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The Fastest Way to Find Your Perfect Home

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StopwatchAs we mentioned a while back, we’re buying a home and it’s a very exciting time for us. It wasn’t always so exciting though and if you’ve ever looked for a home, you’ll agree. The actual task of finding a house you like can take a very long time and there are no guarantees you’ll ever find one you like. I’ve heard horror stories, they were horror stories to me anyway, about people having to look at a hundred homes before they found one they liked… only to lose out on it because their offer wasn’t good enough.

A hundred houses. If you spend a minimum of half an hour inside, that’s still 50 hours. That’s more than a standard work week. Add in travel time and you’re probably pushing 80 hours. Two solid weeks. It’s incredible.

Here’s the secret… it’s up to you to be efficient.

Know What You Want

This is easier said than done but this is the absolute most important piece of advice in this entire article. You need to figure out what it is you want, how much that will cost, and what you will need to sacrifice in order to get into a home. If you had ten million dollars to spend on a house, you can get almost everything on your wish list. Since you don’t have ten million dollars to spend on a house, something will have to give.

It will take you a few homes to figure this out. You set up your house buying budget based on your actual budget, say it’s $300,000, and now you start looking at homes in the $275,000 to $300,000 range. In our area, that gets you a nice townhouse that’s probably 30-40 years old and not much land. If you want a single family home, you will have to sacrifice size and lot size. If you want a condo, you can get a bigger condo but then you are in a condo with no lot.

It’s very important that every visit you go on advances you on the path towards ownership. Maybe you visit a few single family homes, see that they’re really close to each other, and decide you’d rather get into a larger townhouse. Then you want to start cutting small single family homes out of your search. Your agent should no longer show you those houses unless there’s a compelling reason they can tell you beforehand (such as “it’s a larger home but needs some work”).

You will also what to know what you don’t want. Know what is a deal-breaker and make those clear. Agents aren’t mind readers. Their job is to get your into a home you want to buy. They aren’t paid by the hour so it’s important to them that they find a good fit. In order to do those, you need to be open with them about what you like, what you dislike, what are must haves and what you must avoid.

One of the best things my friend and agent Christina did was have me send her a list of must haves and deal breakers. Not only did she use this in her own searches, she could enter them in the automated searches in MLS that emailed me weekly. More importantly, it made me think about what we wanted… which isn’t trivial.

Search On Your Own

You are constrained by your budget and with tools like Zillow and Redfin, you can do your own searching at your leisure. You can “visit” a dozen houses in fifteen minutes and through the magic of photos and virtual tours, get a sense of what you like and dislike. You can send the ones you like to your agent, along with your notes, and he or she can start to integrate that into their own searches for you.

I liked searching on my own because it can give you a better sense of how much things cost and what you get for your money. Many of those websites give you historical sale data as well, so you know how much per square foot a home is selling for in your area. You can figure out whether your budget makes sense in certain neighborhoods.

If you aren’t yet serious about buying a home, searching online is great because it’s very casual. You’re sitting at home in your pajamas flying around Redfin looking at houses. You aren’t taking up someone’s time, you can do it in the middle of the night, and it can be fun looking at multi-million dollar homes and their gaudy excesses. We used to go to open houses on the weekends at some of those homes with their grand entrance double staircases (why!?) and their indoor statues (why!?).

Visit Many Homes, Be Quick

You can look around a home in about fifteen minutes. You already know the important statistics – square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. Spend just fifteen minutes and fly through the house. You will have a feeling whether this is the house for you or not. If you have to convince yourself, then it’s not. People always decide based on emotion and then use logic to find facts to confirm it. You will know if you like a house once you step inside and walk around. You can see yourself living there. When you visit a house that just doesn’t feel right, you don’t really need to know the age of the furnace or whether all the doors latch.

When you do find a home that feels right, that’s when you start looking for the facts you need to confirm you want to buy it. If the furnace is 25 years old, that’s something you will likely need to replace soon. Do you have the budget for that? If you have 5 years to save, maybe it’s not a big deal. If it needs to be replaced today, then you might not want the house. What’s the roof look like? Will you need to replace that soon? You won’t be an expert (and a home inspection will tell you more) but those are the things you check after you feel like you want the house. Until you reach that point, it doesn’t matter how old things are or what the monthly electrical bill is.

The takeaway here is to know what you want, make sure your agent knows it, and then be quick with the process. It’s important to be more methodical and deliberate after you have an offer, when you do inspections and whatnot, but the home search shouldn’t be slow.

Do you have any tips for the fastest way to find your perfect home?

(Credit: wwarby)

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12 Responses to “The Fastest Way to Find Your Perfect Home”

  1. Michelle says:

    We’ve been searching online for quite some time for our dream home. We have a house right now, so we now know exactly what we want before our next purchase!

  2. I think you’re spot on with knowing what you want. When we bought our first house we had no idea of what we wanted. Thankfully our realtor knew that and showed us several homes that were completely different. That helped us see what we did want which made the rest of it much quicker.

  3. That was a great tip about looking online so many of my friends spent hours and months figuring out what they could afford and getting a feel for what is around them. I’m thinking this could have saved them many steps.

  4. huskervball says:

    We bought a house on a lake. We had looked at this area several times. The house fits our needs. However, it had been neglected by the previous two owners. i think the lake dazzled us so that we neglected to look at the downsides. Our inspector was abyssmal, he missed several obvious things. We like our buy but there are certainly downsides to it.

  5. admiral58 says:

    what are thoughts on condos?

  6. Shafi says:

    When we were looking for a home, we decided to make it as an adventure and just learn from the experience. In the end, we were able to know what we want and were able to clearly propagate to the real estate agent what kind of home we have decided on – that is our likes and dislikes.

  7. Sarah says:

    Great tips! We, too, are looking for our next home. I think it’s pretty easy to size up a home through online listings (as long as there are actual pictures – what is wrong with people who only post 1 picture? Don’t they want to sell their house?) We are using a combination of Realtor.com (for searching), Google Maps (to get an idea of the lot and location, especially with satellite view) and Zillow (look up property taxes, previous sales, days on market). Once we do find a house we’re interested in, I think the Zillow info will be very useful in knowing how much we should offer. I think house-hunting before the internet must have been very time-consuming.

  8. We only looked at 5 houses for either of the houses we bought.

    More accurately, I looked at five. My husband looked at 2 for our first house and 1 for our second. I knew he wouldn’t like any of the others!

  9. admiral58 says:

    how close do you plan to be against the upper limits of your budget? Obviously, it depends on what the bank says how much you can borrow, but I’d be interested to know if people are borrowing much less than qualified for and whats the best range.

  10. Betsy Boggia says:

    Good feedback on the home buying experience-can attest in the northeast to bidding wars on properties (low inventory) driving prices up, leading to disapointed potential buyers. One addition-it is so important to get a thorough pre-approval before house shopping (which should include w-2′s, tax returns, credit report) to understand exactly what you can afford, and to be prepared to make an offer in this competative market.


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