How to avoid an endless house hunt
Excited, but exhausted, trying to tour all the home listings? Remember that it's quality that counts, not quantity. Learn how to streamline the process for a satisfying — and short — house hunt.
As decisions go, it's a biggie.
When you buy a home, you're choosing a lifestyle for the next five, maybe 10, years at the very least: the neighborhood, neighbors, schools, parks, commute, yard, living quarters. It's a lot to take on. Not to mention the massive financial risk involved.
It's important to choose wisely. Oh, and please don't take too long.
It's enough to make a first-time buyer's head spin. So much is at stake, but who really wants to traipse through homes month after stressful month?
Even worse is when house hunters become so beaten down that, bleary-eyed and frustrated, they end up buying in haste. Better to put a system in place upfront. Here's how:
Take a minute to talk amongst yourselves
One couple who toured Ilona Bray's home had been looking for a year, but hadn't made a single offer. They couldn't agree on what they wanted.
Real-estate agents — also known as part-time marriage counselors — see this all the time.
"If you're part of a couple, make sure that you're both straight on what you want," says Bray, author of "Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home." Discuss first, "so you won't even consider a house that doesn't have certain key features."
Same goes for parents, kindly uncles or anyone else who may be helping you with your purchase.
Tennessee real-estate agent Suzanne Karr had a client who brought her mother. Then her father showed. Then her sister-in-law.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Don't fall for real-estate myths in this market
"When we got to the last house, which she was really interested in, everyone was giving her opinions about the house and what she should do," Karr says.
The client, overwhelmed and frustrated, went alone with her agent from then on, Karr says, and bought a house she is now happy with.
Article continues below
Make a list and write it down
You've surfed the real-estate websites and have some ideas. Now sit down and write out a three-part list:
These are features in the new home that you consider non-negotiable. A good school district, for example. Or three bedrooms. A backyard. You get the idea. The stuff you're not willing to live without, and feel confident you can afford.
2. These would be nice
This is the wish list. An updated kitchen, say, or hardwood floors. Maybe a move-in-ready house. Items that you can acknowledge are wants, not needs. These may be things that can easily be added after you move in. Carpets can be ripped out, after all. It's harder to add a garage.
These are the things you absolutely, positively don't want. Agents should not waste your time if these are present. Maybe it's a busy road nearby, a long commute or no sidewalks or nearby parks. These are often things that can't be changed.
Write these things down and give a copy to your agent. Add to your list as you view homes.
"Those can change over time, but unless you're actually working off this document, you're invariably going to be seeing things that don't make sense to you," says Doug Perlson, CEO of RealDirect, a technology-driven real-estate brokerage.
Find the right neighborhood first
Leslie Mann, an agent with Hallmark Sotheby’s International Realty in Massachusetts, tells clients to focus on the community first, then talk houses.
"What we find, over the years, is those clients end up happier," she says.
Give yourself a deadline
Margot MacKay and her husband were striving to meet a deadline and were motivated to vacate their rental. Even though they wanted their "forever home," they became consumed and expeditious.
"It forced us to really be honest with ourselves in terms of what we wanted," MacKay says. They were able to make their first offer within weeks, and say they are now happy with their new home outside Philadelphia.
Try the eye-doctor approach
Some agents, after showing two homes, ask their clients, "If you had to choose between those two?" After the next viewing, the agent repeats the question, using the last pick and the new home.
Article continues below
It not only narrows the search, it gets everyone to break down what they did and didn't like. A good agent listens closely.
"I'm trying to prevent people from being disappointed," Karr says. "You don't waste time looking at things that you're not qualified for."
Last — but not least — choose a good agent
The right agent can make all the difference.
Try this idea, from Bray: Tell a prospective agent exactly what you're looking for and ask to see three houses. Do the homes meet at least the minimum guidelines you set out?
"If they can't even get it for the test situation, maybe it's time to move on to another agent," Bray says.
How long is the average hunt for a house?
According to a 2009 survey by the National Association of Realtors, the median buyer shopped for 12 weeks and looked at 12 homes.
"If you look at a dozen homes, you feel like you've told the agent what you want — if you're not making a decision in that amount of time, you're probably not a good decision-maker," says Walter Molony, a spokesman for the NAR.
Demand what you want, and ignore the whines of any agent. Its a business transaction, not a hippy lovefest.
Just finished up my house hunt, best advise I can give is this, if it's a short sale and the bank has not preapproved - don't even look at it. Offers take several weeks before they are even considered and most are rejected.
Just don't move to Lansing or Detroit and you'll do just fine. Still some parts of Detroit aren't all that bad. Besides, in Michigan, you can get this thing called a Concealed Pistol License.
Oh and cost of living is almost nothing now... You can get a really nice, 3 bedroom home, move in condition for $50,000 and at least 1200 sq ft. Heck... I saw a place with an acre, 5 bedroom, 3 bath, 2 story, 2700sq ft for $37,000!