You’ve done your research, saved up for a down payment, and found a Realtor® you adore. Now comes the next step: Find your dream house already!
This is the really fun part, although it does come with its own unique challenges. Even if you love the entire process of house hunting, the options can be overwhelming. Ranch or Colonial? Suburb or city? Small apartment or palatial townhouse? Built-in 40-foot waterslide or stand-alone 40-foot waterslide? It’s hard not to feel like you’re drowning in the possibilities.
To help winnow the myriad options to find the perfect place for you, heed these tips—and happy searching!
Have a long chat with your agent
Here’s the simple truth: Only you will ultimately know which home is just right for you; however, a good agent will have a better handle on the market. Not only is your Realtor keeping a constant eye out for newly listed homes you might love, but he can also quickly go through your wish list and help you understand what is (and what isn’t) realistic.
So be sure to tell your agent not only what you’re looking for, but why you’re moving, too.
“Are [you] downsizing? Moving closer to work? Accommodating a growing family?” asks Nathan Dart, a Realtor in Rockville, MD. The reason it all matters: A savvy Realtor will point out things you might not have considered—such as the importance of a one-story home if you’re near retirement and planning to stick around for the long haul.
Don’t worry about timing
Patience is difficult. You want your new home right away. Waiting for something to fall into place can feel like endless purgatory. But that doesn’t mean you should rush the hunt.
“I’ve had clients who spend years in house-hunting mode,” says Gretchen Koitz, a Realtor with The Koitz Group in Bethesda, MD. Not that this is necessarily a good thing either.
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with finding a great home right away. But it’s best not to prioritize timing above all else unless it’s absolutely necessary (during a relocation, for example). Koitz says the idea of purchasing one of the first homes they see can be “very unsettling” for buyers. “They somehow think they’re not doing their due diligence if they don’t look for a predetermined amount of time,” she says. “Since we never know what’s coming on the market, we also never know when ‘your’ house will show up.”
See beyond the decor
Most people are terrible decorators, and you’re allowed to be turned off by an ugly home. But you shouldn’t let stylistic choices affect your judgment of what a home could be. As Koitz puts it, “‘I hate the red paint in the dining room’ is not a valid concern.” Look beyond those garish drapes to the bones beneath. Is the picture window hidden behind them stunning? Is the hardwood floor good quality, despite the stained rugs layered on top? Think of the long term. Remember, the current owners’ raggedy stuff will leave with them.
Bring a camera
When you’re shopping for homes, remembering which one had the dark parquet floor and which one had the wall-to-wall shag can get more confusing than you might think. After a dozen showings, recalling exactly what bothered you so much about the bathroom of one home (perhaps it was the toilet facing the shower?) requires an impeccable memory and keen attention to detail. So skip the mental heavy lifting by snapping pics of every room you see. If you want to go above and beyond, consider categorizing them on a computer by house and room.
Tune in to how you feel
Not to get too woo-woo spiritual about it, but house hunting isn’t just about what you see. It’s also about how you feel.
“A big part of home buying is pure emotion,” says Koitz. And this swirl of feelings may surprise you, drawing you toward homes you never thought you’d love and away from ones that hit every box on your checklist.
“Agents have a secret saying, which is that ‘Buyers are liars,’ says Koitz. “We don’t mean that buyers really mean to lie, but that what they think they want in a home often goes out the window when emotion kicks in.”
Don’t forget your must-have list, but don’t feel bad about skipping something you thought you wanted. A wonderful house without a his-and-her bathroom is still a wonderful house—you just might have to shuffle your expectations.
“It’s important for buyers to keep in mind that there is no such thing as the perfect house,” Dart says. “At the end of the day, you’ll find some place that hits the high notes and that includes the things that were most important to you.”
Found a home that feels just right? Next comes the essential art of making an offer that will be accepted.