We’re no strangers to house hunting and buying. We are currently renovating our third house, which means that we’ve not only bought three houses (over the course of seven years), we’ve fixed up and sold two of them.
We have some pretty decent experience when it comes to evaluating potential homes and trying to pick the one that best fits our family’s needs (and doesn’t break the bank). From gutting bathrooms and kitchens to building a deck and even creating a laundry room from scratch, we know what it’s feels like to stand in a potential home and squint at something lackluster and do your best to envision “what could be.”
Whether you’re hunting for the perfect fixer upper or you’re on the search for something turnkey, here are a few things to consider if you’re searching for a new home.
Make a “needs to have” and a “nice to have” list to help you with your search.
Be honest with yourself that it may be nearly impossible to find something that checks every box (depending how long your list is and how picky you are). But having these two lists can help keep you on the same page as anyone you might be house-hunting with, and these lists provide a useful guide for your realtor (so you don’t waste time touring homes that don’t meet your basic criteria). Sure something like an extra fireplace is awesome, but if you need three bedrooms and a house only has two, clearly seeing that all the “must have” needs aren’t being met can help you from being blinded by a few “nice to have” perks.
Bucket your needs into categories
As you approach each potential house, it can really help to bucket things into these three categories:
1. Things that are easily changed (like paint, furniture, curtains)
2. Things that are hard/pricier to change (like overall layout/floor plan, a full kitchen or bathroom renovation)
3. Things you can’t change (like the location, neighborhood, school system, lot size, etc).
Then it’s really about seeing past the first category (Don’t let easy changes deter you from grabbing the house that could be the best one for you.), evaluating the second category (What are you willing to do and how much money do you have to tackle these potentially larger changes?), and being comfortable with the third category (Since these aren’t things you have the power to change, if there are any deal killers in the mix, it’s probably a sign to move on).
Shop below your max budget
While buying the grandest house at the top of your price range may be tempting, resisting the urge to stretch your funds could pay off in the end. If your mortgage payment doesn’t totally drain your bank account each month, it leaves a cushion in case there’s a bidding war; helps you cover closing costs; and makes renovations and future projects more doable. It also keeps more in your pocket to go towards actually living life in your home, and you may even pay down your mortgage faster (We love over-paying ours when we can. It cuts down on the amount of interest you’ll pay out over time). Shopping below your budget also can leave you an emergency fund for any mishaps that could occur while renovating or just living in your house. And, of course, homeowners insurance can give you extra peace of mind and help when it comes to potential accidents and unexpected home-ownership curve balls.
And now for the one thing to look out for
It may sound ironic to look out for invisible things, but that’s where the pros come in to help. In addition to a thorough home inspection, which can uncover conditions about the home that laypeople might not notice, it’s also smart to tap other experts to test for specific issues in your area that realtors and neighbors might not be able to warn you about (think: mold, termites, flooding, or other hazards that your home might be susceptible to).
For example, we’ve learned to always get a radon gas test during the inspection period since all of our homes have had unsafe levels and needed costly remediation to remove it. Knowing if a home has above normal levels right off the bat means we can budget towards fixing it ourselves or even tap the seller to pitch in towards that if you identify it as an issue during the buying process.
The same goes for springing for a termite or chimney inspection. These are things that can potentially cause thousands of dollars of damage if they go unnoticed. What you can’t see can hurt if it pops up and surprises you later!