PREPARING FOR THE HOME-BUYING SEASON
As tough as we are, even we New Englanders know it’s best to wait until the daffodils are popping out of the ground to go house-hunting. Besides temperatures that numb toes and fingers- who can even see the curb appeal of a house under mounds of snowbanks and icicles?
Well, the warmer spring weather is here (at least for today!) If you are planning buy a home, now is the time to do prep and recon work. The spring housing game is about to begin, follow these tips to make sure your the top and won’t have to gamble!
GET YOUR CHIPS READY FIRST!
Very few Americans can afford to buy a home with cash. And with stricter standards, borrowing money requires a clean credit score. Is your score, shall we say, a little muddy? Has ordering out (EVERY NIGHT) been easier than making dinner? Did you make one too many purchases that look better on you than on your credit card statement? Or, did the financial indiscretions of your youth mar your score for the next seven years? No matter if it is a high debt-to-income ratio or just bad credit, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in that tenement or mom’s basement forever. Many credit cards are willing to negotiate and even remove black marks from your score. And if you don’t have the time or gumption, there are agencies who will do the work for you. Either way, you can’t play the game if you don’t have chips. So, start by ordering a free credit report online.
Once your credit score meets expectations, determine your price range by figuring out what you can afford as a down payment and monthly payment.
WHERE TO PLAY THE GAME?
Finding the right town might be just as hard, if not harder than finding the right home. Choosing one to three towns is a good idea in this market.
- What’s Your Budget– Prestige can come with a price. As we said, you should know your budget ahead of time. If your ideal town’s average household income is on the higher end of the scale (and higher than yours), then you might have to concede square footage or home upgrades. It’s easy to get caught in the experience and fall in love with a town and home that is outside of your budget. This may be one of the most important factors in house buying – only buy what you can afford! You don’t want to be house poor. And remember, there will be unexpected maintenance on any house you buy and you want to be able to afford to fix them.
- Making the Grade – If you have children, considering your child’s individual educational needs and if the school system can meet them is a premier decision-maker. Don’t forget, if the town meets all of your other criteria, except the school system, local private schools offer an alternative and sometimes at a lower cost than property taxes, cost of living, and home prices in another area.
- Rush Hour- Consider Your Commute How long do you want to spend in a car every morning and evening? What about public transportation- are there any towns where you can work, read, or just relax while you ride the “T?” Do you have to travel frequently for work? If so, being near a major highway, Amtrak, or airport might help narrow the field.
- Backyard Blues – What’s more important a big house and yard or a big town? Often, more rural areas offer bigger homes and more acreage. But what you gain in size, you may give up in Starbucks, designer boutiques, and blog-worthy chefs.
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
When buying a home, look for one you can see yourself living in for the long haul- at least five to seven years is ideal. Buying – and moving – to a new home takes a lot of time and effort, and can add up quickly in closing, moving, and other related costs. Staying in place longer will help you avoid those added expenses. Now that you have circled a zip code, think about the type of dwelling that best suits you.
- What’s Your Type – Before you even start looking at homes, consider what style you want. Do you want a single family, a condo, a townhouse? All these may serve a different purpose for the various stages of your life. You may think you want a single family home, but does the idea of yard work and home maintenance give you anxiety, then a condo may be your answer. Does the idea of sharing a wall with your neighbor make you uncomfortable, then go for the privacy of a single family. If you’re a first time buyer, single, or are downsizing, condos provide an alternative to the single family home.
- Something Old, Something New – There are pros and cons to both an older home and a new one. Some may love the idea of being the first ones in a house, but think of what that means. You will be responsible for all the landscaping and any upgrades such as a larger deck (many new homes comes standard with 8×10 which is small). Plus, if your new home involves construction, you’ll need to accept a fluctuating timetable, and potential battles with the town board. An established home may have the upgrades already. Keep an open mind and look at both – paint, wallpaper and carpet are all easy fixes in that older home. If you love the idea of an old Victorian or antique farm house, be sure to have the home inspector go over every beam and post.
- Room-to-Grow – Buy a home with your future needs in mind. Will you be adding a new baby or perhaps that son or daughter you sent off to college will be moving back home. If you’re on the other end and are an empty nester, downsizing means you can get more for your money.
- Location, Location, Location – Thinking of the location of your new home is the time to think of re-sale. A home in a quiet neighborhood or on a cul-de-sac has a much higher re-sale value than one built on a busy road, railroad tracks, or next to an airport. Location does matter! Keeping this in mind, look at your new house as a home first, not an investment. This is the place where your memories will come to life!
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? When you buy a home, you’re also buying a neighborhood. Drive around and check out the homes of immediate neighbors. Is there a school across the street, will you want the sounds of school children playing or the traffic of buses outside your front door? Is there a church nearby with a beautiful bell tower? Will the sounds of church bells be a comfort or annoyance to you? Check out the neighborhood and not only the house!
Buying a home is a multi-step process. You may opt to do the process alone. And, if you do chose to play the one man band, make sure you do plenty of research and are prepared for extra work. But, most realize they need a real estate agent, a mortgage broker, and a real estate lawyer. You can find all three in a package deal, as many are used to working with each other. It’s a good idea to start with an agent who can then refer you to a broker and lawyer. You may end up driving all around town with your agent every other Saturday and one weekday in between, so besides reputability, be sure to find one with whom you have chemistry. If you “get each other,” odds are, he or she will then “get” what you are looking for in a home. A real estate lawyer can become both your best offense and defense. So, don’t feel bad if you tell the broker you’d rather use your own.
Once you have your real estate team in place, don’t forget to call a great mover for an estimate. 🙂 Happy house hunting!