Thinking of buying a home? It’s exciting, right? Whether you’re becoming a home owner for the first time or just looking for a new house, there’s something so appealing about imagining living in a new place. And then reality sets in. (Wah, wah, wah…)
The truth is buying a home can be one of life’s most stressful events, especially in today’s hot housing market. While there is no way to make it a completely anxiety-free event, there are things you can do during the house hunting and buying process that will minimize your stress.
Determine your priorities
Before you even start looking for a home, determine your top 3-5 main priorities. These are items that you probably won’t want to compromise on. It might be the number of bedrooms, the distance from work, they type of neighborhood, condo vs. townhome vs. house, etc. If you’re co-investing with someone else, make sure your list of priorities match (now is the time to get on the same page so assumptions don’t cause stress down the road). You’ll probably have other “wants” in mind – like a 2-car garage or an updated kitchen. Make a separate list of these (you’ll need it later), but don’t confuse them with your main priorities.
Before you start looking for your dream home, you need to understand your price range or you’re bound for disappointment. Getting “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved” is the process of working with your bank or mortgage lender to determine how much house you can afford. Beware – these terms are not interchangeable! In today’s market, where buyers often have to act fast to get the home they want, getting pre-approved is the better option. It takes more time up front but it will save you time (and stress) later in the process.
Start your search online
According to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, 44% of home buyers started their search online and 51% of buyers found the home they ultimately bought online. By searching sites like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and Redfin for a home, not only will you save yourself some legwork, you’ll get an idea of what type of homes are for sale in your price range and desired location. There are also a number of online sources to help you learn more about a potential neighborhood.
Work with a professional
If you want to reduce your stress during the home buying process, take some time to research potential real estate agents. A few qualities to look for – someone who has an online presence (indicating that they’re serious about the business); who is responsive and able to communicate via whatever medium you prefer (text, email, phone, etc.); who knows the area that you’re looking to live in; and who is on YOUR side (e.g., transparent, not affiliated with the sellers, etc.). Buying a home is a complicated process, especially for a first time home buyer. Working with a licensed, competent professional will make the process go much smoother. (Not sure if you should hire an agent, broker or a REALTOR®? Here’s the difference.)
Make a checklist
Remember the list of priorities you created in the beginning? Here’s where you get to be more detailed. While some people will be happy if their major desires are met, others have a list in mind of what their ideal house contains. Make a checklist of these desired features. As you look at houses online and start to visit in person, make a copy of your list for each home and tick off how many items that home fulfills. This is especially helpful if you visit several homes in one day as they will all start to blend together after a while. Here’s a few other items you should bring when attending an open house or a showing.
Keep an open mind
No matter your wish list, or even your main priorities, keep an open mind during the house hunt. During my first house search, my husband and I had several locations we were focused on and we were sure we didn’t want a brand new build. After a dozen disappointing viewings, our agent suggested an area we hadn’t considered and a new build neighborhood. As it turned out, that was our dream house and the area turned out to be great. On the other hand, don’t let anyone talk you into compromising if you think you may regret it down the road. If you really need four bedrooms, don’t settle for three and think you’ll “figure it out” later. This is where you’ll have to trust your gut. Unless you must choose a house right away, remember there are always other fish in the sea.
Be ready to move quickly
When you find a house that may be “the one,” there are several things you’ll need to do very quickly so you don’t lose the deal. First, if it’s an existing home or condo, run the Housefax Report (your agent can provide it or you can visit Housefax.com). The Housefax Report contains details about the home that you probably haven’t uncovered and it can help you gain confidence that the home is right for you. It also has area information such as nearby schools. If you decide to move forward, talk to your agent about making an offer and be sure he/she understands the urgency. Once the offer is made, respond immediately to any requests the agent has. You can also check in with your lender at this time to make sure you have all the paperwork handy that they’ll need to complete your loan.
Expect the worst
When you finally reach the point of making an offer, you may be ready to celebrate! But don’t pop the champagne just yet. The seller still has to accept your offer and, in what has been deemed one of the hottest housing markets in a decade, the seller may have multiple offers to choose from. As you wait to hear back, it can reduce your anxiety to have a plan in place in case the seller counter offers. Are you willing to make a higher offer? Is there any other way you can sweeten the deal for the seller? Knowing your limits – and sticking to them – will keep you from letting the excitement and competition lead you to overcommitting financially.
Hope for the best
If your offer on a home is accepted, congratulations! You can celebrate now – a little. There are still steps left in the home buying process – passing the home inspection and appraisal, getting a loan commitment, final walkthrough, and closing. Reducing stress during this phase is a matter of responding to any requests made of you as quickly and completely as possible. If you did your homework and chose a good agent, they’ll stay on top of the process and walk you through it. Only 3.9% of home contracts failed in 2016, so the chances are good that you’ll get to the finish line. And if you’ve taken steps to reduce the stress of house hunting, you’ll also have paved the way for success!
Do you have any tips for reducing house hunting stress, or any house hunting lessons to share? We’d love it if you would leave a comment!