Two and a half years. Two three-hour first time home-buying programs. Three offers. Two short sales. Three realtors. Three loan officers. A pregnancy. A baby. One house.
This is no math conundrum. These are our personal pit stops on our journey to home ownership. I can’t say that our journey wasn’t a bumpy road, nor can I claim that it wasn’t a road worth travelling.
Given the state of the U.S. housing market – although wavering signs of its recovery has peeked its head a time or two – it’s pretty safe to say that buying a home post recession doesn’t play as big of a role in the “American Dream” as it once did. The real estate equals wealth now requires a few more variables.
Based on my experience and the experience of a few other homeowners (some of them novices, some of them veterans), I’ve created a collaborative list of lessons learned by homeowners on the journey to buying a home:
• Weigh your options. Is it worth it to you and your family to rent or own? Seriously consider this question prior to making a commitment. For some, the flexibility and unbound responsibility of renting far outweigh the “advantages” of being a homeowner. Conversely, the homeowner tax credit, and having a home that could possibly be passed down from generation to generation is enough of a reason to sign on the dotted line.
• Establish your price range and adhere to it!!! Before you ever begin house hunting you should thoroughly examine your finances. What the lender will approve you for and what you can actually afford are not usually in alignment. The lender does not take into account all of your expenses, only your gross income. So it is your responsibility to note your daily, weekly, and monthly expenses (e.g. transportation cost, groceries, daycare, hair and nail appointment – yes divas! Etc.).
• I type this with much conviction and from personal experience – Appearances can be an illusion sent straight from the devil! Lol…To put this statement into context: The prettiest house in the worst neighborhood is a bad choice. You’re better off with the ugly house in a wonderful neighborhood. Good neighborhood versus bad neighborhood can be subjective and certainly up to your interpretation. So use this tidbit as a jumpstart to developing your definition of what a good neighborhood looks and feels like to you and your family.
• Inspect once, twice, and maybe even thrice. A home inspection will leave you on edge once you’re provided with a novels worth of minor, and, unfortunately, sometimes, major problems with a home may soon be your responsibility. However, ignorance is not bliss. Get an inspection. And, from the advice of a loved one – preferably, from two separate inspectors. **Word to the wise: Shop around for an inspector(s). No disrespect to the honest and good natured realtors, but kindly decline the realtors’ offer to use his brothers’ girlfriends’ father who has been an inspector for X number of years. Shop around for an inspector who you have determined to be experienced and thorough.**
• Utilize your city/county website to evaluate police reports in the area of your prospective home. Restaurant deliver (or lack thereof) can sometimes be a telltale sign of a neighborhoods “character.” Note, that I’ve used the word “sometimes” because this is not always true. But it’s worth calling a few local pizza delivery restaurants to ascertain whether your neighborhood has been blacklisted or placed on a curfew (no delivery once the street lights have come on). Safely visit the neighborhood at different intervals throughout the day and night during both the weekday/night and the weekend. Asking neighborhood residents and visiting http://www.City-data.com can also be a helpful tool to assist you in your house hunting research.
• Your “need” and “want” list has room for some flexibility. Point: Have a list before you enter into the win-or-lose sport of house hunting. Know what you want and decide what is a must have versus what is a like to have, but can do without. As my sister-in-law advised, “it can be easy to get distracted by the beauty of a new home and forget [your] priorities.”
• Check the real estate comps or have your realtor print and review the comps with you. This will help to determine the “actual value” of the home. My husband and I used the comps to not only help us determine the value of our soon-to-be home, but to help drive our offer on the home.
• Ask questions…and wait for the answers! Keep a folder, organizer, and/or notebook to write your questions (don’t depend on your memory, it will fail you more than half the time) and answers. If you’re looking to purchase a townhome you should have a comprehensive understanding of HOA dues, how often the dues are increased and by how much; general services covered by the HOA? In line with asking questions, do not be afraid to ask the seller for what you want. Don’t be nitpicky, but certainly look out for your interest and your pockets. If the seller can save you money, ask for it. We got window screens and three tree stumps removed from our property! Unimportant to some until faced with $1000 bill for stump removal.
• When house hunting take with you a pair of lenses that looks to the resale value of the home. I wore these glasses far often than my husband. Which also brings me to the point of house hunting with a trusted love one who will offer a second opinion and hopefully point out both good and negative aspects of the home(s) you will view. Now, back to considering the resale value of a home. Pay attention to the school district. You may not have school aged children or even care to have children, but potential buyers whom you may attract when you become a seller may have children and wish to move to a neighborhood that boasts a great school district. Researching sites like http://www.greatschools.org will provide you with information about the schools, its demographics, and the neighborhood. This information proved to be a great guide for us in learning about a neighborhood that we weren’t very familiar with.
• Be patient.