Shop for Homes Online
The Internet can be a tremendous help during the house-hunting process. It allows you to preview properties online first, before you try to arrange a showing. The technology has come a long way, too. A lot of listings have virtual tours, video content, and other features to help you screen properties. The goal here is to reduce the number of homes you have to visit. You do this by weeding out the ones that don’t meet your needs. You start with hundreds of houses for sale. Then you use the Internet to screen them based on size, price, appearance and location. Suddenly, those hundreds of properties have been reduced to a few dozen contenders (or less). Now you’re ready to do some actual house hunting.
- Realtor.com is one of the oldest and largest of the property websites. It offers a variety of features to help you with your home search.
- Trulia.com is another great website for property listings. This site has become increasingly sophisticated since it was first launched.
- Zillow.com started out as a tool for getting property-value estimates online. While they still offer that function, they now have real estate listings as well.
- RealtyTrac.com is another website to use if you want access to foreclosure properties. Short sales and bank-owned foreclosures make up about 40 percent of the market these days, in terms of inventory. So it’s hard to ignore them.
House-hunting tip: All of the websites mentioned above will allow you to save your searches. This can be a real time-saver. The next time you visit, you just log in with your user name and password, and all of your previous searches and criteria are right there for you.
Visit the Homes on Your Short List
So you’ve created a list of properties you want to visit, and your agent has arranged for some showings. You’re well on your way! Here are some things to keep in mind as you start to look at homes:
- Take a digital camera when you look at houses. When you get home, download the photos into a folder labeled with the property address. This will help you recall the details of a particular home later on, when you’re comparing one house to another. If you don’t label the folders with the address, you’ll never remember which photos go with which home.
- Bring your checklist with you. This is the list of “wants versus needs” you created earlier in the process. Use a separate checklist for each house, so you can make notes on them. Write the property address at the top of each checklist.
- Don’t just focus on the home. Pay attention to the neighborhood as well. Does the house back up to a busy street? Can you hear the noise inside the home? Do the neighbors take care of their lawns? Is there any major construction planned in the area? Remember, neighborhoods affect your property values.
- Focus on the things you can’t change. This includes the size of the home, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the lot, the view and the location. Don’t worry about the decor — you can change all of that. Who cares if the house has ugly wallpaper and carpet? You can change those things in a couple of days, and without a huge investment. Look beyond the surface.
- In most cases, there are actually two rounds of house-hunting visits. The first time around, you’re looking at homes you may have pre-screened online. The goal is to create a shorter list of actual contenders. The purpose of the second visit is to decide if you want to make an offer for one of the contenders.
- You won’t be as excited the second time you visit. You’ll be calmer and more analytical. This is a good thing. This is how you spot things you might’ve missed the first time around.
Determine Your Location Needs
Whether you are purchasing your home as an investment, a lifestyle upgrade or both, one of the most important decisions you will make is where you want to live. Your home’s location will help determine not only the future value of your investment, but also many aspects of your everyday life. Explore the factors you should consider carefully when selecting a location.
Determine What Kind Of Home Suits Your Needs
Once you’ve decided where you want your new home to be located, it’s time to decide what kind of home you want. The three major choices are condos, townhouses and detached houses. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, and entails a significantly different lifestyle and set of responsibilities. Explore the different kinds of homes.
Homeowners Association (HOA) Basics
First, let’s take a look at what HOAs are all about. HOA fees often range from $200 to $400 per month. The more upscale the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the homeowners’ association fees are likely to be. In addition to monthly fees, if a major expense such as a new roof or a new elevator comes up and there aren’t enough funds in the HOA’s reserves to pay for it, the association may charge an extra assessment that can run into the thousands of dollars. Because multiple parties live in the same building, all residents of condominiums and townhomes must be equally responsible for maintaining the common areas of the building such as landscaping, elevators, swimming pools, clubhouses, parking garages, fitness rooms, sidewalks, security gates, roofing and the building exterior. Many of these types of common areas, such as pools and tennis courts, also exist in subdivisions of single family homes. Regardless of whether the HOA governs a building, such as a condo or townhome structure, or a neighborhood of individual houses, HOA fees help maintain the quality of life for the community’s residents and protect property values for all owners. In addition to maintaining common areas, HOAs also set out certain rules that all residents must follow called covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs). In a common building, rules may include what color front door you may have, whether you are allowed to line dry your laundry outside, whether you can have a satellite dish, the size and type of pets permitted, and so on. In many ways, these rules are similar to the types of rules apartment dwellers must follow.