A Rookie’s Lessons in House Hunting
I learned a hard life lesson last week. My husband Mark and I began the hunt for our first home a few months ago. We’ve been pretty open in terms of what we’re looking for. Assuming there’s room to have a few chickens and space to expand our family by one someday, we’re pretty flexible.
And then it happened. Our realtor sent us the listing and it was love at first site: a beautiful little bungalow with an ocean view on an acre of land. We went to see it and it was even more amazing in person. The house was modest, but had some upgrades and looked to be in great shape. The ocean breeze smelled fresh, the seagulls sang and out front the “Sarah Michael” fishing boat was docked, saying, “Welcome to the neighbourhood, friends”. We made an offer, the sellers accepted and I shouted from the rooftops that we were homeowners and happily shared pictures of our little paradise. Emotionally, I was vested. In my mind, I was moved in. I had even mapped out the route to our daughter’s future elementary school. I was in love. The only hurdle was the inspection, but how bad could that be?
Well… the answer is bad. Very bad. The first indicator was the “grey-water” line from the sink routed to the ditch by a fire hose “secured” with electrical tape. Funny, I didn’t notice that the first time with my rose coloured glasses. Or maybe the illegal wood stove they’d configured in the garage that was adhered to the wooden frame with duct tape. Melted duct tape now. Fire hazard? These were signs of disrepair. Unfortunately, the owners had not taken very good care of this little ocean beauty. But, it was the foundation that was the deal breaker as we discovered it was being washed away by the day and needed extensive work. It was devastating. We just couldn’t take on the huge tasks needed to make it work.
As a result, I took a few weeks off from house hunting to get over the tragedy of my “first love” and now that I’ve had time to reflect, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a few tips for others who’ve begun their hunt for the perfect house.
Find a Great Realtor
We went to see the first house on our journey without a realtor, and met a realtor who was everything that is wrong with realtors. He assured us that we didn’t need a realtor; he could just handle it for us. But after spending five minutes with him, it was clear that he did not have our best interests in mind. When we asked where the property line went to, he said, “ummm, back there somewhere.”
Lesson learned. Invest the time and find a good, experienced, knowledgeable realtor. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them and counting on their expertise, so be sure to find a good match. Don’t just go with your cousin’s friend who is new and needs the commission. Unless, your cousin’s friend is an excellent realtor.
Get Mortgage Pre-Approval
See your banker and make sure that you know your budget so that you’re not falling in love with houses that are out of your price range. If you know you’re pre-approved, you’re able to act faster when you do find “the one.”
Do your research as you go. Line up that house inspector, insurer and lawyer before you get into the heat of the hunt. That will take some of the stress out of the scramble once you’re ready to make an offer. Everything happens fast and it’s a business of quick turnaround, so do what you can to be prepared in advance.
See It Twice
It’s really easy to panic and get caught up in the excitement of buying a house. A house might make a great first impression, but once you go away and come back (with less emotion) you’ll probably be able to look at things a bit more objectively. Take your time looking at the house. Open the cupboards and lift the rugs. It’s likely the biggest investment of your life. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest bringing the most critical person you know along for the second viewing.
Sleep On It
Give yourself a little time to think things over. In some markets you might not have the luxury to wait and sleep on it (and I suppose there’s no harm in making an offer) but make sure you don’t rush into the purchase. If you can, give it the night. Everyone feels more prepared to make a big life decision after a good sleep.
I wasn’t expecting it to be as emotional a process as it has been. I guess I fall in love easily, so it has been a good learning experience for me. I’m not yet wise in the ways of the homeowner but hope that over the coming months, I will be.