House-Hunting Tips

Now that you’ve got an experienced real estate agent on your side, you’re finally ready to start house hunting with confidence!

Find the neighborhood that feels like home. Neighborhood image.

Create a Must-Have List

Before you dive into your search, create a list of must-have home features. For example, maybe your deal-breakers are homes that don’t have central air conditioning, a laundry room or a jacuzzi in the master bedroom (no judgment).

Then, share the list with your real estate agent (and your spouse, if you're married) and use it as the foundation for your home search. This way, your agent will know your nonnegotiables and can help you find your dream home in an area you can afford.

Don’t Mix Up Must-Haves With Nice-to-Haves

Be careful not to confuse things you need with things you want. Sure, it’d be nice to have a house with a beautiful bathroom and perfect color combos. But don’t let an ugly, lime-green bathroom keep you from an otherwise great home in a perfect location. Some buyers may not be able to look past easy-to-fix details like décor and paint color—and that could score you a deal. That lime-green bathroom might mean more green in your pocket!

Focus on Location

Okay, now that you know your must-haves, your next home search priority is to find a location. A good location will make your home even more valuable in the future, and a great neighborhood can turn a nice house into a special family home.

So, what’s a good location? Generally, a neighborhood where you’d like to live is probably a neighborhood where lots of people would like to live—whether you’re a 20-something buying a condo in a swanky part of the city or a family looking for a two-story house with a big backyard in the suburbs.

Personal preferences aside, upscale urban areas and family neighborhoods share common traits that make them good places to buy a home. Here are some things to look for when scoping out the location for your new home:

  • Easy access. Most people don’t want to spend a lot of time driving to work, school or shopping centers. You don’t have to live right next to a business center, but it should be easy to get to important places. Other pluses include nearby libraries, parks and public transportation.

  • Good school districts. Obviously, schools are important if you have (or plan to have) kids. But even if you don’t, choosing a location near a high-scoring school district usually means more money in the bank when it’s time to sell your home. Most states provide test score information online, so take the time to research schools in the area where you want to buy.

  • Solid reputation. A neighborhood's reputation is based on several factors, including the crime rate and how well the residents maintain their homes. You can research crime rates online and drive through the neighborhood to see how your potential neighbors care for their homes.

  • Beautiful view. That’s right, if you find a home within budget that has a gorgeous view overlooking a body of water or with mountains in the distance, you’ve found a keeper. Since you can only change so much about a house’s appearance, something as permanent and rare as a natural view adds a ton of value to a piece of property.

Think of the Future

Even if you believe you’re buying your forever home, you should shop with resale value in mind. Make sure the home you purchase has room to grow in value. Buy the least expensive home in the best neighborhood you can afford. Why? Because future buyers who are shopping in a $200,000 neighborhood won’t be looking for a $300,000 home.

Pay attention to what’s happening in the community where you’re looking to buy. Are home values rising or declining? Are businesses booming or closing? Will the area be attractive to buyers several years down the road? If new homes are being built in the area, that’s a good sign growth will continue. But be careful. You don’t want the area to develop into a business district with your home in the middle. That’d be awkward.

Take Your Time to Do This Right

It can seem like a lot to remember, but don’t worry! You have a real estate pro to guide you through the parts you forget. And don’t be surprised if it takes you a few months before you find the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood. Be patient. You need to do this right. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to finding an affordable house that’s the best fit for you.