Stay organized and focused on your quest for a new home, to make the search easier and avoid surprises later
In the hunt for the perfect house, it's easy to get swept away by a home's most charming details (a gracious front porch) and play down the important stuff you'll be kicking yourself for later (the price is over budget). And if you are touring multiple open houses each weekend, keeping everything straight can get complicated.
Set your priorities and streamline the house-hunting process early on, and you can breathe easier knowing you have a handle on things. It's probably the most important purchase you will ever make, so take a few deep breaths and make a plan before diving in — you'll be glad you did.
These 12 tips can help you stay organized and focused on the important things during your house hunt.
1. Set your priorities. Before taking a look at any houses, sit down and write out everything you want in a home, with input from all members of the household. Then choose your top five, or even top three, must-haves.
Once you start looking, all sorts of charming features are bound to sway you; keeping your priorities list close at hand can help you stay on track.
2. Make a comparison chart. After you have seen a dozen or more houses, it becomes very difficult to keep track of the features in each one. Make things a little easier by creating your own comparison chart or checklist to bring along to each home, and make notes on it during or immediately after each tour.
Beyond the basics (beds and baths) consider including notes on landscaping, the condition of the roof and exterior, natural light in each room, storage space and cost per square foot. Consider this chart a personal tool — something you can look back on to help guide your decision making, not a substitute for a good home inspection.
3. Walk through once and let yourself soak it all in. When you tour a home for the first time, the excitement can make it difficult to focus on ... well, anything at all. So I say, just go with it. Have fun, wander around and mentally note your first impressions of the space. Once the butterflies have died down, it's time to get to work.
4. Then go back to the beginning and start again. Walk back to the front of the house and literally begin your tour again. This time, pull out your clipboard and pen, take your time and approach the home as if you were an inspector rather then a potential buyer.
5. Bring furniture measurements. Jumping the gun? Maybe. A deal breaker? Probably not. But if every room in the house presents problems with your current furniture situation, you could effectively be adding thousands of dollars to the price if you have to purchase new furniture — something that is probably better to know sooner rather than later.
6. Sketch a floor plan. You do not need to have any real drawing skills to make a superbasic floor plan on paper, and having it to refer to later is priceless. Just do your best. Starting at the front door, draw boxes for rooms and mark doors, windows, stairways and openings roughly where they are.
7. Ask to take photos (or even a video). It's amazing how quickly memory fades. Make sure you have backup by creating a floor plan and taking photos or a short video tour if possible — it will really give you a full picture of what the house looks like. Be sure to ask the Realtor for permission before taking any photos or video. And even then, it is assumed that they are for personal use, so don't post them to your Facebook page or blog ... at least not until you own the house.
8. Open the closets and cupboards. Proper storage is a really important factor in how a home looks and feels when you are living in it. Note the number and size of cupboards and closets throughout the house, and don't be afraid to peek inside. If the current homeowner has them packed to the gills, that may be a sign that the house doesn't have enough storage for its size.
9. Lift up the rugs. While this is not something you necessarily want to do during a busy open house, if you are back for a second look and are really considering making an offer, it is important to know what you are getting into. Rugs (and even furniture) can be used to conceal damaged flooring, so you have a right to see what's going on under there. Just let the Realtor know what you want to see, and he or she should accommodate you.
10. Look high and look low. It is important to get a good look at the house that could be your new home, so make a point of focusing on things outside your usual line of vision. Check out the ceilings, walls, floors, trim, windows, roof and under the sinks.
11. Check out the property at different times of day. If you do come back for a second showing, make it during a different time of day from the open house or first tour. In the evening, notice not only the changes in light, but the atmosphere in the neighborhood. Are people out sitting on porches? Are kids playing outside? Is it noisy? You are bound to learn and discover different things about the house each time.
12. Take a moment to envision how you would use the space. Just because the current owner (or staging company) has the second bedroom set up for guests doesn't mean you can't use it as an office, a home gym or a nursery. Paint colors, furniture arrangements and window treatments can also all be swapped out, so use your imagination and really put yourself in the home.
Tell us: Share your own home-buying stories and tips in the Comments.