This summer, when we started to think more seriously about buying a house, we decided to meet up with our real estate agent one weekend to see what was out there. With a baby who was fighting her nap time and a list of ten houses, we knew the day could go in any which direction.
We ended up seeing four houses and genuinely only liked the last one. We just weren’t ready to pull the trigger on an offer after one day of house hunting so we told our agent we would need to think about it and probably needed to see some more houses. During the week, a couple who had been out to see the house three times put an offer on it. Although we felt pressure to put an offer in, we knew we couldn’t feel good about doing that without waiting a bit longer.
By the next weekend, the house was not only still on the market, but the sellers had dropped the price by 10k. The other buyer was still in the picture as we set out on our second outing to look at houses. We saw two other houses and they both had major flaws. We found ourselves back at the house we were considering and after a second slow walk through, we felt good about moving on the offer. I learned the importance of five things during our short house hunting process.
You have to trust you real estate agent, especially if you are looking for your first house. Even though we have rented loads of properties, we don’t have the eye that comes with decades of experience looking at houses. Our agent could quickly look at a house and tell if it was priced above or below market, whether the renovation was well done or a quick sloppy job. He could assess things like resale potential and school districts without too much effort. As first time homebuyers, we may not have even have thought of some of the things he brought up, so having him there with us was an invaluable resource.
Our agent was very responsive to our questions about the houses he sent us and came to tour days with an itinerary outlining the houses we would see. He pushed us hard on the house that we bought because he knew that it was a good house, in a good neighborhood, in good condition at a good price. We were able to see these virtues but as first time buyers, our thoughts were that if we found something good right away, maybe we would find something even better if we just looked a while longer. At a fork like that, you have to be able to trust your agent and feel confident that he is looking out for your interest and not just trying to make a buck. Because our agent was referred to us by my boss and was a longtime friend of hers, I felt a bit more easy about relying so heavily on his advice. We decided to be aggressive and offer the list price instead of trying to negotiate. A part of me cringes at the thought that we left money on the table but I didn’t want to risk still being on the market six months later while dreaming about the one that got away
We picked our location based on closeness to a town center, public transportation, parks and affordability. By moving out of the very expensive neighborhood we currently live in, we are going to be saving a great deal on our rent while still having access to all the things that made us love where we live now.
When we first started to consider looking for a house, the advice that I heard most often was that you can change everything about your house except its location so make sure that is something you are happy with. Once you roughly know where you want to live, learn everything you can about that area. Stalk Zillow for a few months so you become familiar with the pricing and expectations for that location. Keep an eye on how fast houses that you like go. In more competitive markets, you need to be ready to pull the trigger the day you see the house and you will feel much better doing that if you have a strong sense of what a good price and good house in that area look like.
For people like us, who want to be a part of the community and friends with our neighbors, the neighborhood we live in is probably one of the most important parts of our home search. While we were looking at the house we ultimately put an offer on, one of the neighbors came out and introduced herself to us. She welcomed us into her house to show the differences in the house we were looking at and her house which hadn’t been expanded like our potential home. Her sweet daughter cooed over Nouri and told us how she loved growing up on the cul de sac. We learned many of the neighbors are friends and there is even a little neighborhood band. It honestly felt like we were in a staged scene written just for us. The number one reason we decided to go with the house we did was that interaction with the neighbor.
We also wanted Nouri to have a diverse neighborhood to grow up in. Although we love Bethesda, we have found our particular neighborhood lacking in diversity. Our new neighborhood has a great diversity rating with many of the residents having been born overseas or being multilingual. Neighborhoodscout.com has some good facts and figures on neighborhoods if you don’t want to go knocking on each door to see who lives there.
Beyond things like school district, walkability and safety, you also want to consider where your neighborhood is headed. Is there new development that could considerably increase the value of homes in the next five to ten years? If so, you could be sitting on a gold mine. Have the prices topped out and you might not see a profit for decades? That might be a factor if this isn’t going to be your forever home.
Whether you want a house that is move in ready or something that you can renovate for years to come, you want your house to have good bones. For me, this means having a solid foundation, a new roof and lots of light. A structurally sound house will save you tons of headache and money in the long run. Your inspector should know what big ticket repairs are and give you a good sense of what you are walking into.
Get every penny you can for big and small repairs. This may be the last time you will be able to get something for free for the property you are purchasing. You want as many tools in your belt as possible before embarking on the grand journey of home ownership.
Don’t Sweat It
It seems a lot of people get very stressed and overwhelmed at the prospect of buying a house. If the idea of owning a house seems oppressive and brings on bouts of panic attacks, it might not be right for you. If you are genuinely excited about buying a house, enjoy the process! When it gets overwhelming, take a break and return when you are ready to tackle it again. Just like finding the right partner, finding the right house requires a certain leap of faith. Once you have done all your due diligence, you will be in good shape when you find the one.