It's always easier to go through stressful processes and seasons with friends by your side. While it's such an exciting time as well, finding and buying a new house definitely brings its own set of challenges and hangups to the table. So I've been glad that four different people in our office have been trying to find new houses all at the same time. There's emotional strength in numbers for sure, and it's been nice to share our similar successes and horror stories with each other. Since we are all buying houses for at least the second time, we've certainly learned a few things in the process that we thought we'd pass along to our other friends—you! Here are the top things to keep in mind if you are looking for a new place to call home:
Make a list of priorities: Like the Rolling Stones say, "you can’t always get what you want," so you'll want to make sure that you have a solid list of priorities in order of what's most important to you and strive to get at least the top things on that list in one place. Unless you are just the luckiest duck on the planet or have an unlimited budget to build everything to your exact specifications, you'll eventually have to give up something on your list, but you'll want it to be a lower priority item. Are you most concerned about location? Square footage? A private backyard? You may have to forgo one thing to get another, but it's easier to be more focused when you know what's a nonnegotiable. Also, decide which things are preferences vs. needs on your list as well. For example, I loved the vaulted ceilings we had at our last house and really wanted to have them in our next space as well. I kept trying to hold out for tall ceilings, but the house that fit our top priorities was actually a Mid-century ranch. No vaulted ceilings anywhere. I had to realize that what was a "need" was actually more of a "want" and just switch my visual expectations a bit to get the things that really mattered most.
Think ahead: How long do you plan on staying in this house? If you are single or newly married, you may be fine with a smaller starter place that you plan on selling in a few years to get something bigger as life changes, but if you are planning on expanding your family or working from home soon, make sure you factor in the space you'll need so that you won't outgrow the space too quickly. In other words, don't buy for something that has features that you know will only work for a year if you plan on spending 10 years there. Of course, life is unpredictable and you can't plan for everything, but consider the things you know for sure or at least will most likely be the case in your near future.
Decide on your "most lived in" spaces: Where do you spend the most time in your current house? If you are an aspiring amateur chef, then you'll probably care about the kitchen set up a lot more than your friend who orders in most nights. So you should be more focused on loving that spot in a new house. I spend a lot of time in my living room watching movies with my kitties (especially when my husband is out of town on tour), so I would trade a kitchen or dining area that was just OK for a cozy den any day of the week. You probably won't be head over heels for every single room in a house, but if you get rooms you love where you spend the most time, then that tiny master bathroom won't seem quite so annoying.
Stick to your budget (and don’t torture yourself): Obviously the budget question is totally different for every person looking at a house, so there's really not a magic number for this category. A relatively standard goal is to try to keep your mortgage payment (with taxes and insurance included) at around 25% of your total household monthly income, but if you are living in a bigger city with high housing prices, you'll probably have to raise that number quite a bit. Just make sure that you've looked at your overall monthly budget to see what you really can afford (be honest!), and then only look at houses within your price range. Believe me, it's not a good idea to start looking at houses that are 1-2 price ranges above yours "just to see what's out there" because you will get house fever for something you can't buy and all of a sudden you think all the houses within your budget are totally lame. It's a lose-lose; don't do it. Depending on the market, however, it can be OK to look at houses a little over your budget in case there is a seller you can negotiate down to your range, but that's a lot more likely in a market that favors buyers instead of one where the sellers have control over pricing.
Decide if you want a reno or a move-in ready house: Buying a house you plan on completely redoing is pretty different from getting something you can simply move right into, and most people know which category they lean towards (although you may be somewhere in the middle). If you know which path you want to take right off the bat, it helps narrow down your search and you can focus on viewing each house from that point of view. This decision also plays into pricing because if you decide on doing a renovation, then you don't want to look at houses that are already at the top of your budget—you'll have no money to renovate with! It's also good to keep in mind that you can't automatically get a renovation loan for the difference in your house price and your pre-approval amount (as in you can't necessarily get a 50k renovation loan just because you were pre-approved for 200k and only spent 150k on the house). They are separate loans, and sometimes the renovation loan is a lot harder to get. Your loan officer will help walk you through what's possible for your financial situation, but you'll want to be extra sure you can afford the renovations you want before you commit.
Use X-ray vision to see through the "ugly": I know this is easier for some people than others, but it's really important for finding a diamond in the rough instead of passing on a house for cosmetic reasons. Just think about the bones of the house as you walk through it. Pay attention to the layout. Do you like the flow of the room spacing or is it awkward? Asking questions about the actual set up of the house rather than focusing on paint colors or flooring choices you don't care for will help you decide if you like what really matters about the space. Paint colors can be changed and flooring can be refinished, but it's a much bigger deal to move the kitchen to the opposite end of the house. It felt like the owner of our last house had chosen all the paint and tile colors to purposely torture my personal inner color palette (there's no such thing as "bad" colors, they just weren't "my" colors), but I liked the layout and location of the house. So I knew I would love it once it was done my way. If your biggest complaint in a space is the easily-changed orange accent wall, then it may actually be a great space for you!
Consider moving a little further out from town if on a budget: This one also can vary from place to place (you may not really live near a "town" to move further from), but those that are closer to a big city know that, generally, the further out you go from town, the more your money will buy for you. In some places, just going another 10 minutes out or moving to a "less trendy" spot can get you the same house for hundreds of thousands less. It's crazy!
Don’t give up! Especially if it takes a while, there will be a lot of days where you are so over this whole thing. You think you can't afford anything good, you'll never find the right location, you may as well just quit. Don't! We experienced this feeling a lot this year since we were obsessively looking every day for three months until we found something. Even if it takes months, it's worth it when you finally get something you love. And, the added benefit of a search that takes a while means that you've gotten a really good feel for that price range and location, so you know what's good, bad, overpriced, and underpriced, which will make you more confident about your choice once you make one. And if you don't get a house that you make an offer on? It's OK, that just means it's not the house for you and yours is still out there somewhere. We put in five offers (with bidding wars in every situation) before we got the house we did, and while we were disappointed every time we lost a house, we really feel that the one we ended up with is the best one for us all around.
I'll add one more mini tip at the end, and that's to celebrate when you finally get the house. Elsie's Nashville house buying process was a lot shorter than mine was, but she kept a bottle of champagne for us in their fridge for months until we finally snagged a house and could celebrate together. So once you get that offer accepted, make sure to do something special to mark the occasion—you deserve it!
Wow, so much to deal with, right? Overall, buying a new place is a big (and sometimes stressful) decision, but we hope that our experiences will help make your move a little bit easier. Just picture yourself in your new space with all this hassle behind you…you can do it! Do you have other house hunting tips that you found helpful? xo. Laura
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.