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What To Look For When Searching For A Home

Jeff SeehorschNovember 13, 2019

Buying a new home can be both exciting and nerve-racking. There’s a lot to consider, and you often need to act fast to get an offer accepted.

One way to ease the stress of your home search is by being prepared. From establishing your needs to knowing what to look for when you buy a house, the more you know at start of your search, the easier it is to make the right decisions quickly.

Read on for some tips on how to prepare for your search and spot the right home for you.

Before you look for a new home, it helps to know what you’re hoping to find. You might already have a vision of your dream home, but writing down specific details will help you narrow your search. For easy reference, group them into three categories: must-haves, nice-to-haves and no-ways.

Must-haves are things like the number of square feet and bedrooms, or a fenced yard for a dog, or a basement for exercise equipment. Having a list of basic requirements to reference can help you speed up the search process. If a home is missing a must-have, just move on to the next one.

Nice-to-haves should include features like hardwood flooring or a swimming pool – things you might love to have but could live without. In many cases, these are things that can be added after you move in. After you find a few homes with all your must-haves, comparing nice-to-haves can help you decide which one to go for.

No-ways are deal-breakers. These can be location-based – say, any home more than 30 miles from your job – or price-based, meaning any home listed beyond your price range. No-ways can also involve the home itself. Maybe you want to avoid two-story homes because you have small children, or steer clear of homes on main roads with heavy traffic.

Keep in mind, there’s a difference between defining priorities and being picky. The goal of creating these checklists isn’t to paint a picture of your perfect home; it’s to be able to spot homes that have that potential. Try to be honest about your needs so you have as many options as possible.

Size Up Homes During Walkthroughs

Whether you go to an open house on your own or to a showing with your agent, your first visit to a home should be a feeling-out process.

You might be tempted to run faucets, open and close doors, and switch lights on and off to make sure everything works. This is especially true if you have a good feeling about the home, because you want to confirm that it’s a good choice. But the time to pry into every nook and cranny comes after you make an offer, during an inspection. That’s when a licensed inspector will examine the home from top to bottom and created a detailed report of its condition.

Survey The Neighborhood

Cruise through side streets to check out nearby homes and neighborhood upkeep. Are lawns and home exteriors well-kept or neglected? Are the roads and walkways in good shape or cracked and strewn with litter? Also, take note of how many homes are for sale. If it seems like a disproportionately high number, the neighborhood or local economy could be facing tough times.

Of course, it’s tough to know if a neighborhood is right for you if you only cruise through it once. If you can, come back at different times of day before you make an offer. That way, you can observe neighbors, how well-lit the streets are and what the traffic is like.

Scope Out The Landscaping

It’s easy to fall in love with a home at first sight. Lush green grass, manicured shrubs and a perfect porch can give you the itch to make an offer before stepping foot inside. Conversely, a house that looks like it’s surrounded by a jungle can make you say, “Next,” without a second thought.

Landscaping is important, but looks can be deceiving. The reality is that unkempt yards can be cleaned up, and beautiful ones can mask potential problems. Regardless of appearances, here are some common (and costly) problems to check for:

Exposed Tree Roots– These aren’t unusual, but they can cause structural damage to a home if they’re too close to the foundation – now or in the future.

Irrigation System– You might need to inquire about this one or have it inspected. Poorly installed or maintained systems can result in multiple leaks and thousands of dollars in repairs.

Plants Against The Exterior– Any foliage that brushes up against a home can damage siding or cause insect problems. Also be wary of ground that slants toward a home. When water builds up against the foundation, it can lead to flooding and mold.

Get A Feel For The Layout

The most important question when you attend a showing for the first time is this: Can you imagine living happily in the home? The layout – in terms of space, flow and room arrangement – plays a big role in answering that question.

If you have little ones running around, will they have easy access between the family room, kitchen and their bedrooms? Is the floor plan open – preferable for families who want to socialize easily – or compartmentalized, lending itself to privacy?

Walk through the home taking routes that will be common if you live there – bedrooms to bathrooms, the family room to the kitchen, the kitchen counter to the dining room table. Does it feel right as you move through the home?

Also, observe how the layout invites natural light and facilitates air flow. Make note of where sunlight settles and windows open to see how the breeze comes through. These factors can greatly influence your comfort level and energy bills.

Concentrate On The Kitchen

For many, the kitchen is the heart of their home. It’s a place to gather, eat and mingle. It’s also where a lot of activity happens –  using appliances, unpacking groceries and preparing meals. Simply put, how you feel in the kitchen is one of the most important things to consider when buying a house.

When evaluating a kitchen, look at it from two angles: looks and functionality.

In terms of looks, there’s no right or wrong opinion. However, it’s a good idea to watch some HGTV, visit home improvement stores or do research online to get an idea of what you like and don’t like. From the flooring to the backsplash, you’ll need to judge a kitchen’s style according to your taste.

In terms of functionality, appliance malfunctions or plumbing issues should be revealed in a disclosure or inspection. But there are personal preferences to consider here, as well. Does the kitchen have a double sink? Is there enough counter space? Will you have to walk far to get from the refrigerator or pantry to the counter? Take the time to maneuver around and gauge your comfort level.

Of all the renovation projects you might tackle after moving in, know that kitchen remodels can be among the priciest. Pay especially close attention to the cabinets, countertops and appliances. These are often the most expensive replacements during an overhaul, so factor in those expenses if you don’t like what you see.

Keep An Eye Out For Red Flags

You don’t need to inspect a home for every possible flaw. Still, it’s a good idea to scan for major issues. Here are some of most common big problems and how to spot them:

Water Damage – If you notice any pipes that are leaking, stained or rusted, it might signal substantial internal damage. The same goes for water spots or stains on the ceiling and cracking or peeling paint on the walls.

Plumbing Problems – These are seldom clear to the naked eye, but sagging floors near the bathroom are a very bad sign.

Unstable Foundation – Concrete foundations usually have a few hairline cracks. No need to worry about those. If you see gaping cracks, horizontal cracks or bulges in a poured concrete wall, however, these are red flags. Others include cracks in walls, windows that are difficult to open or tilted door frames.

Mold – Mold is unsightly, dangerous and tough to get rid of. Damp or musty odors are often a giveaway, but these can be faint or masked by air fresheners. Look for black or gray spots – no matter how small – under sinks around the pipes, around the corners of ceilings and on caulking around faucets and tubs.

Focus On The Features That Matter Most To You

It’s only natural to want certainty before you put in an offer in on a home – certainty that you truly love the home and that there isn’t a slew of problems you’ll have to address after moving in. Just remember that you don’t have to make any final decisions or play the role of inspector when you go to a showing or open house.

Establish your needs and goals before you walk in the door, then concentrate on all the things that will make you happy or unhappy living there. And always ask questions! You’ll be able to make decisions confidently and quickly, and you’ll find the right home for you sooner than you think.

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    Jeff Seehorsch

    The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.