How to Make the Right Real Estate Decision for You
Some advice on shopping for your new home.
Shopping for a house could be as exciting as shopping for a new diamond or as dreadful as having a root canal. How do you know if the house is right for you? How do you know if, after only visiting the house once or twice, that you will be happy there for a long time? How do you know if you will love your neighbors or if the whole reason the sellers are selling is because of the crazy neighbors? How do you know what is a good value and what is overpriced? Why do your friends and family have such opinions about your house and where you absolutely SHOULD live?
Shopping for a new house does not have to feel like you are signing your life away before a bungee jump.
Here are some tips to help you out.
1. BEFORE YOU SHOP
When you are in the market for a new home, the first step is to talk with a real estate agent. They will then advise you to talk with a mortgage professional from a reputable institution (and please heed our advice when we recommend someone). The mortgage broker is the one who will tell you what you have in your wallet before you can shop.
It is not time well spent to spend hours (especially while at work) scouring the Internet shopping for a home (and appropriate furniture) you have no idea if you can buy. Forget the online calculators and please don't approach the pre-approval process by inputting everything about your entire financial life online to a random website where you have not spoken with someone. It's like giving your personal and financial information to a complete stranger. You'll wind up receiving a call from Chris Hansen in his next "To Catch an Identity Thief" series.
After you have spoken with a mortgage broker and have gone through the necessary steps to obtain a pre-approval, your real estate agent can start doing his/her job for you.
Think of your real estate agent as your advisor, therapist, sounding board, temporary BFF, mediator, decorator – he/she is there to get to know you (and your spouse, family, etc., if you are buying with them). An accomplished agent will work with you in order to really get to know your needs. It's not just about the house — because a house may be where you live, but it's not your entire life. Often times, the search process becomes a bit of a soul search – you may have thought you wanted "A," but fell in love with "B."
2. EAT, PRAY, LOVE – the COMMUNITY
You move into a house but you live in a community. You will find that you don't have to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia to eat, pray and love successfully. You can do it all in one place. Your community should be one in which you enjoy the people, the culture, the conveniences, the places of worship, and the proximity to everywhere else you will go. It should be a place where, if you have children, they will grow up.
Do you like the schools? Do you prefer a diverse population? Does the town offer programs of interest to you? How would you best describe your lifestyle? Are you a walker? Do you like to see the same people everywhere? Do you want to live in a town where everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses? Do you want to live in a town where you will meet interesting people? Where do you spend most of your time?
No answers are right or wrong – it's up to you and what best suits your life. It's vital that you communicate your criteria with your agent so that they can do the best job for you.
3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – within the community
You've heard it before. The 3 rules in real estate – location, location, location. I don't disagree. But it's the location that works for you in the community you feel most suits you.
It means that if you spend most of your time outside and riding bikes and playing basketball in your driveway, you may prefer a quieter side street so that you aren't known in the neighborhood as the one always screaming "CAR!" It means that if you prefer to be amongst many neighbors and never plan to move again, that you are in a larger neighborhood on a lot that allows you the possibilities to add on or renovate if you so choose.
If you prefer privacy and want nothing to do with pot-luck dinners and trick-or-treaters, perhaps a country road suits you best. If you prefer to be able to walk everywhere – shops, restaurants, library — it means that you may prefer the location close to the town center. Location, location, location means the location that works for you.
Not every buyer wants the same thing. There are always locations within every town that may be less desirable for the majority of buyers and I know that I have told buyers that I would have a hard time selling a specific house to them, knowing that location on the corner of "busy and busy" will always be the deterrent for future buyers. But if it works for you (not your friends and extended, once a year visiting family), and you aren't buying to flip it, then it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks.
4. HOUSE/FLOOR PLAN
In Sudbury (as of the time I wrote this), there are 125 available houses on the market — 23 of them are 4-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath colonials (minus four with accepted offers). I mention this because this is the most popular request from buyers — "I'm looking for a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath colonial, in such-and-such location within Sudbury."
OK, great. Remember when you were dating after college, hoping to find Mr or Ms. Right? "I want an attractive person, with a great sense of humor who likes to travel and gets along with everyone and has just as much fun going for a bike ride as he/she does going to a nice dinner, and of course – loves to take a walk on the beach."
It sounded a lot easier to find someone who fit that criteria than it probably was. And like each house, everyone you met had their quirks, their amazing qualities, things you realized you could and could not live without.
The same goes for a house. The best part, if you realize after five years that your needs have changed for the house, you can easily sell and buy a new one. The floor plan of the house needs to work for your lifestyle and your needs today.
If you have been living in the city, where finding a parking space within a 1/4 mile of your home was something to Tweet about, you probably won't have an issue with a detached garage, a garage under the house or no garage at all.
If you have never turned on the Food Network and the word "flambé" makes you think of a new pair of Louboutins, then a gourmet kitchen open to the family room is probably not what you are willing to pay a premium for in a new house.
If, on the other hand, you like to party like the Salahis and hope that Bravo will one day realize that the Real Housewives of Sudbury would absolutely be a ratings hit, you are likely to be drawn to the larger dining rooms, living rooms and more open floor plan.
If you are constantly on the go, and have kids running in and out, a mudroom and easy access to the yard would be important.
And, of course – if you, let's say, play basketball for the Boston Celtics, you may need higher ceilings and some privacy.
The floor plan needs to work for you and everyone living in your house. Don't spend extra money for a guest room in the hope that all of a sudden your college friends will decide to visit. Pay extra for the guest room if in-laws live out of town and will stay and promise to babysit when they come to town.
5. IT'S GOING TO TAKE MORE THAN BOTOX
When your offer to purchase has been accepted, the next step is the home inspection. You will pay around $400-800 on a thorough home inspection, during which, if there is any question – slight or serious — about anything in the house, the inspector will suggest that you contact a licensed professional who could best speak to the issue (or non-issue) as he/she sees appropriate.
Prior to even getting to that point, before even making an offer to purchase, your real estate agent should be able to walk around the house with you – looking beyond the pretty fixtures and hardwood floors — to see if he/she can anticipate any major issues.
I will repeat myself constantly – it is only in your best interest as a buyer to have representation.
It is your agent's job to look out for your best interest (this means your wallet also). We do this every day. You, hopefully, every five-10-15-20 years.
Your agent could tell you by looking at the house if he/she feels that the siding may be a concern. They can look at the furnace, the dates serviced and the corrosion (if any) and let you know what you may be in for in the coming years. Our experienced eyes do not take the place of a home inspection, but will help you make a sound decision when thinking about whether you would like to make an offer.
6. COSMETICS: Your Pure Imagination
"There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination ... living there, you'll be free, if you truly wish to be ... (thank you Willy Wonka).
Making a room out of chocolate may not be realistic, but for those of you who read last week's "Is Your House Still Wearing Blue Eyeshadow?" column, you will know that I don't believe that people should bypass a house if cosmetically it wouldn't have Nate Berkus jumping on Oprah's couch.
I believe also that homeowners should, (if they can) update their houses over the years. It increases the value and is more appealing to the buyers.
If you, while searching for your new home, love a community, love the location of the house, as well as the floor plan, but despise the seller's choice for the countertops, it would be a wise idea to examine the big picture.
Don't skip a house because you don't like the wallpaper or hardware or carpets, etc. Don't be so quick to put it on the "NO" list when it could, with some minor updates, be the house of your dreams. The benefit is that you can make it yours, your taste, your style, your colors – you aren't decorating to sell, you are decorating to live – your life. Pay less than what you would for an updated house, but don't skip it. This is the last item on your checklist. If the work that would need to be done already has you reaching for the Zanax, go to the next house. No one is going to want to hear about your kitchen counter drama every day.
7. HELP ME TO HELP YOU
Your agent is there to assure that you are making a smart purchase. Communicate with your agent. Know that unless it is his/her house that you are looking at, honesty is imperative.
It's OK to say "I can't stand 'X' neighborhood" or "I absolutely need 'Y'" or "I don't like neighbors," etc. Your agent isn't there to judge you – this is our job. To find you the best house for you.
Is it possible to find your new house on the first day of looking? Of course. Is it possible that it will take a year? Sure. It's not about the number of houses you have seen, it's about finding the right one.