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 Finding the Right Home (Where to Begin)
By: Darin "Sid" Cameron
Wed, Jan 12th, 2005 10:08 pm

Very few things in life are as exciting--or as nerve-racking--as the search for a house. All the good and bad emotions seem to converge when the house hunting begins. But don't worry, this is a normal reaction- even for seasoned home buyers.

One of the first decisions you should make is whether you want to do your house hunting on your own, or use an Agent. (See: Why Use an Agent) If you decide to go it on your own, you will be able to see (and buy) those houses that are For Sale by Owner (commonly referred to as F.S.B.O.'s-- pronounced Fizz-bo's). Depending on the area of St. Louis you are in, this will be around 20% of the total homes available (the other 80% are the "listed" properties--being sold through an Agent. Those homes you can't buy--or even see--on your own because the home's seller has made a decision to use an Agent). In these cases you can work with the Seller's Agent, or enlist a Buyer's Agent to work for you. Since the seller is the one who pays commission, there is generally no extra cost in having a Buyer's Agent working on your behalf. Before signing with an Agent, you may wish to interview several to find one you feel comfortable working with.

Where to Begin:

At first, it may seem natural to just hop in the car and drive around town. By doing this, however, you ultimately end up spending a lot of time (and gas money) looking at homes you would never want or neighborhoods you can't afford. That's why the search for your dream home should begin right in your present home or apartment. Put together a list of what you like (and dislike) in your present home to help you save time in the house-hunting process. This should include:

  • What style of home do you like - two story, ranch, split-level, something else?

  • What size of home do you need - number of bedrooms, baths?

  • What are your priorities in home features - garage, gourmet kitchen, fireplace, first-floor family room, formal dining room or other feature? Determine what you have to have and what you can live without should you need to make sacrifices.

  • What natural features outside the home are most significant to you - woods, hills, lakes, proximity to shopping or schools, others?

  • Are there unique features that you require that many house may not have- like a pool or a three car garage for example. These are great features to use in ruling houses out before you go look.

A good agents will help you in this process by working with you to create a detailed check list and then present you homes to see that only meet your requirements. This can save you a lot of work finding and qualifying house. Another advantages of working with an agent is they may also be able to expose you to styles or features that you aren't familiar with.

Set a Budget Before You Seriously Look:

Working with a loan officer on financing is seldom anyone's idea of fun. Unless you are independently wealthy, however, it's a good bet that a budget (and financing) will ultimately play a part in determining the home you are able to buy. Setting a budget up front can help you from spending a lot of time looking at houses above or below your budget. More important, when you do find that "dream house," you want to be able to put in an offer right away- and waiting to determine financing could ultimately cause you to loose a house to another buyer. A lot of banks and mortgage companies now offer a simple "pre-approval" process that can help you determine an initial budget. (See: Getting Pre-Approved First!)

Choosing Your Home:

Many people decide with emotion and then try to justify their decisions with facts afterwords. Yes, your new home has to feel right, but it has to work right too. Agents are useful here because they aren't as emotionally involved in the process and can often times offer alternative viewpoints- how's the neighbor for resale?, what are other homes in the area selling for?, etc. They can also help you evaluate many of the physical features by systematically looking for certain details, outside, inside and throughout the house.

Choosing a Neighborhood:

In many ways, choosing a house is easier than choosing a neighborhood. The neighborhood determines the value of the house. There's an old saying in real estate that says- there are three criteria that determine a property's market value: "location, location, location." The fact is that two identical houses built across town from each other can bring a sale price thousands of dollars apart. A good Agent will give you information about market values of houses in various locations, and them help you determine which neighborhood is right for you.

Structural and Mechanical Systems:

It's the job of any good Agent to help you look for issues in quality of materials and craftsmanship before you buy. And when you have questions, an Agent should also help you arrange for a professional housing inspector to come out and evaluate the home. A housing inspector can make sure the house and major mechanical systems are in sound condition- helping you make an informed decision.

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