Sunday, December 30, 2007

Finding the right house for you--part two

As I mentioned in part one of finding the right home, I aborted my first home search before embarking on a second search three years later when my apartment living situation was too noisy for me to tolerate. I attended a first-time homebuyers seminar, was preapproved for a mortgage, made certain my monthly payments and my total home purchase budget were compatible and prepared to search for a buyer's agent.

There are many ways to search for a buyer's agent. I had the name of one agent just from my first-time homebuyers seminar. There is always the "pick the agent at random" or "oh, let's try the one that sent me a postcard in the mail". I decided to survey people I knew and ask who their agent was. I probably should have asked more questions about style, how comfortable the individual felt with the agent and other pertinent questions. I basically asked if the person liked the agent and what was it he or she liked about the agent. I listened to the answers, listened to the passion of the answers and chose the agent two of my friends used.

The woman was a very nice Century 21 agent, listened to my requirements, talked about how she loved her job (she had been in the business over 15 years and I liked the fact she was experienced) and let her lay things out for me. I told her I was looking for a place within 20 minutes drive to my work (I knew my tolerance for commuting), had two bedrooms (I had only had one-bedroom apartments) and a garage. My agent suggested looking at places with basements rather than none or only a crawlspace since basements have better resale value in the Midwest (they can be refinished, for example). She was mindful of my budget, encouraged me to ask her questions at any time and was quite responsive via phone or e-mail. I did not realize I had to sign an exclusivity contract for six months, but I had no problem with it since we could decide to end it if issues arose.

Once I had a realtor, she sent me MLS listings fitting the budget and other criteria discussed. I was also doing internet searches myself. There were a few places I was interested in seeing and my realtor set up viewing times for places that were agreeable. Be prepared for some less-than-enthusiastic homeowners. I could not view a house because of inflexible owners.

My first tour was an empty 1930s two-bedroom home. Since it was the first one I was seeing, I began to reconsider if I could afford I home I liked. It fit the criteria but the set up was awkward, the bathroom difficult to maneuver, the closet of a "bedroom" a joke and overall had a musty disused smell that I could not dismiss. The second home was in a different community so we drive for a bit before arriving. This was a FSBO listing I found and asked my agent to look into. It was a duplex but zoned so two different people could own each half. What a contrast to the house! It was a 1970s ranch-style home, nothing exciting but it just had a better feel and use of space. The duplex was also unoccupied but it seemed more livable to me. I came away feeling a lot more positive about the place. I ended up looking at one more location, a duplex being turned into a condo but it was a three-bedroom place (no basement) and it was just more house than I felt comfortable with buying.

So, I had been a prospective home buyer for less than a week and I found a home was interested in. After some time to consider and prompted by an offer on the table, my realtor help me set up my offer-to-buy papers for the FSBO duplex, placing a contingency based on the home inspection and using the knowledge she gained of the sellers interest (closing in 35 days with the other offer was attractive), I toured the place one last time to make sure yes I really wanted it and left the paperwork (including earnest money) on the counter.

Two hours later, I had an accepted offer. Color me stunned! It was less than two weeks after I started the process with my realtor that I went from house hunting to offer accepted. This is why my experience is atypical. I only saw three houses, the second one I liked and ended up purchasing in one month after the offer.

Please note I had looked at the houses before Christmas and after Christmas, my realtor called with the news the duplex had an offer on it. I had been thinking quite a lot about the place, what it meant to me, how I really liked it, could I see myself living there and the plans I had. My thoughts kept me up at night, really considering if this was the place for me. Home purchases are not an emotion-free prospect and considering all angles, emotional and financial, are important for a better home purchase.

Part three of finding the right house for you involves the home inspection (and what you can learn about your potential home), plans for your current place and the stuff you need to move and the aftermath of the home purchase.

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