Swipe through the listings, select a property, call your agent, book an appointment, and make an offer. House hunting seems easy, right? Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth.
Whether you are an experienced buyer or a first-time homebuyer, it helps to know that buying a home is much more complicated than that. Sure, having an agent by your side will simplify things, yet it’s important to get the first step right, which is – finding the ideal property for you!
Knowing what to do and what mistakes to avoid during your home search will make for a smoother ride. To begin with, let’s start with seven home search tips before moving on to common mistakes made by buyers.
Tips to follow when starting your home search
You may be planning to buy a home soon or even one year from now. In either case, you need proper planning to find a place with that has both the features you desire and is set in the location of your choice.
The following tips will help you plan ahead and stay organized in your home search:
- Start by getting a pre-approval
Getting pre-approved before you go house hunting will give you a sense of clarity.
A mortgage pre-approval from a lender will help you to set a realistic budget for buying your next property. Also, you’ll know the exact price range you can afford, thereby narrowing your home search. And a pre-approval sends a powerful message to sellers, as it shows the seriousness of your intent—something that can be a key determiner in closing a deal.
2. List out features you want (or don’t want) in a home
Is a two-car garage a necessity or a convenience? Do you really need a low-profile ceiling fan when you can do with a standard one? Do you require a three-bedroom or four-bedroom home? What about having a bathroom on every floor?
Whatever features you want in a home, take the time to list them in detail before a property search. It helps you to focus on only those properties that have the features you want.
Don’t know where to start? Most features depend on your lifestyle. If yours is a growing family, consider a house with extra bedrooms (and some located close to the parents’ bedroom for the little ones). Or if you want more space, an open layout would suit you. If you’re a pet lover and your pups need room to roam, you’ll want a home that is sizable enough and a fenced-in yard that accommodates them, too.
But remember that having an extensive list of features will bog down your home search as far fewer listings will have every feature you want. Choosing necessity over convenience in determining the features will quicken your home search. Consider ranking them in order of importance.
- Pick the kind of neighborhood that suits you
What kind of neighborhood do you want to live in? Is it a gated community, a sleepy suburban development or perhaps a more demographically diverse neighborhood? Or do you want to live in a downtown area with access to nightlife, restaurants, and entertainment?
Before basing your home search solely on home type, consider the kind of neighborhood you’d prefer. A convenient area would have access to amenities, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, department stores and easy commuting options.
If you’re an outdoor person, a locality with greenery, community gardens and hiking trails would be a solid choice choice. And if you have kids, choosing a neighborhood with highly-ranked schools and modern playgrounds would likely be a priority.
And do consider the absorption rate of a neighborhood to determine if it’s a seller’s market or a buyer’s market. The absorption rate comprises the listed inventory and sales. You can calculate it by dividing the number of listings with sales, and you’ll know how homes are currently selling (or not) in the neighborhood.
4. Determine the home type
You may want to go by current market trends. This makes sense if you plan to move in a few years and are especially concerned about resale value. However, if you’re going to put down roots, then selecting a home type based on your (and your family’s) needs is the smartest approach. It’s recommended to have at least two options.
You don’t want to be disappointed if you have one preference and are unable to find it on the market. At a time like this where the home inventory is low, you need to be a little flexible with your options.
5. Visit open houses and document the visits
Scoping out a home in person will help you assess the layout, identify potential issues, or even speak to other buyers about the property and the area more generally. You will likely visit many open houses. Due to that, specific details about each one might get a little hazy.
Recalling the little features that you noticed in a home may become particularly difficult. Therefore, it’s better to document your visits for a fair and accurate comparison.
Take pictures around the property, make notes, and jot down the feelings every open house visit elicits for you. Doing this is worth it as you’ll get a clearer picture of the type of home you want, as well as what would be best for you to steer clear of in the future.
6. Seek out pre-market home listings
You may hear about a home (from friends and family) that is about to be listed. Jump on the opportunity to speak to the seller before the property even goes online, as it’ll give you a competitive advantage over other homebuyers.
Homes that aren’t yet listed on any MLS (Multiple Listing Services) are known as pre-market. You can ask your agent or colleagues about such homes. It’s also possible to find them online, where they’re often denoted as ‘coming soon’; see this example.
7. Be open with your agent about your expectations
Do you have a firm budget in mind? Or are you set on specific features you want in your new home? Or do you want the seller to bear any repair costs? Share all your wants and expectations openly with your real estate agent so that they can make your home search more efficient.
Your agent pulls the necessary information based on your expectations and can zero in on homes that fit your criteria. You’ll save a lot of time by communicating openly and upfront with them about all your non-negotiables.
Mistakes to avoid during your property search
While the prospect of buying a home is exciting, the excitement can soon turn into a nightmare if you don’t avoid these mistakes during a property search:
- Overestimating your finances
Many homebuyers assume they can afford more when beginning their property search. (This is the kind of ‘magical thinking’ that can really backfire on you.) As a result, they end up setting an unrealistic price range for a home that at the very least temporarily derails their home search—or at the worst, severely stresses their finances. You can avoid this mistake by getting a mortgage pre-approval.
A pre-approval, as previously mentioned, gives you clarity over your financial situation and the price range of a home that you can afford without overburdening your personal financial situation.
As lenders thoroughly check your credit information, they accurately determine the monthly payments that you can actually manage after taking into account your day-to-day expenses, savings and emergency funds.
- Waiting for the perfect time
Maybe you’re waiting for a lower mortgage rate. Or you may be hoping that the market will cool down.
Unless you have a valid reason, such as: your dream home is out of your budget and you’re saving for it, or you’ve opened a new line of credit recently and want a cool-off period before taking a mortgage, know this: There’s really no perfect time to buy a home.
Consider the current market conditions in the U.S. Low mortgage rates make now an opportune time to buy a home. Yet the low availability of homes across the country has made the market highly competitive for buyers.
If you wait for the perfect time, it may never come. “What should I do?” you ask? If you’ve got a pre-approval and enough set aside for a reasonable down payment (ideally 20% of the purchase price), you can begin your property search immediately.
- Falling for cosmetic fixes
A beautifully manicured lawn and an exquisitely painted front door…did a home’s curb appeal make you choose it? If so, you just might be falling for superficial updates.
Many sellers use cosmetic fixes to make a home more attractive. But serious problems might be hiding under that appealing cover, and you may end up losing thousands of dollars to mitigate them.
While there’s nothing wrong with a beautifully maintained front yard, make sure you’re paying attention to bigger (and perhaps less eye-catching) things as well, such as the property’s structural integrity, plumbing, heating, flooring, etc.
Do check for flaws in the home that are potential deal-breakers, including:
- Faults in ceilings: look for leaks, cracks, and any mold
- Plumbing issues: check for broken faucets, leaking pipes, open drain covers, or improper water flow
- Heating difficulties: see whether the boiler is functioning well and any radiators are working efficiently
- Roof: make sure there are no damaged or loose shingles, moss growth, or improper flashing that may hugely increase your expenses after you move in
If finding flaws seems daunting, don’t worry! You can hire a professional home inspector who will document every potential issue (big and small) and prepare a report with all the details.
- Not researching the neighborhood
A survey conducted by Bankrate in 2021 showed that many Millennial homebuyers regretted their home’s location after making a purchase. A competitive market (where homes are selling faster) may provide buyers with little time to study the neighborhood. But not doing so is the gravest of mistakes.
While carrying out the home search, thoroughly research the following: 1) crime rates (don’t just go by numbers posted online, but talk to locals); 2) upcoming municipal development projects; 3) commuting time to your work; 4) the distance from the nearest hospital, and more.
The best advice is not to fixate on a single neighborhood. Instead, keep nearby neighborhoods in mind as alternative locations and compare the amenities, home prices, schools, etc., to check suitability.
Keep your adventurous spirit alive!
Searching for a home is nothing short of an adventure. From driving through the neighborhoods to taking home tours and researching all the features you’ll love, this is a memorable and wonderful experience (that is, if it happens without any hiccups).
Use the home search tips as well as insights on potential pitfalls mentioned above to make your next property search a success, and an experience to remember.