What to Know Before Starting Your Home Search

Few things are as exhilarating as the hunt for the perfect dream home.

Armed with a list and sheer excitement, buyers embark on a journey that is like no other. Before starting a home search, buyers should spend time evaluating some key factors that can help make the entire experience even more enjoyable. By informing themselves on the process, assessing wants and needs and thoroughly understanding the cost of ownership, buyers can set themselves up for a stress-free house hunt that lands them with their ideal home.

Get Educated and Know the Process

The home buying experience is much more enjoyable with the right knowledge to navigate the transaction. Buyers should spend time learning everything possible about the process from the initial search to closing. Before heading out on the house hunt, buyers should spend time interviewing real estate agents to help with their search. Hiring an experienced real estate professional is a great way to learn some invaluable information to make the process as stress-free as possible. Agents offer advice on what to expect during the transaction such as the procedures for making an offer on a property and what to do to set themselves apart from other buyers when making an offer. Buyers should also learn the purpose and benefits of the due-diligence period and how to use it to their advantage. Beyond the home search and offer, buyers need to understand how to finalize the deal by securing financing. The last thing any buyer wants to encounter is making an offer the perfect home only to find later out they do not qualify for a loan. Buyers should take time to understand the financing process before the home search, as it helps buyers determine a budget and qualifications to guide their search. Lastly, the closing process can be a source of misunderstanding and frustration. Given the amount of paperwork, legal terms, and fees involved, buyers should make sure they understand every detail upfront to learn precisely what closing entails and what amount of money they should expect to pay during the process.

Examine Wants vs. Needs

A long and unrealistic wish list can quickly turn an enjoyable experience into a source of heartache and frustration. Buyers should spend time evaluating their wish list separate the essentials from the luxuries. The must-have items represent non-negotiable items that the buyer requires for the best quality of life in the home. Must-have features might include the number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, square footage and requirements for layout. When evaluating must-have items, buyers should consider their future needs. Families planning to have children should consider expected family size and determine what size home will fit their needs. Another thing to consider is if the household will need specific accessibility features within the near future. Those who need to accommodate an aging family member soon should consider the accessibility of a home as needed. Some families may want to think about downsizing to a smaller home if they no longer need to room to accommodate children or extended family members. These are all factors buyers need to consider before starting the house search, as it will help guide them to the best property that meets their needs. Features that do not necessarily impact the quality of life but make life more enjoyable include extra outdoor amenities, countertops, flooring and finishes. These items, while nice to have, should not impact whether or not a house remains a contender in the house search. Buyers should take care not to let nice-to-have items take over their house hunt, as focusing on them too much could cost them the perfect home.

Location and Neighborhood Statistics

The neighborhood can be just as important if not more so than the house itself. Buyers should factor in things such as commute time, as purchasing a home that doubles the commute time may not make the most sense. Neighborhood demographic information is also an important consideration. Families with children may prefer a suburban home near other families. They may want to focus on things such as quality of schools, proximity to healthcare providers and recreation opportunities. Young professionals, however, may gravitate to an urban environment closer to other professionals and a wider array of entertainment options. Those who want a more secluded lifestyle may focus on rural areas that offer the lifestyle they desire. Location also has an impact on property taxes and insurance. Up-and coming-neighborhoods may demand higher tax and insurance rates, which could make those areas less desirable to some. Buyers need to understand the market in their desired neighborhood to ensure that the extra cost is something that makes sense for them.

Understand the True Cost of Home Ownership

Closing costs are just a fraction of the total cost of homeownership. At closing, buyers pay lenders fees, points on the interest rate, attorney fees, title insurance fees, taxes and a host of other expenses related to the transaction. Lenders provide the estimated costs via a disclosure document that outlines in detail every fee the buyer must pay to close on the home. The closing disclosure also outlines the monthly payment amount that reflects the principal and interest on the loan. This figure may be different than initially expected because the lender adds taxes and insurance to the payment amount.

Outside of closing, buyers should consider maintenance and upkeep costs. Repair items such as plumbing, electrical, or HVAC are regular occurrences that go along with homeownership. Additionally, upgrades play a role in the cost of homeownership. Things such as new flooring, cabinets, countertops and landscaping updates add to the monthly budget. Homeowners must prioritize immediate expenses, such as a broken air-conditioning unit or plumbing issue, with unnecessary but desired expenses, like kitchen or bathroom renovation.

Armed with a bit of knowledge, buyers can approach the home buying process with confidence and ease. Once they understand the entire process and the true cost of home ownership, buyers can land the home of their dreams at a price they can afford.

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