Find the Perfect House: Quick Checklist
Thinking of making the biggest purchase of your lifetime? Take these steps to learn the market and organize your search.
Or at least narrow it down. Once you've settled on your preferred neighborhoods, you can start your house search.
Know what you want before you start looking. Don't waste your time on houses that don't fit your needs and pocketbook.
At first, your object is simply to get the feel of the market. Visit a wide variety of houses to develop your sense of what you can get for your money. Try to resist buying the first or second house you see!
Reading the classifieds regularly will not only help you learn the real estate market, but you'll also spot new listings and price reductions. Don't forget that many newspapers post their classifieds online.
Information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which lists most houses for sale, is now widely available on websites like www.realtor.com. For more information on a particular house, follow up with your agent or by calling the listing agent directly (or the owner, if it's a FSBO).
While you can find many properties on your own, real estate agents and brokers normally have access to houses before they're opened to the public. They will also handle all of the paperwork for you -- a huge help, since every year the legislators seem to come up with another form you need to sign. But the buyer's real estate agent also normally charges a commission of 2-3%. This is paid by the seller (along with an equivalent amount to the seller's agent), but it arguably raises the overall price.
If you know people who live or work near where you want to buy, ask them to scout out local houses for sale. They may hear about something before it's been put on the market. You can also canvass neighborhoods, notifying every owner in the area of your interest (or hang a flyer on notice boards in laundromats and grocery stores).
Probate sales and auctions for foreclosed homes are advertised outside the normal listings. You may need the help of a specialized agent, but the lower price of the house may make it worth it (though many such houses are also in bad shape). Or if you're looking for a fixer-upper, try driving around neighborhoods and looking for rundown houses, then research the name of the owner (who may, for example, be an out-of-town landlord interested in unloading the place).
Or use your computer to set up a simple database for each house, with columns for the street address and city, price, number of bedrooms and baths, and so on. Unless you keep track, you'll start forgetting details. And even if you know you're not interested in a house, it can be helpful to have the facts about it handy when, for example, you're trying to settle on an offer price in light of the comparable houses that you've visited.