TIPS FOR FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS

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1. What are the benefits? You should buy a home. That’s what your friends & family tells you. So by now, you’ve weighed the benefits & decided that home ownership is the best decision for you.

2. Define your search criteria. Most searches start on the internet. Buyers can see hundreds of virtual listings, pictures, virtual tours, & aerial shots of homes & neighborhoods. Buyers should know what town, school district, number of bedrooms, square footage, etc. will work best for them. Drive around different towns & explore. Walk down the street of the downtown area to get a feel for the town. Do you fit in? Can you see yourself living here?

3. How long should the process take? Right now (Fall, 2008), it’s a buyer’s market. A motivated buyer should be able to find a house in a few weeks. Some buyers can find a house within a few days. It all depends on what you’re used to. If you live in a cardboard box on the sidewalk, most of the houses you see will look good. If you live in a penthouse in the Plaza Hotel, you may have more picky tastes. Find a good real estate agent & have them show you homes based on your search criteria. The narrower your search criteria is, the faster you’ll find you home & the better able you’ll be to analyze the homes to find the best deal.

4. How many homes should I see? Don’t see more than 7 homes in 1 day, or your brain will be on overload. Take notes on the listing sheet about the homes you see. Good or bad? Rank the homes you’ve seen in order, so you’ll always have something on the top of the list that all other houses should be compared to.

5. Compare & contrast. Bring a digital camera & start with a close-up of the house number to identify each group of home photos. Take notes of unusual features, colors, & design elements. Pay attention to the home’s surroundings. What is next door? Down the block? Do you like the location? Is it near a park? Train Station? Is there road noise from a highway? Are there high tension power lines above the house?

6. Always look at some houses twice before making an offer. Look carefully & don’t overlook any closet or attic or basement. Remember the three most important rules of real estate: location, location, location. Try to buy the cheapest house on the block, not the most expensive. Remember your exit strategy; make sure other people will want to buy this house when you are ready to sell. Colonials are the most desirable type of home. Raised ranches are the least desirable. Other important items that affect value: flat driveway, flat usable property, non-double yellow line road, no road noise nearby, close to railroad, etc.

7. Don’t let your realtor influence your decision. It’s not their choice; they won’t be living in the house. Make sure that your agent points out any defects that you may have overlooked. Get an inspection before buying.

Finding Your Ideal Neighborhood

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If you’re in the market for a home this year, look beyond its’ four walls and directly at your neighbors. Thoroughly check out a prospective neighborhood before plunking down hundreds of thousands of your hard-earned dollars. If you want to get the real dirt on your neighborhood, you’re going to have to do some digging. So dust off your trench coat and dark glasses, and get ready to go on a sleuthing expedition.

1. Contact the community association for the neighborhood you are considering. Often, it publishes newsletters, holds meetings, or sponsors community activities, all of which hold potentially useful bits of information about your neighborhood.

2. Subscribe to the local paper or call and ask for a sample of back issues.

3. Locate the community hang-outs. Is there a neighborhood pool or community center? If so, try and visit so you can get a sense of who lives in the area and whether there is a strong community feel.

4. Look for sidewalks. For some, living in a part of the neighborhood with no sidewalks means many things: not as many walks (and therefore don’t meet and greet the neighbors), young kids have fewer safe places to ride their bikes, and it seems to prevent other folks from walking much, too.

5. Visit the neighborhood at different times of the day and at least once on a weekend rather than a weekday. Are most of the folks working out of the home? Is the neighborhood composed of retirees? Are there loads of school-aged children? Are there many young mothers with babies and toddlers?

6. Study a map of your neighborhood to see the proximity of parks, libraries, the nearest hospital, and other amenities. Likewise, try driving different routes to the home so you can see the good, the bad, and the ugly in the surrounding area.

7. Arrange a visit to the school your children would attend, check out the school’s test scores, and find out how many veteran teachers are on staff.

8. Talk to the neighbors and ask them very specific questions. For example, you may want to ask about their perceptions of crime, location, noise, traffic, and community feeling. Is the neighborhood changing? If so, how?

9. Head down to city hall to check on issues with zoning or find out about any projects in the works. You should be able to find out if there are any major road or construction projects planned for the next few years.

10. Pump your real estate agent for information. How long do homes in this area stay on the market? What’s their resale potential?

11. Check your town or city’s website for real estate tax assessment information. By looking at our local real estate tax office website, I can see the value of the assessment, how much of that total is land versus the structure, how the assessor rated the structure’s condition, and recent home sales in the area.

12. Head to the nearest police station to ask for crime rate information. Be sure to ask about the typical response time for emergencies.

13. Check the national registry for sex offenders. Once you’ve gathered as much information as you can, review it. Does the neighborhood seem to meet your needs? Did you find any information that’s a deal breaker? Can you picture yourself living here happily? Be as picky as you can afford to be; no returns or exchanges are offered on neighborhoods.