The country’s housing crisis may be in recovery, but if you’re starting to actually browse “For Sale” listings on Streeteasy, then your crisis is just beginning. It’s ok to be a bit terrified. Actually, it’s necessary. Because while it may feel like one small step moving from rent checks to mortgage payments, it’s a giant leap for your family’s lifestyle and finances.
Seattle real estate agent and author Matt Parker is not only has a few decades of wheeling-and-dealing experience under his belt, his book Real Estate Smart: The New Home Buying Guide was recognized as a 2015 “Best Real Estate Book” award (and they don’t just give those out with red jackets). Here’s his advice for everything from assessing the neighborhood to avoiding buyer’s remorse. Because you can’t go home again … if your house ends up getting condemned.
Don’t Rush Into Anything
Have you noticed that buying a house is actually pretty easy, perhaps even … a little too easy? Well, that’s how the system is designed. “Americans are great shoppers,” says Parker. “We’re very good at selling things to each other, and the net result of that is that we’ve made house buying a process that’s quicker than buying a car.” In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a good thing. Since the average American owns their home for 9 to 13 years, you need to take it more seriously than signing that lease on a new Honda Odyssey. (Unless your family’s back-up plan is living in said minivan.) Parker’s advice: Take things slow and don’t jump on a house right away, even if it seems like the market is really hot.
Trust Your Agent
Once you find a real estate agent you like and trust, let them actually do their job. “In business, people sometimes look to really challenge their service providers and get the lowest rate and command the process,” says Parker. “The problem with that then is, as real estate agents, we get defensive.” If you make too many demands or seem like you’re trying to squeeze them, then your agent probably won’t get you the best results — if only because they’re telling you what you want to hear to try to save themselves from getting fired.
Act Like You’re Going To Live There
You didn’t decide to move because your family needed granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Therefore, Parker warns that you shouldn’t put more value on the property as a house than as a home. “Buyers tend to not actually imagine spending a day in the home,” he says. “Waking up there, commuting, coming home to the property, and trying to play catch with their child,” says Parker. When you’re looking at a house, try to walk through a day living there in your mind, and really picture what that would be like and how it would feel. Besides, those countertops are going to wind up covered in your kid’s breakfast anyway.
This Is Not A Test Kitchen
You might be tempted to go for the house with the incredible master suite or finished basement, but the most important room is actually the kitchen. “Americans spend approximately 80 percent of their waking hours in the kitchen, or the room immediately adjoining it,” says Parker. He advises looking for an open-concept floor plan that doesn’t leave the kitchen sequestered off in some weird corner of the house, so you can keep a better eye on what your kids are up to. Also remember that the average American household also has 7 TVs, and if mom and dad can’t see them, then your kid’s probably watching one.
When It Comes To Picking A Neighborhood, Go Green
House buying is all about location, location, location — of the trees on your street. That’s because good trees mean good value. For one thing, tree-lined neighborhoods with sidewalks tend to be safer (drivers slow down for fear of darting children). For another, their appearance also means the kids can around and play freely in the neighborhood. More good news: If you’re comfortable with your kid playing in the front yard, then chances are other families will be too. (Hello, communal babysitting!)
A lush green lawn is also an added bonus. “Green landscapes are important because they have a temperature mediating effect,” says Parker. Mature landscaping can cool a neighborhood as much as 15 degrees in the summer, and significantly warms things up in the winter. Trees also help with the latter, because the living root system creates some warmth. And you thought your dad’s hatred of crabgrass was due to some petty grudge.