“How close is it to Chipotle?” and Other Questions to Ask When House Hunting
How focusing on the wrong things cost me over $2,000
If you’ve gotten this far in the home buying process, congratulations! This means you’ve already:
- Actually decided to buy a house
- Vetted and selected an amazing realtor
- Gotten pre-approved for a loan with a broker or lender
Awesome! That was a lot of work. I’m proud of you. Give yourself a pat on the back then get your game face ready. Shopping for houses becomes insanely emotional and you don’t have time for that. I recommend you take a minute to reaffirm your goals for this purchase. It’s your first house. It’s a business decision. Do not get distracted by walk-in closets and the subway tile back-splash. Unless you’re rich. In which case, why are you even reading this? I know nothing about being rich.
House Shopping — Where Do I Begin?
When you pick your realtor, you’ll have an in-person meeting where you’ll discuss what you’re looking for in home. You might not be pre-approved by a lender at this point but you should have a strong idea of what you can afford. After giving you a goodie bag (my realtor gave me a measuring tape, clip board, notepad, and hand sanitizer — how sweet), they’ll pull out a big map of the area you’re looking to buy in. Counties are broken down by zones in MLS (the Craigslist of real estate) so you’ll need to pick some approximate areas you’d like to be in. You can also say you want to be in an exact radius of a certain location (a 1 mile radius from Chipotle, please).
After this, you’ll give your realtor your wish list: number of bedrooms and bathrooms, one car or two car garage, gas or electric heat, new or old, single or multi-family, french fries or onion rings. The list is endless. Your realtor will plug your requests into MLS and you’ll begin receiving active listings within a few business days. These emails will come through at random times based on when the houses are put on the market. In a competitive market like mine, you live for these emails and text your realtor as soon as a house that is kinda even slightly acceptable hits your inbox so you can schedule a viewing.
Looking back, I wish I had made a mood board to share with my realtor so she could get a really good idea about what I wanted before we hit the streets for viewings. Sure, I said 1980’s was an okay decade for the house to be built in but what I really meant was 1980’s but like built by someone who was really forward thinking and knew what would be cool in 2006. Y’know? Timeless is probably the adjective I should’ve used. #YouLiveYouLearn But I really do think communicating exactly what you want is the key to quick success. Few things suck more than rushing out of work, driving across town, to meet your realtor outside of a shanty that you don’t even want to step into. That wastes everyone's time. A good realtor will be able to suss out what you’re really interested in after this happens two or three (or six) times but let’s just save everyone the work.
Communicate your needs and your desires up front so everyone is on the same page. #RelationshipAdvice
Let’s say you drive up to the house and it doesn’t suck. It’s like, actually, really good. Awesome! Yass. Let’s do this. PAUSE and repeat this mantra: This is a business decision. I will not be enticed or deterred by paint color, popcorn ceilings, enormous closets, or bookshelves that swing open to reveal secret passageways. This is a business decision. It’s so easy to fall in love with one thing and forget to (or purposely) overlook red flags. You do not want to put in an offer and invest in an inspection only to learn that you were house-blind to obvious imperfections. Not that I’m speaking from experience. Oh wait, I am.
I fell in love with a cute little pink house in an old neighborhood on a lake. Right — yes, a lake. Within my budget? Wut? Yas. Mine.
We met my realtor in the evening after work. The neighborhood felt older than I expected but the little yard in front of the pink house had nice trees and greenery. It was worth checking out. Before getting out of the car, I repeated my mantra silently. This is a business decision.
Walking in the front door, I was confronted by a foyer wall done up (as we say in the South) with a faux finish meant to look like the emerald green marble surround on the gas fireplace in the living room. Neither were beautiful but the wall was particularly bad. It looked like someone went at it with a bucket of hunter green paint topped off with teal puff paint splatters.
Returning to my mantra, I refused to be deterred by the paint color. Or the original Berber carpet from 1998. Or the popcorn ceilings, for that matter. This is a business decision, after all, and paint is an easy fix. Two steps into the living room, my eyes caught the twinkle of sunlight on water and I drifted towards the picture window like a moth to flame. The lake.
It was game over. The Mantra was replaced with Lonely Island Boys, I’m On A Boat, blasting on repeat. Images of cook-outs and lazy summer days flashed through my pea brain. I could feel the nautical themed pashmina Afghan wrapped around my shoulders and could taste the Santana champ (‘cause it’s so crisp). Where do I sign?
Long story short, the house was falling apart. Over $30,000 in repairs were needed on the crumbling facade (I thought it was just peeling paint!), the shoddy wiring (how do you even know what wiring is supposed to look like?), and ancient roof (to be fair, I knew the roof wasn’t greaattt but like, c’mon y’all, a lake). At the end of the day, I wasted two months of people’s time and over $2,000 of my own money just to renew the lease on my apartment. It kinda sucks. I made a mistake. But I learned and I’m here to help you not do what I did.
What I’ll Do Different Next Time
First, if the house has a lake, I just won’t look at it until I’ve looked at the whole house. Because a lake is really distracting, guys.
But also, I wish someone had come with me who knows what a ‘good’ house looks like. I really did think the rotting exterior was just peeling paint. There were simple things that anybody with basic knowledge of construction would’ve caught (or even known to look for!). When my dad asked me if I took a flashlight and looked in the attic and under the crawl space, I was just really annoyed that he was questioning my home buying expertise. Because I know everything, guys. But I didn’t even think about those things. And let’s be real, even now, I really have no idea what I’d be looking for — Yep. This is definitely an attic. No holes in the ceiling? No ghosts? Perf.
In all seriousness, I relied too much on my realtor to point the issues out. I trusted her. And that’s why picking the right realtor is so, so important. With over a decade of experience, my realtor knew what she was looking at and she did not warn me. Vague statements like, “It’s going to need some elbow grease,” and, “It’ll need a little work,” are not helpful. Elbow grease means repainting walls not replacing them. While the realtor has to remain neutral during this process, I’d be so refreshed to see one say, “Hey, do you know anybody with house experience who could come with you? Just want to make sure you’re getting a full picture before you put in an offer.”
In Part 4 of this series, we’ll talk about what it’s like to put in an offer.