We recently started house hunting!
Mark and I have been saving up for a house down payment since we got engaged back in 2014, but despite our best efforts, our wedding depleted about half our savings. We have been aggressively saving (about 50% of our income) since I started work in October.
The hunt begins.
Mark and I have been habitual Zillow-ers for more than a year, but people told us to go to open houses to get a feel for what we actually liked. A few weeks after Barney died, we popped into an open house on a whim, and have been regularly going to open houses since.
Finding a Realtor
Open houses are also great places to meet potential realtors. I don’t have the best opinion of realtors (sorry if you are one!) because I hate sales pitches. I also know from others’ experiences that realtors tell potential buyers things they want to hear (“Oh sure, you can knock down that load-bearing wall!”). We need a non-smarmy, knowledgeable realtor who’s interested in our best investment.
One day, we popped into an open house for an over-budget home. What the hell, right? We’re just looking. Of course, we fell in love with the house, despite its obvious flaws and price tag. There, we met a realtor who’s a former mechanical engineer and contractor and has a passion for real estate education—ultimately giving off the non-smarmy aura we required. After a long conversation with him and a private showing of the home (that we didn’t buy at his recommendation), we decided to go with this realtor.
House Hunting Tips
Even though we’re new to Real Estate, we learned a few things along the way.
- Walk around the neighborhoods you’re considering. This gives you a good idea about neighbors, traffic, noise, activities, etc.
- Think about walking or running in this neighborhood after dark. Our realtor said this is the best way to figure out if a neighborhood is safe or not. Picture yourself walking/running alone after dark. Do you feel safe? This test made me rule out a few neighborhoods we’d considered.
- Go into a lot of different styles of houses. Kiss a lot of frogs! We thought we liked 100-year-old homes, but the creaks and settled floors made me feel uncomfortable. We didn’t want to see houses with radiators or small yards, but we ended up liking a couple of houses with those things.
- Figure out your dealbreakers. Everybody has them. Figure out what these are for you (and your family members). Mine include window AC units/radiators, steep incline yard, busy street, strong odors, and weird layouts (like this random attempt at an en suite in the middle of an upstairs master bedroom).
- Learn how much you can spend. We had an idea of what we wanted to spend to get into our desired locations, and after talking to our realtor and getting a few good faith estimates from some mortgage brokers, we figured out our real budget, which automatically ruled out some homes.
- Figure out your bottom dollar. Of course, there’s an obvious top end t the budget, but what about the bottom end? Your realtor can help you figure this out, but it’s based on your desired home quality and the average property values in the neighborhood. Of course, there are always exceptions, so kiss those frogs. 🐸
- Decide how much you WANT to spend. Again, this differs based on location. We are willing to spend more for neighborhoods we really like vs. less for neighborhoods we don’t like as much (coincidentally the property values in these neighborhoods are reflective of our personal values).
- Keep score. We didn’t want to get into an argument during this process but ended up getting into an argument about hypothetical situations. Because of this, I came up with the following house-hunting scorecard system.
The House Hunting Scorecard
This might seem like overkill, but we’ve found these scorecards helpful. In the scorecard system:
- Every potential resident gets a scorecard.
- Walk through the home and fill out the scorecard before discussing.
Ideally, this cuts down on arguments because you’ve assigned a number to your feelings. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s been helpful so far. We decided to weight “dealbreakers” with -25 points each because those are the most contentious items. We also decided that dealbreakers follow a “three strikes and you’re out” system. Mark added the gut check question “Would you live here?”, which I thought was helpful. I added the “home value” section so that we can get used to assigning a dollar amount of our own (rather than market value) to see if we really want the house. We want to get in the habit of scoring and discussing homes now so that when we get to a point where we want to buy, it’ll be easier to decide.
We hope this scorecard system is helpful!
Have you bought a house before? What things did you do that you thought were most helpful? What didn’t work for you?