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Tips on House Hunting

There are many parts of the homebuying process, like budgeting and saving, filling out loan applications, and reading a title report, that are important and necessary but not exactly “fun.”  House hunting can be fun.

Take your time.  Look at many houses and ask questions.  The more homes you see, the easier it will be to tell if the house you decide on is built well, if it has been taken care of, and how it compares to other houses in the same price range. The House Hunting Checklist is a useful tool to have with you as you search.

Exploring on Your Own

Even if you are working with an agent you like, it’s a good idea to do some exploring on your own.  Here are some ways to get started:

  • Drive through the neighborhoods you have picked and look for “for sale” signs.  Call the number on the signs, or ask your real estate agent to look up the information for you.
  • Read the newspaper real estate section and watch the real estate channel on your local cable network. 
  • Check real estate shopping guides.  These free booklets are often found in supermarkets and malls and in sidewalk boxes. They usually have pictures of the houses and are a good way to compare prices and features.
  • Visit open houses.  When a house has an open house sign in front, it is an invitation to go in without an appointment and look around. The listing agent or the owner will be there to hand out information about the house and answer questions.
  • Visit new home subdivisions.  Even if you don’t think you can afford a new home, it’s a good idea to check out all of the new construction in your area. 
  • Attend tax and foreclosure sales, but be wary.  When homeowners don’t pay property taxes or mortgage loans, the courts can order the property sold to pay these debts.  The laws that control tax and foreclosure sales are different in every state.  Always get professional help before you consider buying at tax or foreclosure sales.
  • Contact nonprofit organizations.  In the United States, there are hundreds of nonprofit community development organizations that build or repair homes and sell them to people with low and moderate incomes.  Call the city government or state or county housing and planning departments to get a list of nonprofit housing groups in your area.
  • Ask friends and relatives who live in the neighborhood to let you know of anyone who is planning to move.
  • Look at homes for sale by owner.  As you drive through neighborhoods you have selected, you will find sale signs that say “For Sale By Owner.”  These listings are called “Fisbos” by real estate agents.  Many Fisbos are overpriced for the market because the owners really love their homes and have a very high opinion of what they are worth. Your agent can help you determine the fair market value and evaluate the condition of the house so that you don’t end up paying too much.

Narrowing the Search

It’s a good idea to take notes as you go.  You can use a simple spiral or loose-leaf binder to write down the important things about each house as you go through, or you can use the House Hunting Checklist. Most houses for sale will be listed on the MLS. Your real estate agent can, and should, give you copies of the MLS listings for all of the houses you look at.  You can paste a copy of the MLS sheet in your notebook, along with your own comments about the house. 

Once you have narrowed your choices to a few homes, take a closer look.  Don’t be shy about asking your real estate agent to take you back to certain properties a number of times.  That’s the agent’s job.  If possible, let the whole family see the final choices; children especially have an easier time moving if they have been part of the decision.