Shopping for a home is a process. Last year, the typical home buyer searched for 10 weeks before finding the right property, according to research from the National Association of Realtors. And for more than half of buyers, finding the right home was the hardest part.
For more than four out of 10 home buyers, the first rung on the home buying ladder is browsing the Internet for properties, according to the National Association of Realtors. And that’s smart. “A lot of times it gives buyers a very good idea of what appeals to them,” says Sandra O’Connor, a real estate agent in Greensboro, N.C., and a regional vice president of the NAR. “An open floor plan, or something more traditional, for example.” Plus, you get a good feel for what you can find in your price range.
Think about your family.
Most people have a number of bedrooms and bathrooms in mind, but may not have thought about the configuration they prefer. For instance, do you need a master bedroom that’s on the same level as the other bedrooms? Do you need a first-floor bedroom for elderly parents? Do you want an open kitchen and living room so you can keep an eye on toddlers? Consider how you live and how your house should reflect that.
Check out the yard.
If you have small children or pets, or might have them down the road, don’t overlook the outdoor space. “A lot of people have special pet requirements,” O’Connor says. “There are times when I’ve felt like I’ve sold a yard rather than a house.” Also, think about your future needs. You may find that the postage stamp of grass that worked with a baby is insufficient when you have two older children who like to run.
The house may be exactly what you want, but how close are you to work? To schools? To parks? Are you too close to a busy street or noisy part of town? You may find what you want, but not where you want to be. “Perhaps the house is in a different price bracket because it’s far away from the city center,” O’Connor says. “Maybe you can get more house for the money if you go out further.” In the end, you have to weigh what’s important to you.
You might have your heart set on a 4-bedroom house with an open floor plan—but discover that in your location, for what you can spend, that’s not possible. “Once you start looking in your price range,” O’Connor says, “you can reassess and say, ‘Is this realistic?'” You may also find that the home you adore doesn’t meet all of your criteria. “I had clients that said, ‘We will not look at anything that does not have a first-floor bedroom.’ What did they end up buying? A house without a first-floor bedroom because they fell in love with everything else about it.”
Remember that it’s an investment.
Are you shopping for the home you’ll stay in for the rest of your life, or will you have to sell it at some point? You may want to pay attention to things that may be important to other buyers down the road. “For instance, if it’s a professional couple without children, they may say the schools don’t matter,” O’Connor says. “But when they go to sell the house, the schools will matter.” Think about the things that will give you a good return on your money when the day comes to put it on the market.