballpark figure at best.
Home valuation is both art and science. There are nuances within house and market that an online estimator just can’t see. What if the seller made major renovations last year? Or what if houses rarely turn over in the neighborhood, so there’s not enough data to work with online?
Your agent knows current market conditions and the inventory of homes in the market — all of which help you make a nuanced offer.
Use these fun tools as a guide, but don’t take them to the bank.
“I Don’t Have Kids, So I Don’t Have to Worry About School Districts.”
Yeah . . . nope. School district matters regardless of your parenting status. Whether or not you have kids, a future buyer might. And neighborhoods with good school districts tend to maintain value and appreciate faster than those in other areas. People want to live near good schools, which leads to rising home values and better neighborhood amenities.
“If a House Doesn’t Have Everything On My List, I’m Not Looking At It.”
Definitely make your list. Your list is important. But use it as a starting point to help you prioritize. Because buyers who can prioritize have the most success.
They turn that list into must-haves and nice-to-haves — and they also consider which of their must-haves could turn into will-dos.
For example, you can switch laminate for quartz, but you can’t move a country home next door to your city office. Skip the listings that are in the wrong location, but why not check out the ones with the wrong countertops? Maybe the one thing you’d enjoy more than quartz counters are quartz counters you picked out yourself.
Not sure what should go on your list? This worksheet can help you get your priorities straight: The Ultimate “I Wanna Buy a House” Checklist.
“I’ll Figure out This HOA Thing After Closing.”
Homeowners associations (HOAs) might just seem like a cute little neighborhood organization, but some have the power to limit your pets, restrict your parking, and pick your paint colors.
Since how you live is likely as important to you as where you live, read and fully understand the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) before you buy. Restrictions that don’t fit your lifestyle could be as much of a deal breaker as a crumbling foundation.
That’s not to say HOAs are bad. Oh no — they can be great at preserving neighborhoods, keeping home values high, and some give you access to amenities. But the benefits and drawbacks of each one vary, so take a close look.