Important factors to consider when looking to buy your next home By Allison Pollock-Pugh
Freedom and prosperity have been foundational components of the American Dream for generations, and to many, owning a home is an important milestone in achieving that dream. The feeling of having a piece of land that is yours, four walls, and a roof to hold and protect your family is unparalleled.
Reaching the goal of homeownership provides stability and connections to the community and builds financial wealth over time. It’s also one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your lifetime—both in your future and financially.
You want to choose a home that meets the needs of your current lifestyle, stage of life, and any future goals you have for yourself and your family. The journey to and the process of buying a house is unique for each buyer. A growing family has different needs than an empty nester looking to downsize. A single parent desires vastly different features than a new retiree.
Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned veteran, the process can be overwhelming. One of the best first steps is finding an experienced Realtor—they have the training and knowledge to walk you through the process, give you the ins and outs of the neighborhood, and get down to the nitty-gritty details to help you make an informed decision. For this reason, we’ve turned to the professionals—real estate broker Jackie Suarez of Century 21 RiverStone, Eric Skinner, owner and associate broker at Skinner & Stevens Properties, and real estate agent Brenda Burk of Brenda Burk Group, Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty—for their insight to help clear up the sometimes muddy process of purchasing a home. Most people considering buying a home have imagined their “perfect” house. For some, it’s a brick house with a white picket fence, while others crave a low-maintenance condo in the city—either way, it’s likely you have more non-negotiables than you initially realize.
Make a list. Have each person involved in buying the home and who will be living in the home make a list of the features they most want and things they truly need. Then you can review the list—maybe drop the wall-to-wall trampoline room requested by your 7-year-old—and rank the features by importance. Doing this will help narrow down properties during your search and keep you focused as you visit potential properties.
As potential buyers start viewing homes, they can quickly get distracted by the beautiful countertops and professionally staged presentation. Relying on an imagined picture in your head can lead to overlooking must-have features. Jackie says, “Many times, you’ll sense whether a home is the right size, layout and style for you. When it hits all of the marks, focus on things you don’t see right away. Are the systems updated or well-maintained? How long do you anticipate you will be in this home, and will it still satisfy you in the long-term?” There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a house only to remember later that you swore you’d never share a closet with your spouse again.
"Location, location, location" is a common phrase in real estate. Besides being in an area where you want to live, the location is also directly linked to the current and future home value. The features that determine what constitutes a good location differ for each home buyer, but there are some generally accepted objective factors to consider. The location determines which schools your children will attend, how long your commute to work will be, and which community you will be involved with daily. Brenda also says the following should be addressed when looking at a home’s location: “Schools, health care, churches, access to public parks, public water, zoning, CC&R (covenants, conditions and restrictions), flight pattern, proximity to commercial business or use, and future development in the area.”
Researching an area and working with a knowledgeable Realtor also helps when evaluating neighborhoods. Take a walk in the neighborhood and talk to people who live there. This will help you get a feel for the mood of a neighborhood but can also provide invaluable insight into real-time issues or benefits of the neighborhood. Another factor to consider are the future plans for the area. New construction neighborhoods are popping up all over—depending on your needs, you may want to hold out for one of the new builds, or you might not want to buy right next to a future construction site. “Visit the property during different times of day to learn about traffic, noise or odors and look at surrounding properties to see if any changes are planned such as zoning, highway or road widening that may affect the property,” Jackie says. You should also consider the crime in the area, if there are any benefits such as recreation facilities, and if there are HOA dues that will affect your monthly payment.
Remember, your location also includes the lot on which the home stands. You can remodel and renovate a house to your every specification, but the lot will remain the same. Consider the lot location and size carefully when viewing homes. Does it get enough sunlight? Will the driveway be difficult to navigate when it snows? Is the yard large enough for your kids and dog to run around? Are you prepared for the amount of maintenance needed for this size yard?
"I think, oftentimes, folks fall in love with something about a property without thinking as much about how their daily life fits in with the property," shares Eric. "Things like snow removal, winter sun locations and ease of lifestyle while living on a property should play a larger factor in the decision process."
Jackie also tells potential buyers, “Research whether the land is in a flood zone or wetlands area and whether there are easements for others to cross over the property. If the data is not readily available to you, your real estate agent should know where to help you find it. If anything about the location or the lot seems concerning or feels like a compromise to you, don’t hesitate to walk away. It will be easier to find another property in a better location or lot than to live with frustrations that could've been avoided. Know your budget and the market. While this sounds simple enough, it can be a complex process. You need a clear picture of your finances to determine a down payment amount and the maximum mortgage payment you can afford. Your real estate team can help review various mortgage payment scenarios and point out sleeper costs, including HOA dues, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way homes are bought and sold. Using technology became the norm, popularizing remote home buying based on video walk-throughs. Oftentimes the first chance a buyer had to go inside a home was when they began moving in. As Brenda says, “The best policy is to visit the home. If not, you need a trusted Realtor to be your eyes, ears and nose for a true and acceptable picture of the property. Virtual tours should always be done by your agent, as the seller’s polished virtual tour is edited to sell.”
The market, interest rates and inventory have been rapidly changing over the past few years, but real estate is cyclical. Depending on your circumstances, now might be a great time for you to buy, but not ideal for others. As Jackie explains, “Timing is different for each person. The right time to buy is when you are ready. Make sure your finances are in order and consider whether you need a short-term or long-term investment. Rely on local professionals for advice.”