Eleven (and a half) tricks, tips, secrets. What’s changed.
By Scott Lucas, licensed loan officer
From technology to law, much has recently changed in the way houses are advertised and sold. The list below updates how house hunting should be done.
Secret Number Zero should not be a Secret
General Location. Most house hunting folks already understand that the general location of a property is important. Not much point in comparing one specific farm house to one specific suburban town house. If considering different general locations, keep separate lists of properties by area. You can then choose your favorite area later after reviewing “The Best Of” in each area.
Get prequalified first. MortgageCalculatorTools.com lets you plug in a payment to see how much house a monthly payment will buy. At MortgageQualierTools.com, plug in your income and debts to see how much house you qualify for. Call me at 443-829-2210 for help.
In the old days (3 years ago), common advice was to take multiple photos of every visited house to keep each house identifiable for comparison purposes. This was number one on the list, but it’s not so necessary anymore. Today, nearly every listed house is photographed professionally and the photos are posted on websites. (Lots of websites.) Many houses also boast virtual tours and some are even staged, complete with rented furniture, paintings, and even flower arrangements. Your eight-year-old can show you how to open up two or three different browser windows and compare photos of the different houses side by side.
Make YOUR Criteria List
As you begin house hunting, decide what house features are most important to YOU. Make your list in that order. Don’t limit yourself to the side-by-side comparisons generated by the multiple listing computers.
Common items include:
•updates (ie: kitchens, baths)
•useable lot size
•area schools / school district
•property age and general condition
•utility costs (electric, gas, oil)
•funtionality – ie: walk out basement, front porch
•space for a pool table…. Everyone’s list will be a little different.
How unusual can your list get? I recently talked to a buyer who changed his house hunting target area based on internet speeds. (A true techie). Also keep in mind… your family size may grow, or shrink. Kids will move out. They may also move back in. Elderly parents may move in.
Additional note about location
Travel time to work. Don’t just check the distance! The Monday morning traffic will likely be very different from your Sunday afternoon visit. Mapquest can suggest multiple different routes. Try them out.
How about travel time to other frequented locations. Will you continue to go there? Your spouse wants to buy in an area close to your dog’s groomer. Will that really matter in the long run?
Zillow / Trulia – House Valuation Tools
As part of the house hunting process, check out zillow neighborhood values but don’t get sucked into the zillow ads. For your purchase, you want a local Buyer Agent who knows the area well. House values are more than just square footage and zip codes. Zillow can and does sometimes make value errors. Call me for more details.
Drive through the desired neighborhoods
While the on-line house photos are great, nothing (yet) can replace you personally driving through neighborhoods to decide which are most appealing. (Google is working on this one.)
Quick Response Codes
While driving through a neighborhood on your list, you notice that some of the Realtor signs have that funny looking checkered square. Some non-techies affectionately refer to these as “robot barf”.
If you don’t know what these are, they are QR Codes. You focus your smart phone on the code (you might first need to install an “app” on your iPhone). It opens a tour of the house right on your phone. As a sample, I made the one on the right. It links your smartphone to my website: MortgageCalculatorTools.com.
Years ago, it was common for a single agent to represent the seller and also act on behalf of the buyer. That’s changed. Because of legal issues in today’s world, nearly all sales are handled by one agent representing the seller, and a different agent representing the buyer (even though the seller pays the whole commission at settlement).
You want to know that your agent is loyal only to you. Not to the seller or listing company. Choose your own Buyer Agent. For properties in Maryland, call me at 443-829-2210 if you’d like help choosing the best. Your Buyer Agent will help find you the best home for the price.
Your Buyer Agent already knows the houses in local neighborhoods. Use that knowledge to focus your house hunting. The agent can also be a great coach when preparing a contract offer. They do this every day, and will not forget important issues you would have overlooked.
Home Showing Appointments
You looked at the great on-line photos. But in person, the rooms look so much smaller! Wide-angle lenses are used to make photos look their best. For example, my neighbor’s house was recently sold. Look at the photos taken with and without a wide-angle lens. Ok, I admit it, the house was also renovated. But the room size (photo to the right) did not change.
Also, in houses built more than twenty years ago, be conscious of “how the rooms flow” so that you won’t be unhappy later when your first floor bathroom is directly connected to the living room. Bottom line? As of 2013, personal viewing appointments by you (along with your Buyer Agent) are still important before making final home selections.
Visiting open houses
If you want to visit open houses, take YOUR agent with you (or have them call ahead to each house you plan to go in). You have been working with YOUR Buyer Agent, who has been keeping you updated on new listings, and who will guide you through your contract offer. Visit an open house without YOUR agent? Unless your agent calls ahead, you now become “the property” of the agent who shows you the house (if you buy that house).
For Sale By Owners
Almost always a bad deal. The seller has often over-priced the house and is also trying to save the commission. On the other hand, you are trying to reduce the offer by more than the commission. Further, unless one of you is a lawyer, then neither of you really know all the details of preparing a contract. And if the seller IS a lawyer, then you need a lawyer too.
Making Sure Everything Works?
Well…. Yes. This used to rank really high on the list, before the days where most contracts called for home inspections. Unless you are buying an “as-is” foreclosure, you will most likely get a home inspection. If the deal is great (or you have plenty of cash) and you plan to waive the home inspection, then you might also be planning to replace the outdated appliances and fixtures.
Researching future nearby development or redevelopment
This can be a tough one. If it might be an issue, ask your Buyer Agent to help. You really have to know where to look or who to ask. Will you be competing against the local builder in seven years when you decide to sell the house you are buying now? How much undeveloped land is nearby?
Some things can’t be predicted. Folks in Parkville, Maryland laughed in 1959 when told a new highway was being built behind their back yards. Something called a “Beltway”. Sounded pretty tame.
This one counts as the one-half tip because we have never really come up with a full proof solution to this problem. Some buyers get emotionally attached to the first house they submit an offer on (not knowing it was already under contract). They end up unfairly comparing every other house to it.
Much has changed recently. I hope this update helps in your house hunting ventures. Have you starting seeing TV house tours yet while pumping your gas? If you have questions, call, text or email me.
Scott Lucas, Licensed Loan Officer 443-829-2210
Member, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors (affiliate)
Member, Carroll County Board of Realtors (affiliate)
34 years loan officer experience, 17 years underwriting experience