Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Buyer's Guide - Step #5 - See Some Houses (Part 2)

The Walk-through
Through your online searches, you have already eliminated the "No Interest" houses.  Now you want to narrow the remaining "Maybes" into a manageable pile of houses that really interest you.  Through this process, you'll also begin to get a sense of what is really out there - are there a lot of houses on the market that could potentially be yours, or are few good houses up for sale now?  You'll also begin to see the volume of new listings that meet your criteria.  If the volume is low, it may be safe to assume your purchasing options are in front of you.  If the volume is higher, there's always that chance that the perfect house at the perfect price might come on the market tomorrow.

Pre-Walk-through Preparation
I would recommend printing out the one-pager for the listing you are going to see before you go.  This will serve as a good sheet for taking notes and will later help you get organized.  You should also consider writing down some questions on this sheet before your visit - we would make notes such as "can't tell if back yard is big or not" or "how far from the street is the house / is it noisy?".

You should also feel free to bring a camera.  This is a good way to make note of parts of the house that may need more work - again, the pictures in the listing are taken to present the house in its best light.  Also feel free to bring a measuring tape.  Understanding the dimensions of a living room or bedroom might help you decide if your sectional sofa or your queen-sized bed will fit and whether there will be much room left over.

What to Look For
Pamela and I found that as we visited houses, we pretty quickly got a sense of whether "this could be the one" or not.  I would make the recommendation to you, that if you step into a house and you start to think that this could be a candidate, feel free to start the house tour over again with that mindset.  Sometimes you'll be headed out the door thinking, "wow, I really liked that house... but what did the second bedroom look like again... was the basement finished... will our bed and nightstands fit in the bedroom?".  During our house touring sessions we did end up asking our Realtor "can we go back to 123 Elm Street and see it again?" on a few occasions (including the house we ended up purchasing).  Sometimes, this will not be possible - the Open House is over, or maybe the seller is now back home and doesn't want more viewings that day.  It's clearly better to do the walk-through once and do it right.

If you end up putting an offer in on the house and it is accepted, you'll come back with an inspector to do a real top-to bottom poking and prodding of the house.  I mention this here, because for your walk-through you should be trying to decide if the house "makes the cut".

Below is my non-comprehensive checklist of things to look for.  Your Realtor will be able to help you pay attention to the interesting things about the house you are seeing, as he/she has ample experience in seeing houses and knows what other houses in the area have to offer.

  • Outside
    • Is the yard in good shape?  Does it look like it gets damaged by heavy rain?  Are there patches of shade where grass won't grow?
    • Is there a front and back yard?  Are they big enough or too big?
    • Is the exterior of the house attractive?  Will I want to re-paint as soon as I move in?
    • Is the roof clean or is there moss (this can shorten the life of a roof)?  Does it look new?
    • Do the windows look new?  Will I want to replace with newer windows to save energy?
    • How close are the neighbors' homes? 
    • Will we have enough privacy?
    • Do we have a garage?  Will our car fit?  Will having two cars in the driveway be a problem?
  • First Floor
    • Are there ample closets?  A coat closet by the front door?
    • Do I like the flow of the house?
    • Do I like the floor materials?  Do they need re-finishing, re-carpeting?
    • Can I set up the living room in a way that I like it or is there some feature (i.e. fireplace) that will dictate how it will be arranged?
    • Is the kitchen large enough for our normal cooking adventures?  Is there ample counter-top space?
    • Does the oven have an overhead vent that goes outside?
    • Do I like the size, style, and newness of the appliances?
    • Is there a full / half bathroom?
    • Are there enough electrical, cable, internet plugs for our needs?
  • Second Floor
    • Will I be happy with the size of the master bedroom?
    • Where do your windows face?
    • How many bathrooms are there?  How are they shared between the rooms? Will that be sufficient for our size of family?
    • How large are the other bedrooms?  Will they all be used for sleeping or perhaps an office?
    • Are there enough electrical, cable, internet plugs for our needs?
  • Basement
    • Is the basement well lit?  Will I be able to do things down here or is it simply for some storage?
    • Is the basement dry?
    • What kind of electrical service is coming into the house? (Older houses may not have enough amps running into the house to suit a modern family with lots of electronics)
    • How is the house heated - oil? gas?  Where is the oil tank? 
    • Does the house have central air?
    • Are the washer and dryer in the basement? (A typical location, but will you get annoyed carrying loads of dirty laundry down from the second floor to the basement, then up from the basement once clean?)
If you like what you've seen, perhaps it is time to make an offer!

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