Real estate experts weigh in on what you should consider when buying a house
By Allison Pollock-Pugh
Freedom and prosperity have been foundational components of the American Dream for generations, and to many, owning a home is an important milestone in achieving that dream. The feeling of having a piece of land that is yours, four walls, and a roof to hold and protect your family is unparalleled.Reaching the goal of homeownership provides stability and connections to the community and builds financial wealth over time. It’s also one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your lifetime—both in your future and financially.
You want to choose a home that meets the needs of your current lifestyle, stage of life, and any future goals you have for yourself and your family. And the journey to and the process of buying a house is unique for each buyer. A growing family has different needs than an empty nester looking to downsize. A single parent desires vastly different features than a new retiree.
Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or a seasoned veteran, the process can be overwhelming. One of the best first steps is finding an experienced Realtor—they have the training and knowledge to walk you through the process, give you the ins and outs of the neighborhood, and get down to the nitty-gritty details to help you make an informed decision. For this reason, Gig Harbor managing broker and Realtor Jennifer Hawkins of Hawkins-Poe key2see Team, real estate broker Jackie Suarez of Century 21 RiverStone and Realtor Ben Geanetta of Elite Realty Partners, both based in North Idaho, provided professional insight to help clear up the sometimes muddy process of purchasing a house.
Most people considering buying a home have imagined their “perfect” house. For some, it’s a brick house with a white picket fence, while others crave a low-maintenance condo in the city—either way, it’s likely you have more non-negotiables than you initially realize. As potential buyers start viewing homes, they can quickly get distracted by the beautiful countertops and professionally staged presentation. Relying on an imagined picture in your head can lead to overlooking must-have features. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a house only to remember later that you swore you’d never share a closet with your spouse again.
Make a list. Have each person involved in buying the home and who will be living in the home make a list of the features they most want and things they truly need. Then you can review the list—maybe drop the wall-to-wall trampoline room requested by your 7-year-old—and rank the features by importance. Doing this will help narrow down properties during your search and keep you focused as you visit potential properties.
"Location, location, location" is a common phrase in real estate. Besides being in an area where you want to live, the location is also directly linked to the current and future home value. The features that determine what constitutes a good location differ for each home buyer, but there are some generally accepted objective factors to consider. The location determines which schools your children will attend, how long your commute to work will be, and which community you will be involved with daily. “Do your homework and work with an agent who is an expert in your target area,” recommends Jackie.
Researching an area and working with a knowledgeable Realtor also helps when evaluating neighborhoods. Take a walk in the neighborhood and talk to people who live there. This will help you get a feel for the mood of a neighborhood but can also provide invaluable insight into real-time issues or benefits of the neighborhood. Another factor to consider are the future plans for the area. New construction neighborhoods are popping up all over—depending on your needs, you may want to hold out for one of the new builds, or you might not want to buy right next to a future construction site. You should also consider the crime in the area, if there are any benefits such as recreation facilities, and if there are HOA dues that will affect your monthly payment.
Remember, your location also includes the lot on which the home stands. You can remodel and renovate a house to your every specification, but the lot will remain the same. Consider the lot location and size carefully when viewing homes. Does it get enough sunlight? Will the driveway be difficult to navigate when it snows? Is the yard large enough for your kids and dog to run around? Are you prepared for the amount of maintenance needed for this size yard? If anything about the location or the lot seems concerning or feels like a compromise to you, don’t hesitate to walk away. It will be easier to find another property in a better location or lot than to live with frustrations that could've been avoided.
Know your budget and the market. While this sounds simple enough, it can be a complex process. You need a clear picture of your finances to determine a down payment amount and the maximum mortgage payment you can afford. Your real estate team can help review various mortgage payment scenarios and point out sleeper costs, including HOA dues, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes. “Home buyers need to have all their documents in order and hire a solid team to help them purchase a home. This team will consist of a local, full-time real estate professional, a full-time knowledgeable lender, and expert local vendors,” explains Ben.
The market, interest rates and inventory have been rapidly changing over the past few years, but real estate is cyclical. Depending on your circumstances, now might be a great time for you to buy, but not ideal for others. As Jennifer explains, “This market is healthy, but rates are high. … If you have substantial equity in your home, now is a great time to buy, and there are a lot of options available that you wouldn’t be able to capitalize on when the market is hot.”