Home Search Tips

We had a friend, who moved his family from New Hampshire to Virginia last year as we did, come over last weekend. During our chat, he mentioned that they are also looking to buy a house in this area and since they are first-time home buyer, he wanted to see if I can share my experience of home search because we just bought ours only a few months ago.

I told the friend some websites that we used in our house hunting that saved us a lot of time and efforts. With those tools, we already had a good idea of the house before even going to see it. Those websites also helped us tremendously in the negotiation process since we could compare the house we wanted to buy against houses still on the markets as well as sold recently to know the price range. In addition to the websites, I also offered a few home search tips to my friends.

House for sale

First, where to buy the house. Location is always one of the most important factors in the house hunting process because it basically determines what kind of house you will buy and how much you are going to pay for it. For example, in Northern Virginia, there are places with very good schools but the houses are relatively old and more expensive. For the same amount of money, we could either buy a house build in the 1960s or 1970s in a good school district, or get a house built after 2000 in a not–too-bad school district. Eventually, we chose the latter one because we want to live a little more comfortably.

Then, what kind of house to buy. Before starting the search, we already knew how many bedrooms, bathrooms we want to have in our new home. Those were the must-haves that we didn’t want to comprise on. But there were also a lot of things that were nice to have but not really necessary. Separating wants and needs allowed us to prioritize our wish list. Prioritization doesn’t limit to just features of the house, but also includes community amenities, transportation, and commute.

And a good realtor who knows the area well can make home search a lot easier. Even though we found most of the information about houses we were interested in by ourselves, we still needed somebody to take us to see the houses. Our agent was very good. The only problem was that he lived too far away from here so we could only ask him to see some of the properties in the weekend. That wasn’t very convenient because houses got listed and sold on work days as well. So it’s better to get a local agent.

In case you find a house you really like and want to make an offer right away, it’s better to have a loan pre-qualification letter handy. The first house we offered to buy was a short sale and the seller had a deadline to accept offers from potential buyers. We made the offer on the same day we saw the house and since we were pre-qualified for a loan that was more than enough for us to use (we also used the same letter in buying the house we eventually bought), our offer was very competitive even though we didn’t get that house. And since lenders have tightened the loan approval process, more documents are now required in order to have a smooth loan application.

In addition to the loan pre-qualification letter, there are some other information that you need to prepare in advance in case the house you really like come up and you don’t want to lose out in the competition because you can’t write an offer fast enough. So it’s always good to have all the documents ready and be prepared to make an offer.

Of course, having a plan for how much down payment you can put and how much mortgage you can afford is crucial to make sure that your monthly payment (mortgage, property taxes, HOA fees, insurance, etc.) doesn’t overwhelm your budget. It’s nice to live in a big, fancy house, but it won’t be a wise decision if that puts you under too much pressure. After the down payment and monthly mortgage payment, you should still have some fund set aside in case something unexpected happens.

Finally, buying a house is not like buying a shirt which, if you like, you can return it and get your money back. Always be prepared to make an offer, but don’t rush to make one because the house has something you like (most likely the price) but doesn’t satisfy you overall. Go back to your “wants” and “needs” list to make the best decision. Sometimes, you need to be a little more patient, especially in a buyer’s market.

Photo credit: Nelson Horsley

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