Once you know your budget and your lists as well as understanding the market you are in so you can mental prepare yourself for how you most likely will have to operate, the next three things I found to be the most important are:
1. Know Your Area – Its important know the areas you are looking to buy in and what factors are effecting price in those areas. May involve leg work. Be prepared to drive around and ask questions – either in person or on-line. A realtor can help in this area but I found both when my husband and I were searching and previously (mind you 15 years plus ago) when my mother and I were looking for our new home that the best approach, if at all possible, is to go out and drive it (get a Icee for me while you are at it!). Considering most moves are not long distance moves, this can often be done.
When considering where to move you might want to move to, I highly recommend driving around the area and see what parts of it you would love, would be okay and that you don’t want to be in. You might like a city or a school district and its reputation but most cities have areas that you would rather not be in. Maps don’t show that.
You will also want to get online and check out the ratings for the school district – extremely important if you have kids or want kids. I have even driven by schools in areas at release time to see just a little of what campus life might be like. I also check out what’s around the area such a food stores, restaurants, entertainment or how quite an area is. And I also highly recommend driving to work or from work during your typical travel home time to the location you are considering moving to and see what traffic and your drive might be like. I know with respect to my son and his high school, what on the map was only a 10-15 mile drive in the morning was more like a 45 minutes to an hour drive due to traffic! (And no, where I live that is NOT an exaggeration.) All this can help add or eliminate areas.
But Knowing Your Area is more than that too. The area can effect purchase price and what you get for your money. For example, where I live there is a school district with a great reputation and is historically considered a rather “prestigious” school district and to some degree this reputation extends to the city. The city has two zip codes – a “good” zip code and the “okay” zip code. You can take two identical homes and put them in different zip codes and I kid you not, the price can be DRASTICALLY different (I have actually seen as much as $100,000 difference). More so, you can take either home and put it in another city where the school district has a not so well known reputation (mind you just a good a school district as the first, even in ratings and performance) and the same identical house may cost less. Knowing the factors that effect the price in your area can help navigate through the listings and help you in your strategy.
2. Know Your Time Frame – Do you have the ability to wait until you find the right house or do you need to move like yesterday? This is kind of a duh to me but worth saying too. If you have the ability to wait, then you can be more selective in your home purchase. You can wait to find that right house, the one just for you. It’s also important to know that looking for a house can take some significant time. You maybe in for the long haul. Where I live, it appears to be taking people anywhere from 6 months to a year on average due to inventory shortages and because unfortunately there are a significant number of short sales which effect the market turnover rate. Be sure to consider that when planning your purchase.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done quickly. In fact, I have a good friend who started looking, purchased their home and despite a delay in escrow, finished within less than three months! Now, they were extremely open to area, features, and went with bare minimum in requirements but they did it because the lease on their apartment was coming due. So if you need to move fast, the lesson would be focus on needs, and consider wants a perk.
3. Know Your Strengths versus Hiring Someone versus Buying it Done – Are you a novice DIY-er, expert DIY-er, know a contractor friend, or that’s too much work? This is HUGE to know and understand. You can get some awesome deals if you are willing to put in the elbow grease and/or some money. You will always pay more for someone else’s renovations than you doing it yourself. Plus by doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you, you get EXACTLY what you want…not someone else’s loves and likes.
I’m a huge DIY-er and there is not much I am afraid to take on but even with an architect for a husband, I knew when it came to structural integrity or changes, I was way in over my head. (And frankly, if it wasn’t safe for me to live in, I certainly wasn’t going to work there!) Since I have laid tile and hardwood floors, gutted and installed full bathrooms, handled basic plumbing and electrical and more, we were prepared for a fixer upper and were not afraid to get our hands dirty. So for my husband and me, the question became two fold…is this something we can/want to take on and can we live with it this way while we work on (either waiting on funds or time)? If we answered yes, then it was viable. If not, then we passed.
If you are not a DIY person or you are unwilling to hire someone else to do the work, that’s totally fine but know that you probably should walk away from anything that says “fixer up”, “needs TLC”, etc. Move in ready may be more for you, just know that you may pay more to get something that does not need work.
Bottom line, all three of these tips are designed to help you refine your search to fit you and your needs. In the end, hopefully it will save you time and frustration too.