-Hire an agent you can talk to. Make sure you’re not afraid to communicate HONESTLY with them about your feelings about a house. It isn’t their house so their feelings won’t get hurt if you voice a complaint or concern. You are under no obligation to like a house just because they show it to you. After all, you’re the one paying the mortgage for 30 years, not them.
-Trust your gut. Your first instincts are usually the best. Research has shown (read Jonah Lehrer) how much our subconscious picks up on things before we’re ever aware—and you shouldn’t discount your first impressions. If you feel like you just couldn’t work with that layout, trust that eventually it’ll drive you nuts.
-Take your time through a house. Even after searching for 7 or 8 months, I would still forget major details of a house only a few hours later. Eventually I learned that it’s a great idea to walk through the house for first impressions, but then go back over and start paying attention to things that would affect my overall enjoyment of living there: Where were the entrances to the house? How tall were the ceilings? Were they popcorn ceilings? Was there a linen closet? A hall closet? Did all-tile floors really bother me that much (yes!) Were there windows in every room? Because you only get two chances to look at the house before you move in: the initial showing, then inspection. There are so many things I wanted to remember about the house that I couldn’t. This is where PICTURE-TAKING is so important. I wish I had done more of that.
-Drive around the neighborhood a bit to get a feeling for where you’ll be living. Are there lots of big dogs? How many cars does each house have? Are there lots of big security gates? How close to major roads is this house–will there traffic noise? I used Google Earth/Google maps a lot to “explore” each neighborhood before I’d go look at a place. It helped give me a feel for somewhere before I’d even get in the car.
-Understand what things are the most important to you—what will you ACTUALLY have a need for? For me, I knew I had to have a yard big enough for a garden and chickens, as I want to begin my journey into sustainable living options. I looked at several great houses with backyards that simply wouldn’t work. There is nothing like living in 400 square feet for two years to give you an idea of what it is you NEED versus what you WANT. For example: A large dining room would be nice, but the reality is that I don’t have too many people over, and rarely eat at the table. However, I DO like to leave my sewing machine out as I work on a project, but my cats love to play in the fabric, so a sewing room/second bedroom was a must. It is super important to understand & to be honest with yourself about what’s necessary and what isn’t.
-COMPLETELY understand the requirements of any loan you use. I made the mistake of skimming over the basics, and offered to pay closing costs because I thought they were covered in my bond program. Turns out they weren’t, and it almost became a deal-breaker. If I had understood exactly how I was going to finance this rodeo, I may have been a bit more cautious and willing to negotiate. Explore all your options with your lender, and don’t be afraid to ask him to work for you. Believe me, they’re getting paid for it.
-Be open to a house you didn’t expect. My house is only 1000 square feet, something I wouldn’t have considered looking at when I first started my house search, and yet it turned out to be the best decision: I don’t have to buy a ton of furniture for it, and it still feels enormous! Sometimes the homes that are the best fit are the ones we didn’t imagine. Don’t let a lack of granite countertops or a garden tub be a deal-breaker–instead, look at the overall structure: open plan vs several walls, galley kitchen vs open, exposed brick or smooth walls.
-Understand that there WILL be bumps in the road. Even on the day of closing, I still heard “There’s a problem.” It was a problem resolved easily enough (patience), but it was still stressful and frustrating. The key to managing this stress is to take it one day at a time. When I first put an offer on the house, I knew there would be several weeks of stress ahead, and I felt overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and obligation coming my way. By dealing with TODAY, and that day ONLY, I ended up saving my sanity, and getting the house, even when both felt impossible.
-Try to talk yourself into liking a house. If you get bad juju from the house, it’s not going to go away. I backed out of several offers because I felt I should like the house, not that I actually did. This goes back to understanding what you want vs. what you need.
-Assume everyone else knows what is going on. Everyone is working for YOU; YOU are the ringleader. It is super important that you ask questions and keep on top of things. Don’t be afraid to check up on your lender—is he getting your stuff turned in on time? What does he need from you? What might cause problems down the road? Even if you think your realtor and lender are talking, it’s better to CC: them on everything. Who cares if they hear it twice? It keeps everyone in the loop and things are cleared up quicker.
-Accept the first thing you find. This means looking at more than one house, calling more than one insurance broker, getting pre-qualified letters from more than one lender. The likelihood of you finding the best deal with your first phone call is small, so don’t be afraid to say “No thank you”.
-Hold back on an offer. I put six or seven offers out there before I finally lucked out. I offer this advice with a caveat, because the market here in Austin underwent transition while I was looking. At first it was a buyer’s market: several good homes available, not too many buyers. Then with the new year it flipped and suddenly there were more buyers than homes. Each home I wanted to look at was usually under contract within a day or so of being posted, sometimes sooner. So if I liked something, I had to submit an offer right away.
-Be afraid to voice your concerns. If you feel something’s not right, you don’t trust someone, or there’s a nagging feeling that you can’t quite overcome, TRUST IT. Say something to someone, call out the BS. This is YOUR party, and YOU are paying for it, so make sure it’s everything YOU want.