Buying a house is a life-changing event, a tremendous commitment, and a milestone in many people’s lives. Often, it’s the crowning achievement of years of hard work.
Hunting for houses, though, is an arduous process that can be fraught with uncertainty, anxiety, and frustration. It can drag on for months, with showings and price negotiations, shady realtors, and unexpected expenses.
To make hunting for your dream house less of a hassle, there are several things you can do before you throw yourself into the fray. Here are five essential steps to prepare yourself for house hunting.
1 – Check your credit, set a budget
First off, you’ll need to be crystal clear about your budget – what sort of house you can afford. This will narrow down your selection considerably, and stop you from wasting time going to showings of properties out of your reach.
The best way to go about it is to check your credit score. You’ll likely need a mortgage to buy the home you want, and assessing your credit helps you get an idea of the size and interest rate on it. What’s more, getting a detailed mortgage pre-qualification will tell you exactly what sort of offers you’ll be able to put in.
2 – Clearly define your expectations and priorities
No house is ever perfect. The chances that you’ll like every single feature of a property, with no downsides are extremely slim.
However, you should clearly define your expectations in advance. And prioritize them. That means making lists of things you absolutely want in your new home, elements that would be nice to have, and features you want to avoid like the plague.
It’s all too easy to be swayed during a showing, with a realtor waxing poetic in the background, and forget that you really wanted a porch or a large backyard, but could do without the pool that the property you’re looking at has.
Don’t compromise. You’ll be spending years – if not decades – of your life in your new home. Make sure that it meets all your needs.
3 – Set a target area – and check neighborhoods
When looking for most things in life, it’s best to cast a wide net and expand your field of search. House hunting is an exception. Before you start looking for potential properties, you should clearly define your target area, down to the block.
Your house will be your haven, adjusted to your tastes, and tweaked to suit your needs. However, the area in which it’s located is just as important in determining whether you’ll enjoy your new home.
What do you expect of your new neighborhood? Look at school districts, crime rate, transport infrastructure, and nearby amenities – from stores and medical facilities to parks and theaters. Are there any sources of pollution or noise in the area? Are any big construction projects – such as factories and highways – planned in the vicinity?
These are all questions you should ask yourself when delineating the areas in which you’ll be looking for your new home.
4 – Find a reliable and transparent realtor
The realtors you work with can be your greatest allies or biggest foes on the hunt for a new house. Make sure to research them thoroughly and choose wisely.
Great real estate agents are your guides in the market, help you avoid bad deals and spot good ones, watch your back in negotiations, and have your best interests at heart. They’ll be efficient, transparent, and upfront with you. They’ll also tell you about the additional costs of any property you’re considering – from maintenance to repairs.
Before you settle on any one agency, check recommendations from friends and family, online reviews, and agency listings. Reach out to potential realtors for an initial inquiry and see how promptly they respond, how forthcoming they are, and how transparently they handle your requests.
5 – Be aware of hidden costs
Finally, prepare yourself for hidden expenses before you set out on the hunt for your new home.
Many assume that the only upfront cost of buying a house is the downpayment. Other expenses are often overlooked – and then show up as nasty surprises.
Prime examples are closing costs, realtor fees, property insurance, and – if you can’t afford a 20% downpayment – mortgage insurance.
What’s more, 80% of buyers will also have to pay Homeowners Association (HOA) dues, which can add hundreds of dollars to monthly payments.
Costs for utilities like trash disposal or water are also often considerably higher for homeowners than for those renting apartments.
Be clear about these costs in advance, and factor them into your budget from the start. This helps you avoid unpleasant surprises.
The hunt for your dream house – whether country cottage or mansion – is a challenging endeavor, full of pitfalls and unexpected turns.
Proper preparation will make your life on the hunt easier: Set your budget and expectations, define your target area, find a trustworthy realtor, and be aware of hidden costs.
With this preparation, endurance, and a dash of luck, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to track down your dream home. And hold the keys in your hand before long.