In part one of this series, we built a budget and figured out exactly how much house we can afford. With that knowledge it our back pocket, its time to find a house.
Brainstorm what you need and what you want
It seems obvious, but this step is crucially important. Sit down and make a list of everything you need and the things you want. Watching home shows on TV can lead you astray; this is the time to be realistic with your expectations.
This step is highly personal. Your priorities are all matters.
- Do you want new construction or an existing home?
- Do you want to be in the best school district, or maybe your kids have already graduated so school district is irrelevant?
- Do you need two bedrooms? Three? More?
- Does Fido need a yard? Fenced?
- Do you prefer to be in the city? In the country? In a cul de sac?
Armed with a reasonable list of your needs and wants, it's time to dive in head first.
Do your own homework
The Internet has revolutionized the home-buying process. There are now countless resources available to assist you in finding the right home for you.
At the top of the list are websites that use the MLS system to show you all the available homes on the market.
Trulia.com and Zillow.com are two of the leading providers, but there are others just as suitable. These sites can be navigated based on a variety of filters -- from size, to location, to school district, to number of fireplaces. The map view on these sites are particularly useful if you prefer a certain neighborhood.
Most local real estate agencies have professional websites, as well. These companies and agents will have a better understanding of the local economy, neighborhoods, and pricing.
Find homes that you like, and save them. Even if you don't end up buying that house, this list will be a very helpful point of reference for your real estate agent to understand what you do and don't like.
If you come across a home you particularly like, dig into it a little bit deeper.
Are there any hidden expenses like HOA fees? How old is the home? Is it in the city limits (which could mean more municipal services like trash pickup, but could also mean higher property taxes)? Check the National Sex Offender Registry.
Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and ask people for information. Mortgage bankers, real estate agents, appraisers, or even friends can all provide valuable information to you.
Hire a pro
Real estate agents can be an extremely valuable resource to you as you navigate the home-buying process. At this stage, it's worth finding an agent to work with. They can assist you in finding a home, and they will facilitate visiting the property to see it inside and out.
It's important to understand the real estate agent's perspective. They are paid when homes are sold, so they're incentivized financially to see you sign on the dotted line. As the buyer, it's critical to find an agent who acts as a trusted advisor to you, operates with utmost professionalism, and doesn't pressure you into decisions.
For more detailed advice on choosing a real estate agent, you can read my "5 Questions to Ask Your Real Estate Broker Up Front" here.
Getting to know your agent at this point will benefit you later on, as well, as he or she will be your guide through the mechanics of actually making an offer and buying the house, which we'll explore in part four of Your Guide to Buying a Home.
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