I have looked forward to house hunting for sooo many years! I made lists of all the must have features that I wanted, and poured over furniture magazines picturing how I would decorate my home.
House hunting can be a lot of fun, but it is also stressful. So for all the first time home buyers, here is a list of the things that I wish I knew to expect when I started house hunting.
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Right out of High School I started working at a car dealership doing customer service follow up phone calls. This dealership had a small cafe where waiting customers and employees could get your average diner type food. I was offered a job there and it came with tips, so I jumped at the chance to spend my Saturdays working in the cafe instead of on the phone (one of my LEAST favorite types of jobs ever!). While working I remember listening to the young sales girls (only a few years older than me) about the house they were buying and their $3000 kitchen table. I admired them. I rarely talked to them unless taking their order, but I was jealous. I wanted to buy a house and furniture to put in it.
Fast forward 12 years, and now I’m 30. I started seriously house hunting for the first time this past April. I’ve spent the past 12 years dreaming of the house I would buy, and looking at what was for sale. I’ve mentally remodeled many houses. More than I can count. But house hunting is not the joy I always envisioned it to be. There is still something cool about walking through a house, picturing where I want to put a couch and coffee table, and what color I will paint the laundry room. But it is hard work. Getting in and out of the car, taking pictures so I can remember which one was which and can show others later. It can be exhausting. I have gone home after a day of looking and just crashed because I had no energy left.
So here are some things to expect when you start looking for a new home:
- Pictures lie. They hide flaws very well. One house I saw online seemed to be recently renovated. What the pictures didn’t show was that the edge of the counter had been cut and just placed on top of the counters. Not secured in any way. This same house had a massive hole in the wall by the window of the master bedroom that was inches out of the picture.
- Speaking of the internet lying, be careful of where you get your information on which houses are for sale. Some popular websites are notoriously inaccurate. From my understanding, it is because they are updated manually. So if an owner or agent places a house on one of these websites, and that house sells, that owner or agent would have to manually update that the house sold. And many of them don’t care what is online once the house is sold. Or they may leave it listed after they have accepted an offer, just in case the sale falls through. That could give them at least two months online where they are not accepting offers, but it is still listed.
- Summer is an awful time to be house hunting. Many people want to move during summer. Kids aren’t in school so they won’t have to change schools in the middle. Some adults have less work during the summer (like those that work at schools) which makes it easier to undertake something like moving. More people looking for houses means that houses (especially the good ones) will not last long on the market. Like only hours sometimes. And because there is such high demand, the prices will be higher than during winter. Sometimes more than asking price. If more than one person wants a house and puts an offer on it, that could start a bidding war to see who is willing to give the “highest and best” offer.
- On the plus side, it is easier to house hunt during the summer because there isn’t snow (in the areas where it does snow). And then you can see if the house has proper air conditioning. After growing up in two houses that didn’t have a good working air conditioning, not having AC is totally a deal breaker for me. There are also more daylight hours to look. Houses are much easier to see during the day. You want to be able to see if the siding on the outside of the house is warping (along with that of the neighbors’ houses if they were built at the same time, by the same company. True story.) And its good to know how light is going to enter the house during the day.
- You can do a lot with an offer. You can ask the seller to pay closing costs, fix certain parts of the house, or throw in appliances. Pretty much if you can dream it up, you can put it in the offer. At least that’s what they tell me. And that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences (or that they will accept it), but you can ask for anything.
- When looking, its okay to ignore cosmetic “uglyness.” Pink bathroom? You can paint it so easily, and for so cheap (relatively speaking). Kitchens can be redone, flooring can be changed. What you really want to look for is the space. Does it have the layout and rooms you need (or the space to add them later if that is what you want to do)? Is there a garage, a basement, a backyard, enough storage? Also keep an eye out for red flags. Look for weird stains on the walls, floors, and ceilings that could be water damage and/or mold. Especially watch for signs of mold in the kitchen and bathrooms. Look at the exterior of the house; if there is concrete around the bottom edge of the house (common in houses with basements) is it cracked? How does the roof look? The siding? Watch for signs of pests. Holes in the lawn and yard could mean gophers or snakes. Black crumb like dust around the house and yard could be a sign of rodents. There’s so much more that I can’t even mention. Just watch for the things that could be expensive (or annoying) fixes.
- Find a realtor you like. You will spend a lot of time with them. You should enjoy their company. Trusting them is good too. 😉 I decided on mine because he was the fastest to respond to an email that I sent to multiple agents. And continued to reply usually within an hour after I emailed him. He has even answered a call at 11:30pm while filling out offer papers and we had a question. Don’t sign any paperwork until you are sure you are happy with your realtor. There are many realtors who are now willing to show houses without a contract. Don’t take advantage of their time, but don’t sign until you are sure. Mine doesn’t ask for a contract until putting in an offer on a house, and that contract only applies to that particular home.
My favorite resource for learning about the house buying process is Buying a Home: The Missing Manual. It is very straight forward and explains terms that may not be familiar. I wouldn’t say that it gives all the information you need, but at least it will give you a starting point. There is no real way to learn everything about house hunting or buying a house, or even most of it, other than actually buying a house.