||STEP 2: Finding an affordable property
Now that you know what you can afford, it's time to start looking at houses. You’re probably asking yourself, where should I look, what can I expect to find? While no property will have everything you want, the home you purchase should meet as many of your needs and wants as possible. You might start out looking for a mini-mansion but end up finding that a mid-size ranch home is just right for you and your budget.
Where to begin
You’ve probably been making a mental wish list of expectations for your new home. Maybe you can’t live without a walk-in closet, a living room with high ceilings or a functioning fireplace. Let’s get all those details listed on paper and make sure that the priorities reflect you and your family. Consider the neighborhood, the home’s exterior, interior layout, number of bedrooms and bathrooms as well as location and lifestyle, commuting distance and community, and reputation of the schools.
Take your list with you when you look at prospective homes and size up each house according to the items on your list. Can you envision entertaining family and friends during holidays in the dining room? Is there enough closet space to store your ever-growing shoe collection? The more the home matches up to items on your list, the happier you’ll be when you're living in it.
What are my options?
First, you need to decide what type of home you want. Be mindful of your plans for the next five years. Do you plan on starting a family or would you be interested in renting out a space in your home? There are a number of housing types to choose from to suit your individual needs, including:
- Single-family homes are the most common target property for prospective homeowners. There are two options: a newly constructed house or an older home in an already established neighborhood. Both new construction and older homes offer advantages to first-time buyers. Older homes may be roomier, more affordable, and siutated in a convenient or central location. A new home likely has a more efficient heating system, better insulation, and lower maintenance costs, since everything is brand new.
- A condominium is a single unit in a multi-unit property. Benefits of condo ownership include low maintenance and many of the freedoms of apartment living. Remember, though, that along with your private space, you will also share common areas with the owners of other condominiums in your property. As a condo owner, you may be asked or may wish to serve on the association board. This involves overseeing the collection of fees, upkeep of the grounds, maintaining cash reserves, and managing both emergency and scheduled repairs.
- Purchasing a 2- to 4-unit property provides you with both an investment property and a personal residence. Along with the possible tax and income advantages of multifamily homes come the added responsibilities of a landlord, such as tenant search and selection, leases, security deposit procedures, evictions and emergency repairs.
- During your search for a home, you are sure to find many houses that can be described as fixer-uppers--generally older homes in need of updates and repair. These homes are often in older, more established neighborhoods, but have suffered from neglect over a long period of time. If you decide that a fixer-upper is for you, be prepared for the numerous costs involved in rehabilitation work. Once work begins, you may uncover additional issues. Rehabilitation costs can rise quickly and significantly, as can the time needed to get the house in good working order. If you decide on a fixer-upper, have a contractor or home inspector detail the extent of rehabilitation work, and estimate the costs. Do this before you make your offer on the home. The amount it will cost to repair the property will impact the price you pay for the house.
Location, location, location
You’ve heard it before. Your home’s location is arguably the most important feature to consider. Are you comfortable living on or near a main street? Would you like to have a dog park in walking distance? Here are some things to consider when choosing a location:
- How far are you willing to commute to work?
- How accessible is the home to highways or public transportation?
- How close are shopping, churches, day care facilities and recreation areas?
- What is the quality of the public schools?
Prioritize the attributes that are most important to you. Ask yourself, would you trade a larger yard for highway access, public transportation for shopping and restaurants, a shorter commute for better public schools? With your list in hand, you’ll be better equipped to find the town and the home that best suits your desired lifestyle.
Finding the right home
Conducting the search yourself is certainly manageable, but a fair bit of organization and professional insight could be very helpful. First identify towns that fit your needs, and then seek out homes in those towns within your price range. Schedule appointments with a REALTOR® or the home owner in the case of “for sale by owner” to view homes for sale, or find open houses you can attend.
There are a number of resources that will help you find the right house for you:
- Websites such as realtor.com, njmls.com and njhrc.gov
- Searching for For Sale signs in target areas
- Bulletin boards at work, or in and around target communities
- Talking to friends, acquaintances, co-workers
You may also want to work with a REALTOR® who can provide expertise on market trends, property conditions, and many other aspects of buying your first home. To find a licensed REALTOR® in New Jersey, visit www.njar.com the official website of the New Jersey Association of REALTORS.®
Open House advice
Attending an Open House is serious business. Remember that an Open House is a sales tool that homeowners use to market their homes. Make sure you refer to your list and keep an open mind. To help keep your focus, keep in mind the following:
- Bring a notepad and map so you can mark each home’s location and note its special features.
- Pick up a listing sheet whenever one is available. After a day of open houses, you may find that a home has more or less appeal than you initially thought.
- Pace yourself. Visit too many homes without a break and you’ll start missing details.
- If you are going to look at a lot of houses, take big breaks. See three homes in the morning, then stop and have lunch. See three more, then stop and do something else. See three more in the evening and call it a day.
- Bring a camera and snap pictures of the houses that appeal to you. Grab photocopied pictures if they are available.
- Make a rough sketch of the floor plans of the homes you are considering.
- Remember, there are no foolish questions. Ask away!
You want to know everything you can about each property, so be prepared to ask lots of questions. One question about pipes, heating or cooling systems, taxes, or recent repairs may lead to other questions. You may find areas of concern about a specific property that looked trouble-free. It’s far better to know about a home's problems before you buy than it is to discover them once you own the property.