Ready to start looking for a home? Here are five tips for a productive house hunt:
Spend some quality time in the neighborhood
These days, 90% of homebuyers search for their home online—but don’t stop there: where you live is so much more than the photos you’ll find on the internet. To find a great place, you’re going to need to step away from the screen. Get out and explore your potential neighborhood in person. The nearby streets matter. Cafes and restaurants and grocery stores matter. Step up your ground game and see if you can imagine yourself really feeling at home in the neighborhood.
Don’t fixate on square footage
Frequently, the square footage measurements listed for homes up for sale aren’t super accurate. But more importantly, the number of square feet doesn’t actually tell you much about the livable space in a home: a well-designed home with a smaller footprint can provide a better living situation that a larger home with an odd layout. If you only look at homes based on listed square footage numbers, you may miss out on homes that could be just perfect for you. (That said, actual square footage can impact the appraisal value of your home—make sure that space is actually space you can use and enjoy.)
Decide if you want a fixer-upper before you start looking
Homes in need of a little tender-loving-care can be great deals. But buying a fixer-upper comes with some real potential headaches, so ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the time and hard-work needed to take on a renovation project before you start looking. Whatever your threshold for potential repairs and renovation, be sure to add the cost of fixing up the place into your calculations for the price of the home—and remember, renovation work frequently costs more and takes longer than folks initially think it will, so give yourself some wiggle room in your renovation budget for worst-case scenarios.
Know what you can really afford
If you buy a more expensive sofa than you initially budgeted for, you might be out a few hundred dollars more than you wanted to pay. But buying more home than you can comfortably afford is going to hurt your wallet for years. Figure out how much you can afford to pay before you start looking around, and then stick to your budget. And don’t forget to factor in additional costs of owning a home—things like homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, HOA dues, utilities, repairs, and regular maintenance.
It can take some time to figure out what you really want in a new home, and once you know what you’re looking for, it can be awhile before you actually find your perfect place. Be patient with yourself, do your homework, and remember: house hunting can be stressful, but it can also be fun. The time and effort you put into finding a house will be worth it when you do finally find your new place to call home.