House hunting is hard work! John and I have been caught up in our own house hunting adventure for the past couple of months. We finally found the house of our dreams last week, and are making our way through the closing process right now, yay!
This isn’t our first time house hunting. A couple of years ago, we went through it too. After looking at several houses, we finally found one that appealed to us. Our offer was accepted, but we found out later that it was in a flood zone, so we could not get the USDA loan we had applied for. The closing was called off, and we decided to go back to renting for a while.
Two years later, and here we are! Our budget is a little more this time, we are older and wiser, and know exactly what we are looking for in a home. Thinking back to that other house we almost got, we’re glad it fell through! It would have been much too small for our growing family.
This time, we feel like we have really mastered the house hunting process. I’ve put together a list of house hunting tips that I have come up with along the way.
House hunting can be a very daunting task, and sometimes during the stress of it all, you forget what you’re really looking for. If you’re a first time home buyer, or if you haven’t had to look for a house in a while, hopefully these will help you out a bit.
1. Know Your Budget – One of the most important steps in house hunting is figuring out what you can afford. The last thing you want to do is get into a house that is going to leave you broke.
Just because the bank approves you for a certain loan amount, doesn’t mean that you can really afford that. We were approved for a loan amount that was much larger than what we could actually afford. We sat down and took a look at our income and expenses. We looked at what we now pay in rent, and how much more we could afford to take on with a mortgage, taxes, insurance and heating costs.
2. Get a Pre-Approval Letter From Your Bank – If you have a pre-approval letter from your bank, you’re golden. Sellers don’t want to mess around with potential buyers if they don’t have proof that they are credit-worthy. Having that pre-approval letter available upon request will force them to take your offer seriously.
It’s also good to get a pre-approval letter for your own sanity. You really shouldn’t start house hunting until you know for sure that you will be approved for a home loan, and how much of a loan you will be approved for.
3. Know Exactly What You’re Looking For – There are a TON of houses for sale out there. If you don’t write down a list of everything you are looking for in a home, you’ll be looking at houses for forever.
Here are some of the things you should think about when house hunting:
A. Where do you want to live?
a. Do you want to live in the country or the city?
b. What is the community like?
c. Where do you want your children to go to school?
d. How far is the commute to your job?
B. How many bedrooms do you want?
a. How many children are you planning to have? Will they each have their own room?
b. Do you want a dedicated home office or craft room?
c. Do you want a guest room?
d. Will you have elderly family members living with you in their later years?
e. Are you willing and able to build on an addition if you unexpectedly need more room in your home?
C. How much land do you want?
a. Do you want to be right on top of your neighbor, or do you want a private lot?
b. How big of a yard do you want?
c. How much land are you willing to mow, or pay someone else to mow?
d. Do you need room to plant a garden?
e. Is there adequate room for your children to play?
f. Do you plan to have pets that will need space to run around?
g. Do you plan to install a pool?
h. Do you want a fire pit area?
i. Do you want room to build a deck or garage?
D. How many bathrooms do you want?
a. How many people will be living in your home?
b. Are you willing to share a bathroom with everyone living in your home, or do you want your own space?
c. Do you need more than one bath tub/shower, or do you just need an additional 1/2 bath (toilet and sink)?
d. Do you want a separate bathroom just for guests?
E. How much living space do you need?
a. Is there enough room in the living room/kitchen/dining room areas of the home to fit your whole family comfortably?
b. How often do you entertain? Is there enough room to entertain guests?
c. Do you have enough room for your pets to be comfortable?
F. What do you need for vehicle storage?
a. How many cars do you have? Will you be buying more in the future (for your kids, etc.)?
b. What is the weather like where you live? We live in Maine where it snows 5-7 months out of the year, so vehicle storage is quite important to us.
c. Do you need room to store a boat, motorcycle, small camper, ATV, etc.?
There are a few different basement options out there, so you need to figure out which one is best for you and your family.
a. Finished Basement – A finished basement is usually sectioned off into rooms, and has had walls and floors and electricity installed throughout. It can be considered additional living space. It might have a bedroom, laundry room, den, office, bathroom, closets, etc.
b. Unfinished Basement – An unfinished basement is usually one large, open area that does not have walls or floors installed. It is usually just cement from floor to ceiling. You could not consider this additional living space. An unfinished basement is good for storage, and that’s about it.
c. Dirt – Dirt basements have a dirt floor. In my experience, they are usually pretty creepy, and pretty much useless space underneath the house. No one ever wants to go down into a dirt basement. Dirt basements also bring moisture, and lots of bugs.
d. Crawl Space – This is pretty much self-explanatory. It’s just a crawl space under the house, where someone could crawl into to check the foundation, etc. Again, creepy area that no one ever wants to go into!
e. Slab – This is a house that is built right on a slab of cement. It has no basement or space below the house at all. If you don’t need any additional storage, or living space, this might be for you. Houses built on a slab are usually cheaper to heat, since there is no basement area to heat.
f. Partial – A partial basement is usually just a small basement area below the house, and the rest of the house is either built on a slab or has a crawl space under it.
4. Do a Pre-Walkthrough Drive-By – Before you drag your realtor out to look at houses you saw in an ad, do a drive-by to see if the house is really worth looking at. John and I have been interested in many houses, but after doing a drive-by, we realized that the pictures in the ad were deceiving, or the drive was too far for us. We’d rather not waste our realtor’s time looking at houses that we truly aren’t interested in.
5. Don’t Place an Offer on the First House That Comes Along – If you fall in love with a house, don’t feel pressured to immediately make an offer on it. Tell your realtor that you are interested in the home and ask him or her to ask the seller’s realtor to let you know if anyone else makes an offer, so that you have a chance to as well.
In the meantime, go home and give it a day or two to see how you really feel about the house. Look at some other houses you are interested in. If you can’t get that house off your mind, and keep imagining yourself living there, then that might just be the one for you.
Before making an offer, go back to the house for a second look. Often times, you are so excited the first time you walk through, that you miss a lot of things. Go back through and look that house over with a fine tooth comb!
6. Don’t Ever Offer Asking Price – A lot of sellers list their homes at a higher rate than what they want to get from a sale because they know buyers will try to talk them down. Use this to your advantage, and see how much you can shave off the asking price!
Don’t be afraid to barter with the seller either. If you want that piano in the living room, see if they will include it in the purchase for you. John and I got the sellers to agree to pay our closing costs, and also to fill the oil tank at their expense on the day of closing. They are also going to include all of the chopped and stacked wood currently at the house as part of the closing. We shouldn’t have to pay for heat at all this winter thanks to that!
7. Get a Home Inspection – If you have found the home of your dreams, put in an offer and had your offer accepted, you should definitely get a home inspection. We just had our potential home inspected for a fee of $400.00. Sure, it’s a lot of money to come up with when you’re trying to buy a home, but it’s well worth it.
Our inspector found that one of the support beams in the basement is extremely bowed. If it is not taken care of, he said that “the house will fall in on itself”. Oh my! If we had bought the house without knowing that, it could have been disastrous! Now we are working with the seller to get this issue rectified prior to closing. Let’s hope it all works out well!
Do you have any house hunting tips you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below!
Disclosure: Image provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.Net