Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Sunday, March 8th, 2020, at 7:00 PM we got a call from our realtor that a house we had been eyeing was back on the market. The relative of the selling agent could meet us at the property if we could make it there within the next 30 minutes. We quickly piled all the kids in the car and rushed to make it. We toured the house with flashlights because there were no utilities at the home. Another buyer was actually supposed to close on the home that past Friday, but the deal fell through at the last minute. This was the third home that we had toured in this neighborhood, so needless to say we liked the area.
We had been looking for a house since August 2018 and during that time we probably had gone on a few dozen home tours of new construction and resale homes. We went as far as putting down money to reserve a lot for a new build, but we decided to walk away from that home due to contractual disagreements. After much disappointment, riding the emotional roller-coaster of house hunting, prayer, negotiation, inspections, social distancing, quotes, Shelter In Place order, sending and resending documents to the bank, and waiting; we closed on April 9th.
Now, this isn't our first time at the home buying/renovation rodeo, this was our third home purchase and second renovation. Our first home in Michigan was a smaller home at 1,270 square feet and was built in the 1960s. Our second home was a new build town-home in Maryland at a little less than 2,300 square feet. Since we had that home built there were very few updates that we made after moving in. Our new home is a little over 3,400 square feet and was built in the late 1990s with a good amount of updates needed.
*Disclaimer, I am by no means an expert on the subject matter of building, selling, or renovating homes. I am just a regular person that watches a lot of HGTV and loves DIY projects. The following is information that I picked up during my personal experiences that might be helpful to the average buyer in the home buying process.
1. Tour, Tour, and Re-tour
Tour the house as many times as you need to. You might see something you didn't see the first couple of times you walked through.
When we were touring homes there are a few things that I would do that may seem unconventional, but it was helpful in narrowing down homes for us.
Check your phone reception while in the house and in the neighborhood. There is nothing worse than not being able to use your cell phone in your own house.
If you are buying a resale home, check under the kitchen sink. Leaks with the kitchen sink and garbage disposals are common. This was my go-to move for checking to see if there were plumbing issues that might have caused water damage that was never addressed.
Check for cracks in the porch or siding. These cracks can be telltale signs of foundational issues.
Visit the area and neighborhood at all times of the day. The overall vibe of an area can fluctuate dramatically during certain times a day. If the crazies come out between the hours that you are mostly home, you might want to consider that.
2. Don't Be Distracted By The Upgrades (New Construction Homes)
Many times buyers get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the model home upgrades and totally miss the craftsmanship of the build. If the craftsmanship of the model home is poor, nine times out of ten the craftsmanship of your home will be also.
Look past the upgrades of the model home and ask to see a base or spec home that they already have built. This will give you more of an idea of what your actual home will look like if you choose to go with that builder.
3. Do Your Due Diligence
This is the "Trust but verify" stage. Trust and believe that the realtor is trying to sell you this home. Verify that everything that they are telling you to sell this home, is actually true. If they say the neighborhood/home is assigned to a certain school district, call the school and verify. If they say that something has been fixed have your own contractor or vendor come in to verify this. Check the sex offender registry for the area. Check to see how far it is to your favorite pizza spot or restaurant. Whatever is important to you, that will give you the most peace with living in this home and/or area, verify it.
For resale homes, get as many inspections as you feel necessary. I say this because some home inspections are not that great or they somehow miss big things. I highly recommend that in addition to a home inspection that you get specific inspections for big-ticket items like electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and roofing.
4. Read, Read, and Have Representation
Enlist the help of a good realtor that can explain the buying and/or selling process to you. State laws and requirements for buying and selling homes vary so you need a professional that can aid in the process. Read over contracts thoroughly, ask questions, and ask for what you want. There are a lot of people that may feel like they can go at it alone in the home buying process. Unless you have a background in real estate, I don't recommend that. Realtors have a host of information and connections that you may not have. New construction scenarios are no exceptions. The builder's selling agent works for the seller, NOT for you. You need someone that is going to look out for you and your family's best interests.
5. Budget, Budget Budget
Set a realistic budget and stick with it. Whether you are buying a new build or resale home, don't feel the pressure of getting everything done at once. As you and your family change, the spaces and purposes for those spaces in your home will also change. You may have moments that you feel like everything in your home is "done". However, even those times are short-lived because "life" always happens.
For new build homes:
The base price is never the price. Whatever the base price of the model that you chose to build is, add the lot premium and everything else to it. The total of all those additional costs is the price of the home.
Don't go crazy at the design center. The markup for the materials is ridiculous and you can get a much better price after you have closed and moved in. Get what is included and keep it moving.
If you are going to upgrade, do so on things that are going to give you a return on investment like structural items in the kitchen, and bathrooms. Pay for additional lights, pre-wiring for pendants and ceiling fans, upgrade your countertops or a regular range to a double oven.
Don't upgrade paint, carpets, or backslash, nor to add built-ins. There is no reason for you to pay for these upgrades in a 15 or 30-year mortgage that you will most likely change within the first 2 years. Also, don't overpay for something over the next 15 to 30 years that you could have easily done yourself or later on for a lot less.
For resale homes:
Whatever the update or renovation project that you are planning on starting, add an additional $5,000 for contingency. There is a good chance that you might reveal an issue that needs resolving that you weren't anticipating on.
Shop contractors, but remember you get what you pay for. I'm not saying that you have to pay the most expensive quote to get a quality service/result. However, many times the quote will reflect the level of frustration and inconvenience that you may experience during the project.
Buying a home is a huge purchase so negotiate whenever appropriate and needed. Ask for what you would like, i.e. closing cost, paint or flooring credit, replacement, or repair of HVAC units. The negotiation stage is where all those inspections come in handy. If there is a major issue revealed during an inspection, that is not a deal-breaker for you, use it as a bargaining chip. Sometimes you can get the seller to fix the issue, give a credit, or reduce the sales price to make the deal happen.
House hunting can be an extremely emotional and daunting task. If you are patient in the process, enlist the help of a good realtor, use your resources wisely and make smart decisions you will find yourself in the home that is perfect for you and your family.