The list of the features you want in your new home is personal and, no doubt, as long as your arm. The most important of these items are known as “hot buttons” in the real estate business, and not all buyers have the same ones. From the must-have hardwood floors to the I’ll-just-be-miserable-without-a-gourmet-kitchen, hot button lists help homebuyers narrow down the list of houses to view. If you’re planning on buying a home, compile your list of what to look for, whittle it down to only those items on which you will not compromise, and then make sure your real estate agent gets a copy.
1. Put the Horse Before the Cart
Figuring out how much house you can afford and then getting financing for your purchase are the first considerations when buying a home. Before you can look for that perfect kitchen, you need to make sure it fits in your budget. To determine what you can afford, you’ll need to calculate:
- your available cash for a down payment
- your current debt
- your monthly income
- other ongoing monthly expenses
Some buyers check their credit reports and obtain their FICO® score to get an idea of where they stand financially. If there are only a few dings on your credit history, it’s a good idea to take care of them before applying for a loan. Better credit means a lower rate on your mortgage loan.
2. Choosing Your Community
Choosing your ideal town or city is only part of the decision-making process. Now, it’s time to narrow down the choice to a particular area, then a neighborhood or two. Local crime statistics can be had by visiting online sites such as the Department of Justice, or by placing a phone call to the local police department. Drive through neighborhoods during different times of the day and week to look for traffic flow, noise levels and other activity. If you get lucky, you may find neighbors outdoors and you can stop and chat with them about what it’s like to live in the neighborhood.
3. Don’t Forget the Exterior Features
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by a house you’ve fallen in love with and become blinded to the more practical aspects of actually owning it. Lot size and landscaping are important considerations when buying a home and often overlooked in favor of the home’s interior. Who is going to mow that acre of lawn? Are the trees going to lose their leaves every autumn, and, if so, do you think you’ll be in the mood to dig out the rake and clean them up? Or, will gardener’s fees be in your future? If so, you may need to do some research to determine the monthly cost of a gardener and add that to your potential house payment. The same goes for the pool. Pools require weekly to bi-weekly maintenance. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, you’ll need to hire someone, adding more to the monthly cost of owning the home.
4. Energy and Utilities Add Up
If you’ll be moving to a new area you most likely aren’t up to speed on how much residents typically pay for utilities every month. Depending on where you are buying a home, your power, gas and water bills may come as a shock. Las Vegans, for instance, pay upwards of $300 a month to cool their homes in the summer – a $500 power bill is not out of the ordinary. Ask the seller how much she uses her utilities and what her average bills are. Power companies may also divulge this information.
If you are concerned about high energy costs, look for homes with improved weather-proofing, energy-efficient appliances and updated electrical wiring.
5. Consult a Psychic … or at Least Consider Resale Value
This home may be the biggest investment you make in your life, so dig deep down inside to find your inner investor. Just as you wouldn’t pour a ton of money into the stock market before performing due diligence, don’t purchase a home purely on emotion. Do some research to try to determine the home’s future desirability. The city planning office is a good place to look for information. Ask about future development plans for the area. Nearby electric power plants, transformer stations and landfills may depreciate the value of the house you want to purchase, so consider carefully what may happen in the future.