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House Search Tips Part 1…

March 15, 2012

Let me preface this post by saying that every state is different in their real estate laws and I am by NO means an expert. We have bought, then sold, then been under contract to build a new construction. We have offered and not gotten a house, we have offered and countered to the point new contracts had to be drawn up, we have also terminated a contract. So even though we aren’t experts by ANY stretch of the imagination, we have been through the North Carolina real estate market a couple different ways.

My biggest tip in doing anything home-ownership search is start with good tools and people. If you don’t have the right things on your side I think a lot of this stuff seems overwhelming.

{Image via HERE}

If you’re a modern family fan I’m sure you’ve seen the episode where Ty does his “Five keys to investing wisely in a down real estate market…” bit. It was hilarious. I am not trying to pass along advice like that AT ALL. These are literally just the tools that have helped us in the past and so far:

  • To start the process like I said is to talk to a bank or lender and figure out what you can afford to buy. Get REAL numbers, build in the taxes and insurance and plan on HOA dues. This is the BEST place to start so you don’t get excited about houses you can’t afford. Not what you qualify mind you, but what you can AFFORD TO PAY. These numbers are very different. Set up your budget and look at where you’re comfortable – I think setting these numbers is tough because you always want what’s outside your budget but you have to see where your mortgage payment fits in monthly to stay happy and comfortable while doing the things that keep you still you.
  • Find a good Realtor. In North Carolina buyers don’t pay the commission so it feels free – which is good. Finding a Realtor is a tricky balance for me, but I like to go based off recommendations from people who have worked with them professionally before. I also like to meet them in person a couple of times before I sign a contract to work with them.Personally, I like having someone on my side. I can walk through a house and mention that I think it’s heinous and to joke about the house with but still know that when we, for instance, want to back out of a contract to build something that we were excited about, will get the paperwork rolling and suggest houses to visit to keep the momentum moving.
  • Start searching and set up a search. Start with your basics and get more specific – or start and stay specific and wait for what you want to come on the market. This is where I think it’s totally ok to be picky and snobby. I have a post coming tomorrow that has screen shots of my searches and exactly what I like about those searches. I hope it’s helpful.
  • I’d honestly avoid HGTV. It’s full of people with different wants and needs then you with different budgets and proprieties. Every time I watch a show like house hunters I want to punch the people.  It’s TV, not real life.I’ll admit I get stuck when the shows show a “simple DIY” project but end up talking back to the host and being annoyed that I wasted my time watching when it’s not realistic in the first place. (With that in mind why do I spend so much time on Pinterest?)
  • Once you’ve been searching and narrowing down all the houses and areas and are ready to visit make a list. Program your GPS and drive to the houses. Don’t set up a single visit until you have driven by the house and seen it. I have knocked SO many out of my list because I didn’t realize how hard it was to turn in the neighborhood or didn’t realize how close it was to a gross area.Try to go in the day to get a feel for it, but night works too. Once we get serious we actually make a point to go MANY times so we know what it’s like all the time.
  • Stay organized. Every Realtor we’ve ever met, banker/ lender who’s run an application for us comments on my notebook. I keep a 3 ring notebook with all the MLS pages of properties we’ve looked at, flyers I’ve picked up and notes from our visits. When we visit a house each of us takes notes on our first impressions and things we don’t like. I keep the notebook organized with tabs by neighborhoods, or when we’re starting to like a house it may get it’s own tab where I add information to reference later.
  • Visit the housesand walk through them. Set up a couple visits in one day and plan ahead on what you want to see. Most houses only need an hour notice before you can visit but I like to give a couple of days. As a seller I liked having notice so I try to be as respectful if the house is still occupied.The first time we bought we just followed our Realtor from house to house in our own car so we could talk honestly about what we thought. This time around we drive with our Realtor so we can look at the neighborhood, not worry about directions, ahem – not waste gas, and tell HER our thoughts. I didn’t realize the first time how helpful your agent can be when you’re honest so this time I tell her exactly what I think and she shares things as we drive.With visiting the houses I feel like I always get a totally different feel then the pictures on line. Some just feel dirty even though they look clean.  Some have sagging floor boards and water rings in the ceiling, you don’t see that stuff in pictures.
  • Be prepared: I realize you’re just visiting houses and not going into battle or camping but I hate being caught without something when I’m looking at a house. It’s a big investment and you can get really swept up into how fun and new everything is without realizing your couch wont fit in the living room. So these are things I make sure to have when we visit houses:
    • My notebook, duh.
    • A pad of paper
    • A couple of pens/ pencils
    • Tape Measure
    • My camera and try to remember to take pictures of specific things not pictured on line to help later. (Also, check the batteries and memory card. I, um, forget all the time.
    • A Dr. Pepper: This may just be for me, but I get a wee bit parched judging houses.
  • Once you know, you know. I feel like a hypocrite for saying this since we just backed out of a house after acting like we “knew” – but I swear…. the feeling was there. I think we felt the same way with our first house as we did with the beach house – you walk through you just know this is your house.Once you’re ready to put in an offer talk to your Realtor. I don’t know how good we are at negotiating and every home situation is different. We like to ask for EVERYTHING and then some. We’ve yet to get all that, so really – what do I know? But I can tell you the negating process is nerve wrecking on both sides of the contract and the best deals really are when no one’s happy I think.
  • Be Patient. I am getting impatient and it’s driving me crazy because I know that will hurt me in this process. Patience helped us feel good about the selling price of our house, helped us buy the first house and has helped me so far not flip my sh!t on this dumb housing market.We have not even tried a short sale or foreclosure but from stories of people we know – that takes more patience then I’ve ever seen. (I’ve heard people submit offers and then wait for 4+ months to even hear a yes or no, then they can start planning.)

What else ya’ got? Anyone have tips that I missed or things that worked for you when you were looking?

This weekend I’ll have the screen shots and details of HOW we search and narrow down the houses too!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    March 15, 2012 9:00 pm

    I second alot of your tips! Others I would add, go see the house when it’s raining, preferably alot. Drainage issues in a yard/driveway/etc won’t always be there on the day of an inspection, but can cost alot to fix when you become the owner. We also drove around with our realtor and although I didn’t think of the benefit, your tip really made me realize how beneficial that time was sharing our thoughts with her. I have to confess we did watch alot of HGTV/house hunters when we were looking. The one thing it did teach us is to not look at a house for the possessions/decorations in it, but look at the features of the house that will still be there when the sellers have moved out. Sometimes decorations are hideous and hard to overlook, and what happened to us one time is the decorations were beautiful, and made Eric really like a house that I didn’t think would be a great fit for us because it wasn’t like we got to have all their stuff!

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