3 Things You Need When You Go House Hunting

My wife Nicole and I are shopping for a house, and the market is CRAZY. On average, a house will be on the market for maybe three or four days before there’s an offer, and a lot of houses in our price range are moving even quicker than that. My uncle told me that there’s about 40 people looking at every house that comes up for sale. In the middle of this fast-moving housing market, I found three things that have become critical for us.

  1. Rely on your friends and family

We would be lost if it weren’t for others in our lives that have recommended realtors, mortgage brokers, home insurance agents, and the other thousand and one people necessary to purchase a home. Nicole and I didn’t know anyone in these positions we could trust, and even in the era of Google searches, we did not feel comfortable relying on the equivalent of Yelp ratings and YouTube comments to influence one of the biggest decisions of our lives.

Beyond recommendations, friends and family have offered to help us evaluate any houses we’re interested in. My uncle Doug, a general contractor, told us he would walk through a house with us for an informal inspection and estimate what work would need to be done and if our renovation ideas would be possible. Our friend Greg, a former realtor, who knows the process of buying a home well, is helping us decide if home insurance quotes are reasonable, or if a certain part of town has good schools, a safe neighborhood, or the other thousand details that make up a comfortable location to live.

So, ask those in your own community if they know anyone who can help you. One of the best qualities of a good friend is that they love to help; plus, asking a friend for a recommendation is a sign of how much you think of them and trust their opinion. Who doesn’t like that? And once others find out that you’re looking for a house, you may be surprised by the number of people who have that one great contractor friend, or knows the most thorough and detailed home inspector. You may or may not appreciate the loads of unsolicited advice, but hey, there’s a diamond in the rough somewhere, right?

One great advantage of having a friend’s recommendation for an insurance agent or realtor is that you can instantly create a relationship with that person based on your mutual connection. A far better circumstance than emailing a Google search result; who knows how far you can trust 46 characters of text and a stock photo? Meeting through a friend vouches for the trustworthiness of your new acquaintance, as well as letting the other person know you’re a person worth putting in extra time and effort for.

  1. Be prepared to make a snap decision

Have I mentioned that houses are going fast? Houses are moving on and off the market very, very fast. There was a house not far from our apartment with great promise. Under budget, nice location, and enough money left over to renovate and expand the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Nicole and I were very interested. It was listed Thursday, we scheduled a showing that night for the following Saturday, and woke up Friday morning to a text from our realtor that an offer had already been accepted. Definitely a seller’s market right now.

We did manage to schedule a showing for a house on the end of a cul-de-sac, right next to a beautiful park, in a quiet neighborhood. We felt pretty lucky that we even got in; but you know who else was feeling lucky that day? The five other couples that showed up at the same time with their realtors, all prepared to make the same decision we walked in with. I bet the seller wasn’t feeling so bad either!

So, if we’re fortunate enough to even see the house, we need to be able to walk in, look around, and know right then on the spot if we like it enough to put an offer on it. Here’s the thing, neither of us are comfortable with snap decisions; I’ve made enough of them to regret them. But now we’re stuck in the position to do that with one of the largest financial investments we’ll ever make.

How do you even get ready for that kind of thing? It’s knowing what you want ahead of time, prioritizing particular characteristics you can’t live without, and letting go of some things you’d really like but can live without. Nicole’s priority is having a nice kitchen, with the kitchen, dining room, and living room open to each other and creating a feeling space, even in a small house. (Maybe not as important to me, but happy wife, happy life, right? Plus it’s nice not to feel cramped in a house.)

Back to the house we saw: we knocked it off the list in about twenty minutes because the basement stairs came between the living room and kitchen, taking out any possibility of the open space we wanted. Takeaway? Make a checklist of must-haves. If those boxes don’t get checked, you can walk away confident you made the right decision. If you find each of those things in a house, even with less important things that need changing, jump on that now!

  1. Don’t fall in love too quickly

Immediately contradicting #2 (or maybe building onto it), don’t make a snap offer because you’re so in love with the beautiful bay window seat overlooking the backyard that you ignore the 1950’s kitchen, obsolete electrical system, and the bathroom that saw the messy conclusion of too many explosive diaper changes. Yes, you certainly can see yourself reading a book there on a lazy Saturday afternoon, basking in the sun and watching your adoring children frolick in the garden. Later that evening, you’ll zap yourself charging your iPhone in the bedroom, scald your eyebrows lighting the stove with a match, and wonder which breed of alien left that multicolored splotch on the wall. (Babies are essentially tiny aliens until they’re eighteen months old or so.)

I’ve had my wife talk me down from deep emotional investment from online listings before. “That basement office would be a great podcast studio!” “Except it’s so short you’d scrape your head on the ceiling.” “Well I’d be sitting down most of the time anyway!” “And enjoying the burning smell from the fifty-year-old furnace that hasn’t seen a new filter since Mr. Brady married into three daughters.”

Tickle-your-fancy features of a house can be a big bonus that brings a lot of comfort pleasure to your new home. Keep it in mind, but don’t let it distract from your checklist from point #2, and especially don’t forget about deal-breakers in a house in favor of that feature.

These three things have kept us afloat throughout our search for a first home, and keep them in mind throughout your own search for your next house. Your friends and family want to help you, and they know the people you don’t even know you’ll need yet. Have your checklist of what you really need in a new house, and know what you can compromise on. And finally, don’t fall in love so much with one piece of a house that you don’t see the fatal issues. They’ll keep you on the right path to finding your perfect dream home.