By Michele Lerner | Nov 25, 2013
If you’re looking for home buying tips, you already know that you want to buy. But before you hit the road in your house hunting journey, do you know the steps you need to take to make the process of buying a home as painless as possible?
Home buying tips: Where to start
Before you begin your house search you should have a pre-approval letter in hand from a lender and an idea of your comfort level with a prospective house payment. You and your real estate agent can begin to search for homes for sale that fit your budget, but keep in mind that you don’t necessarily want to spend up to the maximum amount you can borrow. On the other hand, you can consider going slightly above your preferred price range as long as the monthly payment is still affordable or if you have extra cash to make a bigger down payment.
Find the right neighborhood
After you’ve established your price range you’ll need to narrow your search by neighborhood. You should be looking at neighborhoods that allow an acceptable commute to work. Think about the type of setting in which you want to live—urban, suburban or rural. Do you want a community with lots of outdoor recreational amenities; one with shops, restaurants and nightlife; or one with plenty of activities for children and good schools?
Many homes, whether they are single-family residences, townhomes or villas, are part of a homeowner association (HOA). Part of your search process should be to consider whether you want to live in an HOA or not. On the positive side, HOA rules help protect home values and the dues often include community amenities and maintenance. On the other hand, the rules also limit what you can do with the exterior of your home. You’ll also need to include HOA dues as part of your housing budget.
Condominiums and cooperative homes also have association dues and offer a different type of ownership, with the association owning the exterior of the property while you own the interior. These dues will be part of your housing budget, but they typically include some of your homeowner’s insurance and other costs, as well as pay for amenities such as a swimming pool or a fitness center.
It’s a good idea to visit communities at various times of day and night, and on weekends and weekdays, to get a feel for who lives there and what the activity level is like.
Two important elements of a neighborhood influence how well the homes in that community will hold onto their value: crime and schools. While Fair Housing laws prevent a real estate agent from telling clients about crime statistics or talking about “good” or “bad” schools, a Realtor can direct you to websites that provide information about those topics. Even if you don’t have children and don’t plan to have them, buying a home in a well-regarded school district can help the property’s long-term value.
Most buyers start searching for a home online on websites such as realtor.com, but you can also ask a real estate agent to help you find homes for sale. You can request email alerts that notify you when a home that fits your list of priorities comes on the market.
You can evaluate a home first by looking at photos and a description online. In many cases, homes’ online listings have virtual tours or videos that offer the opportunity to see more.
The next step in your house hunt is narrowing down your priorities to find the home that meets your needs.
One home buying tip you can’t ignore: Look at both new homes and existing homes. New homes are sometimes more expensive than existing homes, but they require less maintenance and often have lower utility bills because of their energy-efficient features.
Michele Lerner writes about real estate, personal finance, and business news. She is the author of two books about home buying. Follow @mvlerner
Photo credit: Julieanne Birch/iStock
Read the rest of the 10-Step Guide to Buying a Home: