Deciding to purchase a home marks one of the most exhilarating milestones in life. However, before taking the plunge, it’s important to consider the differences between your desires, necessities, and financial framework. To assist in navigating this journey, we’ve crafted a comprehensive guide to house hunting, designed to lead you to the perfect home within your financial reach.

Five Essential Steps for Beginning Your House Hunting Journey

Unsure of where to start? We’ve put together five essential steps to guide you on your house hunting journey. These steps will not only set you on the right path but also ensure you feel prepared and confident throughout the process.

Step 1: Identify Your Budget and Initiate the Approval Process

Before embarking on your house hunting journey, it’s critical to determine how much house you can realistically afford. Begin by utilizing a budget calculator to gauge a mortgage payment that fits comfortably within your financial plan. Remember, the mortgage payment is just one aspect of homeownership costs. Ensure your budget also accounts for:

  • Property taxes
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Ongoing maintenance and repairs
  • Homeowners association (HOA) fees
  • Utility bills (including gas, electricity, and water)
  • Unforeseen expenses, such as medical emergencies or unexpected home repairs.

To calculate your potential monthly mortgage payments, use a mortgage calculator. Input variables like the price of the home, your down payment, the loan term, and the mortgage interest rate. Obtaining a preapproval letter, which confirms your mortgage eligibility, is a crucial step that differs from simply being prequalified. Understanding the distinction between being prequalified and preapproved is important:

  • Prequalification letter: Issued based on a preliminary review of your income and credit score, this letter provides an estimate of how much you might afford. It is informal and based on verbal information.
  • Preapproval letter: This letter indicates the exact loan amount you qualify for, based on thorough verification of your income, assets, and credit history. It carries more significance than a prequalification letter and is based on documented evidence.

Many real estate agents require a preapproval letter before they will work with you, underscoring its importance in the home buying process.

Step 2: Craft a Comprehensive House Hunting Checklist Including Essential Must-Haves and Desirable Nice-to-Haves

To begin your home search on a positive note, it’s advisable to approach the process with a clear sense of priority. Start by creating a list of all the rooms you envision in your future home. Next, detail the desired features for each room, focusing on what truly matters to you.

Categorize these features into three distinct groups: essentials, desirable extras, and absolute deal-breakers. After examining each room, expand your focus to include overall essentials and desirable extras for the entire home.

This structured approach ensures you remain clear and focused on what’s most important to you in your home search, making the process more efficient and tailored to your needs.

Essential Must-Haves

A “must-have” is an essential feature that your home cannot lack, serving as a critical criterion to filter out unsuitable properties. For instance, you may require a minimum of three bedrooms to accommodate your family, a brightly lit space for your home office, or ample garage space for additional storage.

By identifying your must-haves, you can navigate through real estate listings much more effectively. Imagine discovering a seemingly perfect home, but it lacks a backyard and is situated far from the nearest school. For a large family with young children and a pet, the absence of outdoor space and school proximity can be non-negotiable essentials.

Conversely, if a property doesn’t currently meet a specific must-have but offers the space or potential for future modifications, it might still be worth considering as a potential candidate.

Desirable Nice-To-Haves

Desirable nice-to-haves represent desires rather than necessities. These are desirable features for your home that, while appealing, do not rank as top priorities. For instance, you might envision your new home boasting a backyard pool, modern appliances, a spiral staircase, or a firepit. However, in the broader perspective, these features are unlikely to be deal-breakers.

The advantage of compiling a list of nice-to-haves is that it becomes a valuable tool for decision-making once you’ve narrowed your options down to a few final choices. This list can help you differentiate between them, making your ultimate decision easier.

Step 3: View Homes That Are Available Online

Explore the real estate market by browsing houses for sale online to gain an understanding of your local housing landscape. Utilizing house hunting websites offers an insightful glimpse into the average selling price of homes in your area, providing a more accurate reflection of what type of property you can realistically afford.

Engaging in online home research further enables you to investigate prospective neighborhoods, evaluating factors such as schools, shopping amenities, crime rates, and other considerations vital to your decision-making process. Mobile apps can enhance this journey by offering a streamlined, organized approach to accessing property listings.

Assess the market prices against your budget. Subsequently, note down a selection of addresses and reach out to your real estate agent or the companies that have listed the properties of interest. This strategic approach ensures a more informed, efficient house hunting experience.

Step 4: Find a Professional Real Estate Agent or REALTOR®

Selecting a dependable real estate agent or REALTOR® can significantly streamline the home-buying process, making it more efficient and far less taxing. Such professionals possess in-depth knowledge of your local housing market, enabling them to refine your search, optimize your budget, and expose you to a broader selection of properties than you might find on your own.

A proficient real estate agent or REALTOR® prioritizes your unique preferences and requirements when recommending properties, focusing on finding the right match rather than chasing the highest commission.

But, what sets a real estate agent apart from a REALTOR®?

  • A real estate agent is a licensed professional qualified to transact in real estate within your state.
  • REALTORS® are real estate agents affiliated with the National Association of REALTORS®, holding valid licenses, actively participating in the market, upholding a strict ethical code, and maintaining exemplary professional standards.

Engaging with a professional, whether certified as an Accredited Buyer’s Representative® (ABR®) or Certified Buyer Representative (CBR), or one who holds a real estate broker license—indicating advanced real estate education—can be invaluable during your search for the perfect home.

It’s wise to request references from past buyers and interview several potential agents to ensure a good fit. Since you’ll be working closely together, finding an agent whose personality aligns with yours and who understands your specific needs and goals from the start is crucial.

Step 5: Go View The Houses You Link In Person To Tour And Walkthrough

Many sellers host open houses, allowing prospective buyers to freely tour the property. Alternatively, you can schedule private showings through your preferred real estate agent. During a home viewing, it’s important to thoroughly inspect the property. Feel free to test the outlets, showers, toilets, and kitchen appliances to ensure they are in working condition. Also, keep track of any repairs or replacements that may be necessary, as you might want to negotiate these with the seller before making a purchase.

Take Time To Go Through Neighborhoods As Well

Don’t confine your search to just the structure of a house. The location of your new home is as crucial as the property itself. A skilled real estate agent can guide you through both neighborhoods and properties, enhancing your search.

Take the time to drive through potential areas of interest, weighing the local amenities and how they stack up against your budget. With each home and neighborhood you explore, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of the ideal home and community for your needs.

Whether you’re navigating the housing market online, seeking assistance from a real estate expert, or attending open houses, securing preliminary mortgage approval is a critical first step. Knowing the extent of your purchasing power enables you to submit a compelling offer on a property. Furthermore, having Verified Approval may significantly boost your chances of offer acceptance.