Anyone have advice on buying a home?
February 4, 2005 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Having finally settled into a new job, my wife and I are beginning the process of buying our first home. We're hoping to make the process as smooth as possible.
Anyone have advice for ways to accomplish this goal? [+]

We've got the financing worked out(Went to the CU and a mortgage broker, took the best deal). We're pre-approved for more than we plan on spending.
We are "auditioning" a couple of agents to find one we click with.
So, what else should we look out for?
All hints, tips, pratfalls, "Hey, this was a surprise to us when we bought a home" stories are welcome.
posted by madajb to Shopping (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Agents can't tell you anything that you can't find online. Plan to spend a lot of time online looking.
posted by xammerboy at 3:05 PM on February 4, 2005


Don't buy a fixer-upper, unless you want to devote a significant amount of your life to fixing it. (And therefore less of your life doing what you like to do -- living.) I have several friends whose houses are in various states of (dis)repair, and they have given up much of their free time to save a little money.

Don't assume that the agent that's representing you has your best interests in mind. They get just as much commission for a sale as the selling agent does, which is a conflict of interest. Our experience was they mostly just stand around and talk about how nice the house you're looking at is.

Be patient... it took us a year to find the right house, and I'm glad we waited. We looked at a LOT of crappy houses before finding a gem.

If you plan on staying a long time, don't get an ARM, because the rates are bound to be higher in 5 or 7 years. Lock in for 30 years if you get a good rate.
posted by knave at 3:06 PM on February 4, 2005


"Home Buying for Dummies" was an excellent resource for us. And, take from this what you will, but buying a house FAAAR below what the bank is willinging to give you will save you lots of grief and stress.
posted by eurasian at 3:19 PM on February 4, 2005


While a true fixer-upper may be a bad idea, a house with some imperfections will a) save you money and b) possibly be a better investment down the road.

Try to look for potential, instead of focusing on what's already there--see past the bad paint job, etc. Alternately, try to ignore the smell of baking cookies in the oven...

Inspection, inspection, inspection. Ask that any problems be fixed by the seller, or request that money be given back at closing for repairs.

How much space do you really need?

Pin down what you absolutely must have in a house (2-car garage, 2 baths, etc.) and what you think you can compromise on (hardwood floors, etc.).

Beware of agents trying to run up the price by contacting you about "phantom" buyers. If your agent pulls that stunt, simply offer to walk away from the house, and see if the buyer magically disappears...

While I'm on the subject, don't engage in bidding wars.

Check out the school district. Even if you don't have kids, the district will affect the house's market value. A responsible agent will help you keep resale value in mind.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:22 PM on February 4, 2005


100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask is a pretty good primer for what you're about to experience. It should answer most of your questions.

As far as agents go, we got along well enough with ours, but came away with a pretty bad feeling about agents in general. We found our house ourselves on line; all the agent did was set up the first showing and coordinate the paperwork. Because we were first time buyers, we thought we needed an agent to guide us through it, but in hindsight, I don't think she did much that a real estate attorney couldn't have done.

The only other advice I have is to spend less than you think you can afford. There are always extra costs involved in owning a home, plus you'll probably want to do some projects, buy furniture, etc. and it's nice to have some extra money on hand to tend to them.

Oh! If you want to refinish the floors, or redo a room, or even just paint, do it before you move in. If you can set up your closing for a couple of weeks before you have to move, it will make things SO much easier.

Good luck! Even with the stress of the buying, moving, and fixing up (which isn't necessarily as bad as everyone says, btw), it really is a good feeling to finally own.
posted by boomchicka at 3:25 PM on February 4, 2005


Get realtor recommendations, and don't skimp on research about them. My wife and I ended up going with a friend of a friend, and that wound up being a bad decision in some ways. There may come a time when the realtor has to fight for your interests with some combination of knowledge, savvy and persistence.

That time came for us, and it ended up being a lot more work and stress . This sucked, since real estate is a Byzantine world of crazy, Kafkaesque procedures. We knew we had made a questionable call when the home inspector she works with all the time started recommending other real estate agents when she wasn't around.
posted by jeffmshaw at 3:26 PM on February 4, 2005


Oops, I could have sworn I linked the book. Here it is again:

100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask
posted by boomchicka at 3:32 PM on February 4, 2005


Don't assume that the agent that's representing you has your best interests in mind. They get just as much commission for a sale as the selling agent does, which is a conflict of interest.

What? How does the amount of their commission represent a "conflict of interest"? My wife and I have bought two houses in the last two years (the second after selling the first), and both my agents were fantastic, never pushing us to spend more money than we wanted and really putting themselves out for us. Just make sure that your agent is operating as a "buyer's agent" and (obviously) that you feel comfortable with them.

Don't get more house than you can easily afford (mortgage payments + taxes + utilities + maintenance). Don't get a house that will be hard to resell (only one bathroom, for example). And, like tjw says, make sure the inspection is thorough.

don't engage in bidding wars

Um, in a hot real-estate market -- like anything within an hour's commute of Manhattan -- that may be unrealistic advice. We had to bid over the original asking price on our Peekskill condo, and we wound up making a nice piece of change when we sold it a year later. On the other hand, Pittsfield is such an un-hot market that after we passed on this house the first time the price dropped $10,000 -- and when we went back for a second look we still managed to knock them down another grand. Location, location, location.
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on February 4, 2005


eurasian - We'd certainly like to find a house way below what the bank will give us, but this market seems to consist of "Houses we couldn't afford ever" and "Houses that have more cars on the lawn than people in the house(by an order of magnitude)", so our choices are somewhat limited.

boomchicka - I'll look for that one in the library. Looks like a nifty book.

thomas j wise - I'm a big fan of getting a house with a few minor flaws, but after 8 years of apartments, I don't think my wife will go for it. She wants to settle in immediately.
posted by madajb at 3:49 PM on February 4, 2005


To echo thomas j wise, you need a good inspector. Put as much legwork into finding an inspector as you do into finding a realtor. A good one will not only give you a very detailed report on paper, but will also walk you through everything s/he found on site (so you know which pipe you're talking about when you're negotiating with the seller over who's going to fix -- or pay to fix -- the coupling that drips in the crawlspace).

Roofs are important. They are also tricky, because even though you may be able to see from outside that the shingles or flashing or gutters are worn, bent, or broken, nobody can see the underlayment (sheets of plywood, very expensive) until the shingles come off. If the roof isn't actively leaking, it is possible to re-roof simply by nailing new shingles on top of the old ones, but you can only have about 3 layers. When you have 3 or more layers and the top one is giving up, it's time to strip it all down to either good plywood or the rafters. If you're looking at a house that's more than ~40 yrs old, you may be looking at a mysteriously expensive roof.

(When I bought my house, I negotiated a $2000 roofing allowance with the seller. When roofers came to make estimates, they all said that because the house was 100 years old and had been added onto by various owners at various times, there were as many as 5 layers of shingles tacked onto the original rusted-out tin. Not one of them could give me even a ballpark figure because they didn't know how rotten the underlayment would be. My $2K roof turned into a $9K roof, in 1992 dollars. Ouch.)
posted by Alylex at 4:14 PM on February 4, 2005


I will agree that you can find out almost anything on your own and not to trust your agent completely.

We picked an agent that was highly recommended by everyone we knew and even when she went insanely out of her way to help us find a place when we first got into town (she located an apartment for us and didn't charge anything), when it came to home buying, knowing what I know now, she skimped on a few details.

A realator wants to make a sale and even our angel of an agent didn't dissuade us from an obvious early bad candidate. If I was an agent, I would have mentioned the trailerpark behind the trees we didn't see at night, or the high crime area just over the opposite wall. We learned these things from walking through the entire town, from beginning to end over three months of searching.

The hardest part is getting the financing and down payment, which it sounds like you've handled, so that's good.
posted by mathowie at 4:17 PM on February 4, 2005


hints, tips, pratfalls

My wife and I have bought homes on three occasions in the past decade, so --

1. If you decide you don't like your real estate agent, you should feel free to get another one. You won't owe anything to the first agent unless you happen to buy a home that he/she has shown you (presumably not a problem). You shouldn't sign anything that says otherwise (a good agent will tell you, up front, that if you do become unhappy, you should change agents, if you ask).

2. When you do find a house that you like, don't skimp on the inspection. You want a pest expert and a thorough review of your roof, not just a very comprehensive interior walkthrough. [see prior post]

3. An asking price for a house may or may not be reasonable. Your agent should be able to tell you, but one indicator is that the house has been on the market for a while and there are no unusual characteristics that would explain this. When you find a house you like, try to look at comparably priced houses in the neighborhood (or, see if your real estate agent to provide listings of comparable houses that have sold recently). If you plan to stay for a while, you don't need to get the absolutely best price. But if there is a reasonable chance that you might move in (say) the next three years, a reasonable price means you won't lose (much) money when you sell.

4. Keep in mind what the incentive of your agent is. Yes, he/she will want you to be happy (to recommend others to use him/her). But your agent may not recommend the best available inspector (who could find problems that will be off-putting), or may not be that concerned about you overpaying (because if you bargain hard, you may not get the house, and he/she will then have to spend more time showing you around, for the next opportunity). So, for example, if you find an inspector that comes recommended by (say) a co-worker, that might be best. [see another prior post]

5. Once you've got an agreement to buy, you still have to decide exactly what type of mortgage you want - fixed (15? 30?), variable, hybrid? For example, if you think it's likely that you'll move within five years, a 5/25 probably is a good idea. Similarly, the shorter you expect to stay, the more it makes sense to pay as few points as possible (zero, with some credits, is even possible) and pay slightly higher interest on the loan. (You should be able to calculate how long the breakeven is - for example, if an extra $3,600 in points saves you $100 per month in interest, then if you expect to be there more than 36 months, you should pay the points, if you have the cash.)

6. Finally, I disagree that the school district really matters in terms of resale price - if it's a bad district, your price will be low to begin with. What school districts impact is the number of possible buyers, once you own the house. Which raises a larger issue: before you buy, think about how easy it will be to resell. If you decide a house is weird (or has too few bathrooms, or whatever) but okay, consider whether the negative features will make it difficult to resell. Remember that the value of a house and the ease of selling it are only somewhat related (yes, if you drop the price enough, someone will bite, but, ideally, you want a house where you can get a reasonable offer without having it sit on the market for a long, long time).

Good luck!
posted by WestCoaster at 4:23 PM on February 4, 2005


You're in Eugene - is that where you're buying? We just bought a house in Beaverton in June, and we used a buyer's agent. It costs you nothing extra, unless, as someone mentioned, your agent tries to upsell you for more commission.

We found houses on the internet and when we'd call, the listing agents would tell us they'd been sold for days or weeks. Even checking every day, I'd see all the same crap and anything new was sold by the time I called.

An agent can call you within minutes or hours of something being listed. Our agent knew exactly what we were looking for and emailed us daily with listings. With our modest price range, some of the houses she called us about were sold within 48 hours of being listed.

The house we ultimately bought ended up having two back-up offers on it. She coordinated all the inspections and appraisals, and explained every detail of the mortgage paperwork to us, including finding an error that I never would have caught. I could not imagine doing all that myself.

Finally, although I hesitate to post this, you may want to avoid anything listed For Sale by Owner. We looked at about five FSBO homes, and without exception, the owners were cheap, unreasonable, and completely clueless about the process of buying or selling a house. Frightening. Good luck!
posted by peep at 4:35 PM on February 4, 2005


They get just as much commission for a sale as the selling agent does, which is a conflict of interest.

What? How does the amount of their commission represent a "conflict of interest"?

The more you pay for your house, the more they make, so they are motivated to ensure you spend as much as you can afford. This is in obvious conflict with your interest as a buyer in getting as low a price as possible. Also, they are motivated to close a deal as quickly as possible so they can go on to making the next sale. The less you are spending, the less time they're going to be willing to spend showing you around and whatnot.

This is on top of the fact that from a legal standpoint, the agent that sells you the house is obligated to the seller, not to the buyer, even if they're not the listing agent.

Ideally you'd want someone to represent you whose interests are aligned more closely with your own. Some states do allow "buyer's agents," who never represent sellers, but the problem is, such agents are typically paid in exactly the same way -- a percentage of the selling price -- so you have the same fundamental problem.

One approach that I've heard of is to do your own research using the Web, then approach the listing agent(s) of house(s) you are interested in. Normally, the listing agent and the selling agent split the commission. When the listing agent and the selling agent are the same person, he or she making twice as much right off the bat, and so may be a little less interested in jacking the price up. Of course, any agent is going to show you the properties he or she listed first thing, for exactly this reason, so you find out who listed each property, and use this to your advantage.

(It is not without reason that Rudy Rucker's protagonist in The Hacker of the Ants refers to characters he dislikes as "having the morals of a Realtor.")
posted by kindall at 4:54 PM on February 4, 2005


More on inspections - where I am now, there's no licensing requirements for home inspectors so they vary in quality. (I don't know about Oregon.) Ask around and be sure to get a good one.

Lead and Mold
Try to find an inspector who knows what to look for when it comes to spotting deteriorated paint (in homes built pre-78) and deterioration due to dampness (mold issues.) And, if there are issues, you may want to have someone with experience in lead-based paint risk assessments and/or mold testing review the site before any contractors fix it (preferably trained lead workers if that's the case). And if there are any dampness issues, make sure they fix exterior problems like roof, landscaping, gutters as well as the internal damage. These issues are extremely important if you plan to have children. You may be able to negotiate payment for this stuff with the seller, depending on the market. Just do it before you move in if possible to avoid staying in a hotel while the contaminants and dust are released.
Here's some info. from your state. You may be aware of all this stuff, but when I worked on a homeownership program, the buyers, sellers and inspectors weren't as keen on these issues as they should have been.
posted by sophie at 6:36 PM on February 4, 2005


madajb,

assuming you are in OR, then maybe my advice could be useful. Having come from back east, I was really depressed by how ugly homes were in the valley. Anything with character had other shortcomings, most things new were butt-ugly and built poorly.

We decided to rent for five years, bought a nice piece of land, and when it was paid off, we built. Small acreages in OR are like gold, I have found, esp. if they are near town, or schools, and if your neighbors aren't raising pigs.
posted by docpops at 6:37 PM on February 4, 2005 [1 favorite]


Spend as much time in the home as you need before bidding or closing. Don't feel embarrassed to open closets and kitchen cabinets. Many real estate agents seem to think a 15 minute run-through will do. It will be more than enough time in the dumps but not in your new home.

The home inspector can be more important than the real estate agent in protecting your interests. They should know the trades, and the area, and be actively employed (not in post-retirement). They get paid whether the deal closes or not, so a good inspector will tell you things a realtor may not.

Finally, check the water at each house. Does it leave stains or smell bad? Get it tested when the house gets inspected.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:38 PM on February 4, 2005


We bought our house last summer. If you can, take pictures of the houses you visit. It's a huge memory aid.

As far as stress goes: I read somewhere that most people make gut decisions first and then spend the rest of their time trying to justify it. I've also read that when people can't undecide a decision, they are happier than people who have the option to undecide. Knowing that made it a slightly less harrowing process. And whenever I second-guess our decision, I always have all those pictures I took to remind me that this was the best house of any we saw.

The other thing, even though it's been mentioned - owning a house is so much more expensive than you think it's going to be. You'll read these books, like The Virgin Homeowner, and they'll say ridiculous-seeming things like "Put aside a third of your monthly income just for house repairs" and you'll be like, "dude, I just have to like, buy a couch and maybe some curtains." And then you'll buy the house, and suddenly you can't go to the hardware store without spending at least a hundred bucks, and you're going to go to the hardware store three times every Saturday. And you still won't have the couch or the curtains.

Which reminds me, houses are much more work than you think they will be. Even if it's in good shape, it will suck up your weekends in a way that apartments never did. There's a certain pleasure to be found in doing your own repairs, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Good luck - there is something satisfying about putting your own holes in the wall whenever you want.
posted by arabelladragon at 6:40 PM on February 4, 2005


peep - Yes, we're buying in Eugene. Your experience is one of the reasons we're looking for a decent agent.

docpops - We have a similar plan, but we want to live in a house while we do it, instead of renting.
I had noticed the comparative attractiveness of the houses vs. the East coast. It was especially apparent since I went back East for the first time in 3 years last month, and contrasting the houses with a "buyers perspective" was really depressing.
posted by madajb at 6:51 PM on February 4, 2005


Judging from the responses, inspectors seem much more important than the agents. Unfortunately, since we're fairly new to the area, we don't happen to have an inspector in our circle of friends.

Anyone reading know a good inspector in the Eugene area?
posted by madajb at 6:54 PM on February 4, 2005


This looks like a good place to start looking for an inspector. You might want to call local public developers/non-profits who do federal rehab-resale or other home rehab work to get recommendations. Also, here's a checklist to keep in mind when you are looking at the house for the first time. Chances are, you will need to make an offer before you buy the house. Just make sure that that the purchase agreement is contingent on the results of the inspection.
posted by sophie at 7:23 PM on February 4, 2005


If you can't get a recommendation, look for a HouseMaster franchisee. I'm sure the individual franchisees vary in quality, but they are trained to standards established by the national organization, and they provide a warranty and have the insurance necessary to back it up. A friend of mine back in Detroit used to own a HouseMaster franchise and he was impressed enough to buy in, in any case.
posted by kindall at 7:25 PM on February 4, 2005


I like to use information about houses provided by my county. They tell you when houses were sold and by how much. I can't express how important it is to know how long a house has been owned by the previous owner. When I was looking for houses, twice I saw that a house for sale had been purchased within the last year, the only upgrade was a new paint job in every room, and the house had been put on the market for substantially more than it was bought for.
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:41 PM on February 4, 2005


We bought our first house about a year and a half ago. My pointers:

-Find an agent with whom you are comfortable. He or she should be professional, should communicate with you promptly, and should provide resources and as much help as you ask for. If they're in your face, wear too much makeup, and act fake, jettison. Start over. We had a Keller Williams agent who is the nicest person. YMMV.

-Get access to an online MLS (Multi Listing Service, I think). Realtor.com is okay but not as good as the MLS our professional gave us, which was more up to date.

-If you can, take time on the weekends to scout houses. We printed out the abstracts, got directions, and skulked. Lots of them were already empty. Some of the people were home and were cool. We could make notes and determine if we wanted to come back with our agent. This enabled us to only take the agent out ONE TIME on a house-seeing venture, and we bought a house we looked at that day, although we culled through about fifty places in all.

-Decide what the dealbreakers are, and then realize you may have to compromise on some other things.

-Re: Bidding. I thought of it something like I do eBay. Decide mentally how much it's worth to you in the reality of your life, and do not go beyond that price. This isn't to say you should give your max price up front, but never forget it, even when "those jerks" are bidding the place out from under you. Being shelter-poor isn't worth "winning" the bidding war.

-Bring your dad, or some other experienced with homes typ e person who is not being paid, and who cares about you personally, to visit the new digs. I wish we'd done this. This person should ideally be familliar with taking care of property in the most responsible way so that he or she can tell you what you're in for --- really.

Good luck! We love our house, and we love the thousand little projects we have going (voluntarily !) at once. Being a homeowner is pretty damn cool. :)
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:07 PM on February 4, 2005


from a legal standpoint, the agent that sells you the house is obligated to the seller, not to the buyer, even if they're not the listing agent.

This used to be true. It isn't any more, at least in most states. For example, it's not true in Oregon (pdf) :

Oregon law provides for three types of agency relationships between real estate agents and their clients:

* Seller's Agent -- Represents the seller only;

* Buyer's Agent -- Represents the buyer only;

* Disclosed Limited Agent -- Represents both the buyer and seller, or multiple buyers who want to purchase the same property. This can be done only with the written permission of both clients.

posted by WestCoaster at 9:04 PM on February 4, 2005


When I purchased a home, I found I focused so much on the contract, financing and inspection, that I overlooked some of the other details. These two stood out for me:

Local property taxes - the counties in my area asses home values every few years, and adjust property taxes (usually upward) based on those assessments. Some jurisdictions have an assessment cap to limit the tax burden on the homeowner, which is helpful in neighborhoods that have a good appreciation rate. Your realtor should be able to tell you or find out about the pertinent local tax laws, and the neighborhood appreciation rate.

Governance by a home owner's association - I found that these were standard practice in newer neighborhoods, and the terms varied (sometimes greatly) among the neighborhoods. If you're looking at neighborhoods covered by an association, I would recommend reviewing the covenants before signing a contract, so you'll know what restrictions you'll be bound by should you want to make modifications to your property. Though I haven't seen this as often, some older neighborhoods might be bound by a historic preservation society.
posted by hoppytoad at 9:16 PM on February 4, 2005


Some very good comments on choosing the structure above, won't add to it.

However, choosing the location and community are also very important, and I can be helpful commenting on that subject. Some these of things I did and some things I wish I had done. To spare myself embarasment I won't distinguish them...

(1) Test traffic conditions around your house and on your commute at a commuting hours. The drive that seems super easy when you're househunting at 11 a.m. on Saturday might be a nightmare at 8 a.m. on Monday. If you'll be a bus/train commuter, evaluate the routes very carefully. Find out how frequent, and how bad, delays can be. Find out if there's a seat left on the train by the time you'd get on.

(2) Mostly for urban buying: test neighborhood noise and street conditions at appropriate times from INSIDE the house if possible. Once again, Saturday at 11 a.m. is not a high noise time in pretty much any neighborhood. People who pioneer marginal neighborhoods often find that worries about crime and fresh milk are unwarranted, but end up infuriated by the (perfectly safe and nice, but just noisy) guys hanging on the street. And the car alarms.

(3) Mostly for suburban buying: try to get a sense of the family dynamic and whether it meshes with yours. If your wife is a lawyer who hasn't taken your last name and who intends to go back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave, there are lots of neighborhoods where she's not going to be a fit. The stay at home are not about to start hanging out with your nanny, and your kid won't have many play dates.

(4) Think carefully about schools. In a big city, do not be be easily persuaded that any public school in good, or that if it is good, you can get your child a seat. Visit the school, inside and out if you can. Understand the attendancer zones and quotes thoroughly. While some people might disagree with me, I'd argue that buying a suburban house not in a good school's attendance zone simply does not make sense. While people can buy in the city and plan on private school, the number of people on the market for under $1 million homes in the suburbs who plan on private school is trivial.

(5) Think carefully about demographics. Influxes of hipsters and Asian immigrants (usually not the same place, of course) create value; understand why your house lies on the right side of the trends.
posted by MattD at 9:25 PM on February 4, 2005


MattD - Hipsters, I understand, but why Asian immigrants?
Your (3) is more applicable to me, since I'm the stay at home dad and my wife is the career obsessed breadwinner. heh.

Medieval Maven - Unfortunately, the only people we know up here are each other. I have been talking to my parents about the process, but since they bought their house 30+ years ago, their "firsthand" knowledge is a little dated. We are looking forward to being one of those "cool homeowners who always host the superbowl party" though.
posted by madajb at 10:28 PM on February 4, 2005


Asian immigrants and property values: for all the talk about Williamsburg or the Lower East Side, I think I could have made a lot more money investing in Flushing or Elmhurst (parts of Queens which attracted lots of Asians) in the last 10-15 years.

I actually don't think the stay at home dad thing would be a problem. You wouldn't care so much what the neighbor wives think of you, and, I'd bet they might like you anyway, kind of a mascot for lunches at the mall.

(But, read Perotta's Little Children first for cautionary tale.)
posted by MattD at 11:12 PM on February 4, 2005


madajb - you are buying in the college town where Animal House was filmed. You might want to be sure that your new house was not a rental and party central before you bought it for your Super Bowl parties.
If you are new to western Oregon - this is the damp side of the state. Use your eyes and nose. Mold and mildew are not your friends. Check baths, laundry and kitchen carefully for black or green mold. Also for flood marks on walls if you find a place with a basement.
You might want to inquire where the water supply comes from. The Willamette river is not ideal.
Does Eugene allow off-sewer building? Can you deal with a septic tank? Portland is forcing tank owners to connect to sewers at their own expense - $1000s.
posted by Cranberry at 11:20 PM on February 4, 2005


cranberry - Yeah, we plan to stay on the westside of town, far away from most students. I've lived in enough student ghettos in my time that I can spot a party house a block away.
heh.
Septic I don't mind, grew up with one, but I think all recent houses inside city limits are sewer.

MattD - Well, if it comes down to it, I can make myself useful hauling heavy things for the stay at home moms.
posted by madajb at 12:34 AM on February 5, 2005


If you're in Eugene, try looking at RMLS, which has listings for properties in northwest Oregon (including Lane County) & southwest Washington. Houses get added daily. When we were looking for a house in Portland from last June 'til November, I was practically addicted to it.

I'll just echo what people said above. I feel fortunate that we got a realtor whom we liked as a person (because we spent a lot of time in the car with her!) but who also understood what we wanted in a house and didn't try to steer us to things that were ridiculously out of our parameters. And when it came time to make a bid -- lower than what the sellers wanted -- she was definitely on our side. (It helped that the sellers' agent also thought that they should lower the price.)

Also, you need to decide which attributes are most important to you: ideal location, low price, good size (both square footage and number of rooms), and the condition of the house. Chances are, you won't find a dream house that fits all four of those attributes perfectly. When we started looking, we had a vision of a cheap, huge, pristine house right near the center of town, and it took us a while to realize it didn't exist. We finally figured out that the most important things to us were the location and the general condition/feel of the place; we ended up with a place slightly smaller than we'd envisioned, for more money. But we love the location and its basic feel.

It's also true that when you finally find a house you want to contemplate bidding on, you'll get a good gut feeling in less than five minutes. You might try to rationalize bidding on a house you feel so-so about ("Well, if we totally redid the kitchen and added wood floors, it might be okay..."), but if your heart's not in it, it's not worth it.
posted by lisa g at 1:23 AM on February 5, 2005


I agree about the property taxes. Your mortgage payment will go up if you have those factored into your payment, depending on if you're reassessed or not. In addition, be prepared for your mortgage to get sold and resold and resold. :( Yard maintenance can be a hassle. For instance, you will have to buy a lawnmower &etc. I thought we needed a big yard, but I'm glad now that we have just a small one. The incidentals can really add up if you're not prepared for it. My sister-in-law just bought a lemon house: the furnace needs fixing; their pipes froze this winter. If I were you, I'd buy a house that needs as little work as possible. Repainting on the interior is ok, but re-roofing would be a deal-breaker, imho.
posted by cass at 6:22 AM on February 5, 2005


i've bought three places in the last decade and the only useful advice i can think of is to try and find out what's wrong with the place before you pay, to get the price down. in my experience you look at a bunch of places and then one "just clicks", and that's what you end up buying, no matter what the condition, price, location etc. so there's a lot less choice in the matter than you might infer from comments above. it just happens.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:55 AM on February 5, 2005


MattD's #2 nails what I most wished I'd known before buying my house. My wife kept saying it was quiet whenever she'd drive past, but it never occurred to us to check it out on a sunny weekend morning when everyone (plus kids) would be home and/or doing stuff outside.

The other thing I'd recommend is finding out which/how many of the homes in the neighborhood are rentals; on the whole, these will be your most annoying neighbors (the loudest and least likely to keep their yard or house looking decent, which will help drive down resale value).

One other biggie: contact the police and find out how high the crime is like in that neck of the woods. What kind of crime are we talking about? (Rape? Murder? Vandalism?) How many patrols do they send out that way on a regular basis compared to other neighborhoods? Is there an active neighborhood watch?

Finally, if you want a sense of community, check out whether there's some form of neighborhood (as opposed to home owner's) association. If there isn't one, start one, and get the community to befriend its police officers.
posted by kimota at 6:58 PM on February 5, 2005


In addition to walking around the neighborhood at different times of day/night to check noise levels & stuff, try to chat with some of the neighbors. See if they're friendly. Ask them what they do or don't like about the neighborhood. I was fortunate and it turns out I really like my neighbors, even though they're a bit strange. But I still hear about how horrible one of my home's previous owners was, and she hasn't lived here for 5 years.

Having a list of "must haves" and "would likes" made it easier for me. When I walked into my house, I realized it had everything on both of my lists except the fireplace, which was just a "would like." And it just felt right. That made it a lot easier to decide to buy it, even though it was only my 3rd day out and the 12th house I viewed. (Even being so sure that this was the right house, I thought I would throw up after I signed the offer paperwork and spent the next day crying from stress.)

We made my purchase contingent on a successful furnace inspection. It ended up needing $500 in repairs, which the current owner paid for. That would have been an unpleasant discovery when winter came.

Here's an important tip: When you make the offer, be very sure that your possession date is written into the contract. I showed up for my final walkthrough 1/2 hour before closing and discovered that the current owner hadn't even started packing. You'd think it would only make sense that when you sign the papers saying that someone else owns the house, you'd no longer be living in it, but his agent didn't pass that info on to him. He managed to pack & leave by noon the next day, but it was stressful and I had to reschedule all the friends who were coming over to help paint immediately after closing.

When you sign the mortgage papers, you sell your soul to Home Depot. Welcome to the club!
posted by belladonna at 3:48 PM on February 6, 2005


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