Buying a house is a little like picking a spouse: It’s important to do it right because it’s going to be a long relationship. Unfortunately, many people rush into the home buying process unarmed with the information they need and end up unsatisfied with their homes. Here’s how to ensure a relationship with a new home is a perfect match.
1. Understand the true cost of homeownership
The true cost of a home is far more than just the monthly mortgage payments. Home buyers also have to factor in maintenance costs (experts say to budget between 1 and 2 percent of the purchase price of the home each year for maintenance), taxes, HOA fees and insurance such as homeowners insurance, private mortgage insurance and other supplemental policies. Buyers must do the math on the home they want and then look at their budgets and ask themselves: If I buy this home, how will it impact my finances? Experts typically recommend homeownership costs not exceed 30 percent of a homeowners’ monthly take-home pay. So, if it’s too pricey of a property, it may pay to skip.
2. Visit the home multiple times
Though buyers may get a great feeling about a home and want to put in an offer on the spot, it’s wise to visit the home at least twice and at different times of day. Buyers may discover something strange about the home at night that they didn’t notice during the day or vice versa. Study the listing photos for another perspective. Also, it helps to look at the home privately (rather than with the real estate agent or a crowd of people) as this too can provide a different perspective.
3. Do a thorough walk-through
Buyers should thoroughly walk through homes, turning on every faucet, opening every closet and walking through all the rooms, even the garage, attic and basement. Take a close look at the moldings, fixtures and cabinets to make sure the handiwork doesn’t look shoddy, and closely examine the floors, ceilings and walls for damages. Finally, stand in the yard to examine the home’s exterior including the gutters and roof. If all checks out, don’t commit to purchasing the property before hiring an inspector to investigate the crawl space, chimney, HVAC system and roof condition and to make sure the property is up to code.
4. Scope out the neighborhood
While it can be financially tempting to buy in a fringe neighborhood and hope it develops, home buyers have to think about their quality of life in a neighborhood and be realistic about the likelihood of the neighborhood’s growth. Buyers should ask themselves how comfortable they feel walking around the neighborhood and whether the neighbors seem welcoming. They should also consider the school district because it affects property resale value even if they don’t have kids to attend the schools.
Buyers should think back to when they were first searching for a home: What criteria did they have then, such as the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, closet space, etc.? Make a checklist of the pros and cons of the house of interest. Evaluate everything from its size to its price and amenities. Does it meet the criteria?
6. Take a step back
In a competitive real estate market, many potential buyers get caught up in the bidding process, hoping to win the house. Buyers should remove themselves from the bidding and “buy now” mentality to think about whether they’d still want a house at the same price under different circumstances. Take a cooling-off period before making an offer to weigh the aforementioned checklist.
7. Read the fine print
Home buyers should ask sellers to see any disclosures before making offers; disclosures reveal issues with the home that range from a leaky roof to disruptive neighbors. Also ask to see documents relating to inspections, termite issues or any other reports. While all that fine print won’t be exciting to read, it can save buyers a lot of heartache and money down the road.
Home buyers should do their homework before taking the plunge into home-ownership to safeguard against concealed or undesirable aspects, just as most healthy marriages begin with periods of dating and engagement to get to know one another’s strengths and flaws. A home buyer should do the leg work before committing to a home to guarantee a happy life together.