You Have To Move. Someone’s getting married; you’re relocating for a new job; baby number 3 is on the way; you just can’t stand running up and downstairs (with those damn knees), or you finally have enough for the downpayment, and you can stop throwing away money on rent. Time to buy a new house!
So you browse the websites, looking at houses online, and see some places you’d like to check out in person. It’s not idle fantasy; you’re ready to pull the trigger and buy a new place to live. It’s a big deal. It’s the biggest purchase most of us make in our lifetimes: It’s not just a place to live, it’s an investment.
Here’s how to “Look Smart” while you’re touring homes to purchase.
- Why Are They Selling?
Google is your friend. Sometimes this can help you with negotiations. Often, the listing agent, who is your main contact for the seller, will be happy to share the reason. People usually sell because something is happening to change their lives. A marriage, divorce, promotion or relocation for a job, another new baby, or downsizing after the kids leave home. Sometimes it’s because they can’t make payments on the mortgage any longer and they’re facing foreclosure. Sometimes the owner has passed away and the heirs want the money out of the house.
- Use a Buyer’s Agent
Some people think it’s better to buy from the listing agent. Here’s why it’s not: The listing agent works for the seller. If they also work for you, there is a built-in conflict of interest. Buying a house is essentially an adversarial process. The seller wants as much money as quickly as possible. You want to spend as little as possible. See where I’m going with this? A Buyer’s Agent can better insulate you from the seller and will negotiate much harder for you. They act as your fiduciary – they are bound by law to represent your best interests as though they were their own.
Your Realtor® should be knowledgeable about things like nearby shooting ranges, transfer stations (we used to call them dumps), hazardous waste cleanup sites, and the like. In Connecticut, the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is a great resource, and the staff is quite helpful. Most towns have websites you can noodle around on to find out about what is going on. Maybe they’re planning on widening the street, or breaking ground on a new shopping center right across the road. Maybe condos will be going up in your back yard. Do your homework!
- Storage Space:
It’s easy to overlook storage, especially when the house is vacant. Is there room to store all the things your life is about? Kitchen storage is obvious – most people need a lot of cabinetry and maybe a pantry as well – but how about all that stuff you use during the different seasons? If you’re a physically active household, is there room for all the running shoes, kayaks, paddleboards, bicycles and ski gear? Is there a walk up attic or storage in the basement? Is there really enough room in the bedroom closets for all your shoes? How about seasonal décor? Is there a generous linen closet or are you going to need a separate blanket chest for the overflow? How about the bathrooms? Is that medicine closet sufficiently large for all the creams, lotions, ointments, band aids and shampoo?
- Room Size
That empty house looks huge. But is it really? Are the bedrooms large enough for the Queen bed, side tables, bureaus and chairs? Do the kids need a computer desk as well? Will your living room furniture fit in the living room? (Tip: measure the sofa and loveseat before you go. Take a tape measure with you on tour. You’re welcome.)
Remember, it is not only the house where you’ll be living; the neighborhood will also have an impact on your life. Is the house next door a ramshackle dwelling with junked cars in the back yard and overgrown trees? Can you hear the interstate from the inside of the house? How long does it really take you to get to work from that location? Is the road a busy thoroughfare and does that even matter to you? How about the crime rate? Some websites like spotcrime.com can give you a rundown of the occurrence of crimes in that area.
Note: Your Realtor is literally prohibited by Fair Housing laws from discussing the racial, ethnic, age, sex, or other demographic “judgment” about the character of a neighborhood. He or she cannot say “This is a great neighborhood for kids,” or “This neighborhood is ethnically diverse.” Even something as innocuous as “This is a safe neighborhood” is forbidden.
Sites like Schooldigger.com and Niche.com can give you important information about how well the schools in your neighborhood-to-be perform for their students. Schools that are constantly underperforming or under threat of losing accreditation might not be your cuppa. Make sure to check those out if you have school-age children. Also, the Town website can usually tell you which school in town your children will attend, based on the street address.
- Taxes And Other Fees
What is the tax for the property you are looking at? Towns vary widely in their tax rates. Your Realtor® will know the mill rates for the towns you are considering. This is important as it will be part of your mortgage payment. Are there any special assessments now or upcoming, such as sewer connection fees? How much and for how long? Make sure you have that information.
- Value and Resale Potential
Yes, it’s a home but it’s also an investment. What kind of a market are you buying in? If it is a “Seller’s Market” as it is right now, bears in mind that if you try to sell in a couple of years, you may experience a loss. Although historically, property values increase over time, the length of time is key. If you plan on moving within, say, two years, maybe it is better to buy a fixer-upper at a lower price and improve it so your resale value will be protected. If you can’t imagine moving again anytime soon, you’re probably better off. The same strategy applies here as in the stock market: Buy Low, Sell High. If you can’t do that, then plan on staying for a while.
- We Can Help!
If you are looking to purchase a home in Fairfield or lower New Haven County, feel free to contact me for any information you may need. I am happy to help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 906-7629. Or fill out the Contact Form on this page.