Buying a house can be one of the most fun things that you do in your life. How often do you get to go out and look at million and multimillion dollar properties and buy them. It outranks jewelry and cars by an order of magnitude in usefulness and price. Unfortunately, for some people it can also be one of the more tension-filled and miserable experiences of their life. Some people who start out happy end up miserable. This often happens if people don’t have a plan and start coming up against time barriers.
Figure out what it is that you need in your new place. Is it more bedrooms? Is it more space for her favorite hobby? Is it less hassle for maintenance? The next thing to do is to figure out what you like, what you like to do and what you’d like to have in your house so that you can do those things that you want to do. Do you like to have friends over and entertain? Do you like to go away for long weekends? Do you want to be able to hang out in the backyard without nosy neighbors?
If there are two or more of you, each of you can make a list of want’s and don’t wants and compare them. Often people will find a common denominator and things they hadn’t thought of. The next thing is to check with your Realtor and your mortgage company. Get an estimate of what you can afford and take a look at houses in that price range either in person or online to see if they meet your needs. If you are in a competitive market segment, then do more than get an estimate, pay the application fee and get pre-approved.
Bing.com’s birds eye view can help give you feel for the neighborhoods before you head out. When you do go out don’t so much look at houses as look at neighborhoods and see if those are the areas where you would like to live. This newspaper publishers a weekly open house list, and I, and a lot of other folks will send you a list of open houses for each week. So check out the open houses and get your agent to show you the houses that look interesting. You shouldn’t let all this be a straitjacket but you also shouldn’t be going from Byram to Banksville and from Old Greenwich to Quaker Ridge to find a house.
Once you get to a house ignore the furniture. Unless you have identical taste to this homeowner try to imagine what the house would look like furnished to your taste. One of my favorite examples of how not to do this was when I was out a public open house checking out some houses that I had gotten around to see. As I was walking down the upstairs hallway I heard a voice coming from the master bedroom that said, “Honey we could never live here this house has a blood-red bedroom!”. If you were planning on renovating anyway don’t be put off by small dark rooms. They can be opened up with a few extra windows, sliding glass doors and/or moving a walls. The one thing you should look at is ceiling height, because that can be easily changed.
If you like the house check out the basement. If it’s unfinished you can check for cracks in the foundation; minor vertical cracks are usually not a big issue while wide horizontal cracks may mean you should move on to a another house Another thing to look for is efflorescence. When concrete gets wet some of the lime is leached to surface and leaves a fluffy mineral deposit. Even if the basement is dry now, it’s worthwhile to find out why those lime deposits are 3 feet up the wall.
Even for a new house, you want to set aside some funds to get the house just the way you want. For an older house you can get a real bargain if you’re willing to do some work to fix it up to your taste. Lots of people are unwilling to take on a large renovation challenge, so if you are, you have a leg-up on the competition.
If you’re not finding what you want you should revisit that table you made of what it is that you’d like to see in the house and also consider some more financing options. In Greenwich, in particular, everything from artwork to stock portfolios, to rich relatives can be helpful in deciding how much you can spend.
Mark Pruner is part of The New Team at Berkshire Hathaway. He can be reached 203-969-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org