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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Becoming Home Owners: My Resources & Tips

So how did the showing go?  I'll keep you guys in suspense and review over some resources and tips before the reveal.  Muahaha!

I wasn't exactly involved in the process of researching early on because it took me a while to grasp the whole idea of being a homeowner.  Instead I took the back seat role and let H do most of the research.  Now that I've moved into our comfy home, I love to research and check out local homes that go on the market.  It is an unhealthy obsession at times, but I really enjoy it.  Now you would think that I might get jealous or regretful of our purchase if I'm looking at houses nearby.  Nope.  I love our house, and not another one can ever rival it.

And the journey begins!!
I can't say if this is really my go to site, but it has been fairly easy for me to use.  Well okay, I do go here first, which makes it my go to site (I haven't really tried too many others).  This is my starting point where I can search for homes that are up for sale.  The site is up to date on the latest listing, although it may be a couple days behind.  If you know a realtor and have access to the official MLS website, then you're super golden.  Since most of us are not realtors and do not have close friends who would abuse their privilege, is the next best thing.

Go to the main page of the website and narrow your search by city.  I have used Newark, DE as an example.  This way your search isn't all over the place.  No worries though because you can always do multiple searches if you're interested in two or more cities.

Scroll down a bit after you hit the results.  There will be a drop down to view the map of homes available for sale in the specified city.  I like to zoom in on particular areas that I am fond of.  Newark, DE covers a pretty big base, and not all areas of Newark are created equal.  The differences vary so much at times, and that's why I fell in love with a particular nook and not the whole city.  I chose the area closest to Hockessin for an example of what the map looks like once it is zoomed in.  You can hover over the little blue houses to see very basic information -- price, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.  From here you can right click and open all interested homes in a new tab for you to view.  In addition, you can narrow your search on the left hand side and indicate what your price point is, how many bedrooms you would like, etc.  There is no use looking at homes above your price range after all.  No budge in your budget can work for a home that is $100k over budget.

Once you have selected the home you are interested in, the listing will go into details about the house.  The first thing you see is the address, sale price, # of bedrooms, # of bathrooms, square footage, and acres.  Following that are the pictures, which I admit is the first thing I really look at.  Most realtors are not professional photographers.  They probably use a point and shoot just like you and me.

Now don't trust every photo you see.  The angle of the photo can trick you.  You're only seeing one side of the room, and hopefully it is the more visually appealing side.  What you might not see is the small closet or the style of the doors.  Lighting can also make a big difference.  If the photo is too dark, then you may not see the fine features of the room.  It may also make the house look outdated.  I recently saw a poorly shot photo of an updated kitchen, and the cabinets looked super old.  Then I clicked on the next photo of the kitchen and saw the actual color of the updated cabinets.  Much better.  You're not always so lucky to have multiple pictures of the same room. 

Make sure to keep a count of what types of photos are being posted for the listing.  Are there any photos of the bedrooms?  Kitchen?  Bathrooms?  Hallways?  Living Room?  Family Room?  Backyard?  Try to make sure that most rooms are covered.  It is okay not to see a picture of the attic or basement (unless it is listed as a finished basement) because those places are for storage.  Do you really want to see someone else's stored goods?  Probably not.  Do focus on the basic rooms in the house and ponder why not all features were photographed.  Personally I need to see all rooms and even the backyard to get a good feel for the house.  I don't want to leave it up to my imagination and wonder what's wrong with the bedrooms or bathrooms upstairs.  Is it ugly and covered in wallpaper?  Is the carpet old and in need of being replaced?  Of course don't rule out a house because there are only a few pictures.  Some listings will only have a picture of the outside of the house.  Maybe the realtor wasn't able to get inside for photos but wanted the listing to go up as soon as possible?  I would worry more about listings that only have photos of the front of the house, living room, and kitchen only.  If they're inside the house, then they can certainly take photos of every room.

Next check out the overview stats.  See if the house fits your requirements.  Does it have oil heating or gas heating?  How old is the house?  Neighborhood?  Any new updated features?  What school district would your future kiddos belong in and is that important to you?

Scroll down further and check out the listing details.  See how long the listing has been up for.  If the house has been on the market for a couple of weeks or months, then there shouldn't be too much to worry about.  If the house has been up for over 6 months, then ask yourself why hasn't the house sold.  Is the house priced too high?  While the market may be slow, many people have checked out the house and walked away.  There may be a reason for that.

You will also find the listing broker in the listing details.  Google the broker and see if you can find the listing on their official site.  There may be more pictures and detailed description of the property.  I always do this to make sure I have every piece of information possible.
Zillow will provide you with most of the information seen in and a little extra too.  The site's special feature is that it provides projected home values using past sales as a point of reference, known as a "zestimate."  It is very inaccurate, but you can check and compare other houses that have been sold recently in the area.  The site is a tad behind on listings by a day or so.  If you don't find it one day, try checking the next day.

While I don't understand why does not provide the official MLS description, most certainly does.  It's written by the realtor and often you can find grammar and spelling errors (much like my own writing).  Look at the description and see if anything tickles your fancy.  The description is the place where the seller can really sell the house's special features -- recent updates, out of the ordinary features, and whatever can make it really shine to a buyer.  It may tell you that all appliances are included and that windows treatments will be left behind for you.  I like to check for any recent renovations or updates in particular.  I want to see that the roof has been replaced, there is a new hvac system, and all new windows.  Of course that is rare, but it certainly is nice to know what has been updated.  If you're worried about the age of the roof (most homes 20+ years old will be under this worry category, whether it's adding a 2nd layer of shingles or having to replace the whole thing), then look for it under the description.  If there is no mention of it, then most likely it's old and will need some attention in the next few years. also provides a price history, which may be a newer feature.  This will give you details about the original listing price, the listing broker, and any changes in the asking price.  This is your leverage to know whether or not it is feasible to approach the house with a lower asking price.  If the house has already dropped down in price 3 times, then most likely the recent price is priced to sell.  If it has not dropped in price, and the house has been on the market for a couple of months, then you do have room to wiggle and negotiate.  Also check and see if the seller has switched brokers and whether or not that has affected their asking price.  Under price history, you may also find the most recent purchase price from the current owners.  Most likely this information is not available, and that is where my next resource steps in.  Muahaha!
Zillow also has a map that shows the aerial view of the house and neighborhood with zestimate values.  The red house marker indicates that the house is on the market.
Let me warn you that this is the ultimate tool to figure out way too much information that you most certainly do not need to know.  I may or may not use this site for information beyond the basic property information.  Let's just say that this was a life saver for finding address and proper spelling of names during the wedding process.

This site is particularly great for those looking for homes in New Castle County.  Not every county and state has this information openly available.  After doing all of the above, enter the address of the house you are interested in.  Just take a look for yourself and be crazy astounded by the information in front of you.

The best part is knowing the sale history.  If you like to maintain the privacy of the owner, just skim past their name and look at the sale date and price.  If the sale date is not available (houses that date back to the 70s and earlier), then most likely the house is still owned by the original owners, which was the case for our home.  If it is the original owner, then you should look over the description in further detail to make a guess as to whether or not the house has been maintained and up to date over the years.  Sometimes you will find that the sale price was $1.00 or $10.00, which may mean the deed was changed -- maybe to remove a name or add a name.  It could also mean that the neighborhood is still in the process of being built, and the builder does not want the sale information readily available.

You can also find tax information, which will help determine how much you will be paying in taxes every year and the assessment value of the home.  Make sure to add the taxes to your mortgage estimate so you have a better idea of your monthly payment.

Residential characteristics are listed at the bottom, and you can even find the layout of the house.  During a walk in, you no longer have to guess where the kitchen is.  You'll already know the layout before you even step foot through the door.  Okay that makes it less exciting, but you get a better visual in your head.  Also the basic information is listed, which you have probably seen enough times by now.  One thing to make note of is the exterior wall (a.k.a. the stuff on the outside of your house).  If it is listed as asbestos, write that down in your notes.  During the walk through, check out the siding of the house and make sure it is updated vinyl.  While asbestos is not extremely dangerous on the outside of the house, it is something you would like to replace in the future.
Last but not least, check out Google!  There is nothing wrong in touring the neighborhood via street view in Google Maps.  Most neighborhoods have street view available, although you may find some "exclusive" neighborhoods that have requested not to be seen.  You can see how the image of the house compares to the picture in the listing.  Do you see any updated features?  "Walk" down the street and see how your neighbors look.  Are their houses well maintained?  Is the neighborhood walker friendly with sidewalks and lamp posts?

In street view, you can see that this house is actually on the main road.  There is also a lot of land, which can be a huge plus or a major disappointment for whoever has to cut the grass.

Now that you know all of my secrets, start your search and let the fun begin!



animeniac206 said...

Very informative. :) Thank you for sharing your experience. Have a great vacation!

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