What are your best resources for a future home buyer?
December 10, 2010 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What are your best resources for a future home buyer? I want to buy a house in the next 2-3 years. What informational resources should I be taking advantage of? I'm talking web sites, forums, books, podcasts, anything with insight in to what a first time home buyer needs to look for and know about.
posted by ShootTheMoon to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Your profile says you're in Ocean Beach, CA. Are you specifically looking to buy in San Diego, or do you want information about California in general, or even about buying a house anywhere in the U.S.? What you need to know about buying in San Diego will differ in some important ways from what you need to know about buying in other parts of California, let alone buying in other housing markets across the country.
posted by scody at 3:09 PM on December 10, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, I'm looking in San Diego county.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2010

I have been buying homes as a side rental business for years. When I first started, someone gave me the best piece of advice ever - go look at 100 homes before you do anything.

I ended up only looking at 57 before I bought. But doing that was a powerful thing. I looked at all these homes, heard all these different realtors throw me their sales pitch. By the time I went to buy, I really knew the market I was buying in. I knew not through some gurus trick ideas, not by surfing the web, not by reading the right book - I knew the market because I had seen SO many things sell on the market.

Start looking at homes now. Yes, it means you will have to lead some realtors on - telling them you are going to buy, when right now you are just looking. Look at all these homes with full knowledge that you are NOT going to buy.

Do the leg work, learn the market the old fashioned way - go out and look at homes.
posted by Flood at 3:54 PM on December 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you are going to take Flood's advice, at least don't tie up any one realtor for any length of time as particularly in this market, you are preventing them from working with a buyer.

Don't know what the laws are in California but in NC it is heavily encouraged to sign with a realtor as a buyers agent which means they get the deal no matter who shows you the house.

I would rather you be open and upfront with a realtor, let them show you stuff in their spare time, and get a working relationship with someone you really like and trust. In other words, don't lead them on. They have to eat and pay a mortgage, too.

If you have any specific questions regarding homebuying in general, pm me and I can ask my (NC) realtor husband. Obviously he doesn't know YOUR market but he could give you things to keep in mind in general.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:01 PM on December 10, 2010

PS-if you want to take Flood's advice to look at a bunch of houses but do it righteously, just go to a bunch of open houses. The realtors are stuck there for a period of time, will answer questions, and you won't be preventing them from working with other clients who do want to buy right now.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:03 PM on December 10, 2010

Follow Floods advice. Most people don't buy enough houses to get savvy on the market. Its kinda like buying a car-you only do it every few years for most of us. So go shopping a lot before you buy. But it is good to know what you are looking at also. make sure you look at a wide variety of homes also-on both sides of your price range, condos, duplexes, mobile homes, modular homes, and so on. You need to learn what makes a home valuable to you and what you don't care about. Always price by the square foot as well, its like grocery shopping and comparing by the ounce prices to figure out the real cost. When you start shopping in earnest and think you have found the right place, stop by the local government planning office and find out if the property has any liens, easements or assessments on it as well as any code enforcement actions. This might tip you off to a former meth house, hoarder house or any other former status that might be worth knowing.

I think the best resource for evaluting good construction is Fine Homebuilding Magazine which is published by Taunton and they also publish some of the best DIY books for serious amateurs and professionals. The magazine stays on top of actual trends in construction and you can learn what good workmanship looks like.

Another good idea is go to homes under construction and walk around a house as it is going up. Most builders will allow this if you go to their model home and ask nicely. They won't let you when people are actually working because that would just screw up the crews but on the weekends or after hours they should have no problem with it. If they do object you really don't want to buy a house from them.

Here are some useful links-

http://www.toolbase.org/index.aspx - for some really good technical house technology information

http://www.costhelper.com/ - for how much fixing whatever is wrong will cost
posted by bartonlong at 4:13 PM on December 10, 2010

I loved reading the forums at zillow.com and Ficoforums.myfico.com (under mortgages)

I was obsessed waiting on the clear to close....Just looking at my browsing history for the resources I used during our buying time... There really are too many, and they're all selling their services to some degree. Be careful!

I don't think it's ever too early to start planning financially. If you're getting a mortgage (my assumption), it would be great to start asking your home-owning friends for their recommendations for a lender. After this last financial debacle in the mortgage industry, the mortgage hoop-jumping has definitely increased. It will only work out to your benefit to find a loan manager that you trust to work his/her butt off for you. (we closed in 08/09 and our mortgage broker was working on our behalf when he was on vacation with his grandkids in July.)

You're too far out to apply for a loan, but pull your credit reports and scores and get any errors fixed. And setting up credit monitoring is not going to hurt you. (especially if you piece together all the trial periods and deals that competing credit agencies offer)

Another wish list item-- make friends with a realtor and gain access to the full MLS web searching. Not just for bedrooms and bathrooms and neighborhood, but where you can search for specific amenities like garden tubs or split floor-plans. The Internet is your friend in checking out homes and prices.

Hope that helps!
posted by Kronur at 7:53 PM on December 10, 2010

I'd also say:

Don't buy the most expensive house on the block, or one that maxes the mortgage you qualify for.

HOA's CAN be out of control. Mine isn't though. YMMV.

Don't buy a BRAND NEW house, get one that's about 5 years old. If there are any construction problems, they should show about then. And get the house inspected by someone independant of the realtor.

Candles in a house being shown is a bad sign. Cat went EVERYWHERE.

Remember, there are more expenses than just the payment. I think HUD has some info on this.

When you buy a house, every weird sales guy will want to sell you stuff: Reverse-osmosis system, home maintenance warranty, etc. I can still remember how the R-O guy was touting how good a lean on the house would be. I asked him if I could put a lean on his house since it was such a great idea :)

I had a buyer's agent. They don't cost you anything (the 6% is split between the two realtors). DON'T TAKE THEIR MORTGAGE GUY ... they are getting a kickback from him.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head.
posted by CodeMonkey at 8:32 PM on December 10, 2010

Kickback? Heck, I wish!!!!

YMMV with that one. My husband has certain favorite mortgage people but this is because he knows from experience they are good at what they do, will keep up with the paperwork and will enable his customers to have the best service. At the very least if you wish to choose one give your realtor several to choose from-they will know who is good at the job and who is a waste of job space.

Another free bit of advice: run like Hades on fire from any deal involving Bank of America. I don't know if this is only just lately or an ongoing problem but it seems that every single stinking time I hear of them being involved in a closing something goes wrong or is way too drawn out because they screw up the paperwork or don't do what they say they are going to do. And this is from several realtors or buyers I know of.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:15 PM on December 10, 2010

  • At the very least, learn now what you are likely to be qualified to buy, based on your income. When you learn what the bank will loan you, subtract 20% or so to give yourself breathing room.
  • Start saving like crazy if you haven't already. A great cash position is extremely advantageous.
  • Use a service like redfin.com to start watching areas of town you're interested in. Put houses you like and can afford in your favorites now. Watch how long they take to sell, what price changes happen over the life of the listing, and most importantly, what they actually sell for.
  • Redfin will also alert you to open houses (it's more ethical than getting a broker to show you houses when you're not ready to buy, and most houses will have one open house very shortly after initial listing). Go and visit the houses you like, and, equally importantly, houses in your price range if what you like seems out of reach.
  • Watch CL for FSBO houses, but most often they're a waste of time in that the owner is unrealistic in their assessment of the home's value. There are a few market deals to be had that way. I would recommend you still use a professional (attorney or your buyer's agent) to negotiate a FSBO, even if you have to pay your agent yourself.
  • Never, ever listen to anyone in the real estate profession when it comes to market predictions. It's always a good time to buy and houses are always "on the rebound" or "have hit bottom" or "if you don't buy now you'll be priced out." It's always BS.
  • Find the local "doom and gloom" real estate blog, here in Seattle it's "seattlebubble"--there is bound to be a San Diego counterpart. There will be a lot of "housing is going to fall to 1890's prices" and nutball libertarians in the comments, in all likelihood, but the blog itself will have a lot more rational information about the local market and will provide a different viewpoint to the endless cheery BS the professionals will provide you with.
  • It's not too early to start looking for a buyer's agent you can trust. A good buyer's agent will know the market, know the neighborhoods you're interested in, and be able to tell you at a glance whether a house is a good deal or a good fit. By their nature, they're going to be less than 100% critical but a good buyer's agent will be on your side.
  • "There is always another house." In other words, don't fall in love with a place before you actually get the keys.
  • This pertains a bit more to selling than to buying, but keep the whole offer/negotiation professional and non-emotional. If you're planning on making a low offer, be aware that buyers may take it as an insult. That's not your problem, but if heated words come back, don't get dragged in.
  • Be prepared to walk if something horrible turns up during the inspection. Be prepared to walk from your earnest money if necessary. (However, your agent should have structured the offer in such a way as to prevent a forfeit from happening if something walk-worthy comes to light.) This is why you don't fall in love until after the keys are in your hands. Mold, a leaking buried oil heating tank, former meth lab on site...none of these are worth dinking around with.
  • When you find a place, try to do as much as you can to learn about the neighbors on all adjoining property lines, and on the street in general. Nothing will make you more miserable than moving into your new place and learning that the guy to the north tunes his Harley starting at 5 AM on a Saturday morning, the guy to the south has a yapping little dog who is outside all day long, etc., etc. You'll get some of that anyway, but visit the house at a few different times, week day and weekend. You can fix almost anything on a house but you cannot fix neighbors without spending time in prison afterward, generally.
  • Don't forget parking, for you and your visitors. Does it have a garage? Off-street parking? If the street is it, does it look like you'll be circling the block for 15 minutes every night looking for a space?
  • Finally, the nicest possible thing to have when you move in is a bit of designated cash for immediate improvements and accessories. being able to immediately fix a minor annoyance or find furniture for the living room is such a pleasure. This cash should not be the amount you keep on hand for maintenance, obviously.

posted by maxwelton at 3:15 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, this will probably seem like a never-ending process full of disappointment before you're done. I would recommend a couple of things to keep your spirits up:
  1. Unless you're quite well off, don't expect to be looking at houses which could be in a architectural magazine. Keep an open mind. Don't daydream about stuff you know you cannot afford, every house will be a disappointment. But keeping that in mind, look beyond the easily-changed to the structure underneath. Look for the stuff you know can be fixed with your little cushion of move-in cash. In this way, you may be able to trade a bit of work or a bit or money for a house you're thrilled with once the unicorn mural, towering yew trees which block the light, and the 2" orange shag is gone.
  2. Remember the professional attitude. Nothing is personal, no one is pushing back because they think you're a shit or whatever. There are a million pieces of paper to sign, often at awkward times, and there will be hiccups. Get used to rolling your eyes around and keep a sense of humor.
Also know that by doing all this prep work now you're going to be in a hugely advantageous position when it comes time to buy. You will have no regrets about over-paying or letting a property pass which in retrospect would have been perfect. You're doing this the right way, and can enter the market confident and ready to rock.
posted by maxwelton at 3:41 AM on December 11, 2010

+1 on reading Fine Homebuilding Magazine. I've had a subscription for years now and it's a valuable tool for both the DIYers out there as well as getting an understanding of the nuts of bolts of home construction.

The first home can be the proverbial "if I knew then what I know now...." experience. One of my biggest recommendations on the buying process is to hire an independent engineer to perform the pre-closing inspection. Generally you'll do this after you sign the commitment, but I also know many people who will take engineers with them when they do the first walkthrough. It can be an invaluable experience beacuse they will point out things to you that you would probably never notice until at least a year into ownership.

Depending on the home you are buying (new construction, fix'r upper, flipped) there will be different things to look for. Bringing an experienced set of eyes along to give you some perspective is a great thing to do.

Case in point is my house - a 1920s colonial that is in good shape, but needs lots of updating. You'll find that in many older homes you will *never* know the true state of a system until you start cracking open walls. It's at that point you'll find undersized joists, rotted beams, spliced together knob and tube wiring and framing members that look like they were tossed together like tinker toys and plumbing held together with duct tape. The phrase "they don't build 'em like they used to" is bullshit, so don't think that just because it's an old house it's a good house.
posted by tgrundke at 7:03 AM on December 11, 2010

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