There’s a lot riding on the line when you’re shopping for a new home. Buying a house is a huge investment—likely one of the biggest (if not the biggest) that you will ever make. You need to be able to accurately understand your current needs and anticipate your future ones, and you need to find a house that fits the bill in terms of not just looks but size, location, price, and more. It’s no wonder then that house hunting can take anywhere from six weeks to six months. With so much at stake, it’s not a process that you can simply wing and hope for the best.
Of course, every buyer’s house hunting experience is going to be different. Some buyers go into the process knowing exactly what they want and how they intend to get it, while others are a little bit less sure on one or both fronts. Regardless of where your starting point is though, successful and (mostly) stress-free house hunting is possible. Here are eight house-hunting mistakes to avoid so that you can breeze through and find your perfect home faster.
1. You’re Going it Alone
It can be tempting to house hunt without a real estate agent. Listings are all online anyway and why not save the commission, right? However, going it alone can mean missing out on your dream property, and you might end up spending more too.
There are a few reasons why having a realtor on your side is a smart move as a home buyer. For starters, an experienced realtor will be a true expert on your local market. And likely, he or she will have some insight that can help you narrow in on your best options. Realtors also generally have access to a wider array of available listings then what you’ll find online, including early-bird knowledge on high demand homes going up for sale.
And that commission? The buyer’s agent is usually paid by the seller, meaning there’s really no downside to using an agent for your search.
2. Your Search is Too Narrow
Obviously you have an ideal location in mind when you’re house hunting. But being overly stringent on geographical parameters can mean missing out on a house that offers everything you’re looking for, just in a different zip code.
The wider the net that you cast, the more opportunities you will find. Be willing to stretch your imagination a bit when it comes to where you want to live, whether that means looking in a different neighborhood, a different town, or even a different county. You may find that you can keep your easy commute but save big on property taxes, or that the town next door offers a more affordable way to get into the same school district you’re interested in.
This is another area where having a real estate agent on your side is immensely helpful. They may be able to guide you to an area you hadn’t previously considered but that is actually very well suited to your needs.
3. You’re Not Being Open-Minded
They say that it’s a home’s bones that count. While you don’t need to look at fixer-uppers when what you’re really on the hunt for is a turnkey home, you should try to have a bit of imagination when it comes to things like outdated kitchens and gaudy décor. Aesthetics are highly personal, and it’s reasonable that not all sellers and buyers are going to have the exact same tastes.
If you find yourself instantly passing on homes because they don’t have just the right look, or if you’re constantly nit-picking and finding something wrong with each house that you go for a showing at, try to reframe your attitude a bit. You don’t need to compromise on the things that are really truly important to you (more on that below), but you should try to have an open mind when it comes to things that can be changed with just a coat of paint or some new cabinetry.
4. You’re Not Being Picky Enough
On the flip side of not being open-minded enough is being so open-minded that you end up wasting your (and your realtor’s) time on properties that just de facto do not meet your needs. It’s definitely normal—and often, a requirement—that you make some compromises when you’re house hunting. But don’t lose sight of the things that you know you need in your home to make it right for you.
Every single buyer has their own set of deal breakers and deal makers. If having a yard for your dog to run around in is key, then don’t go look at yard-less homes. If you need four bedrooms, there’s no use checking out homes that only have two or three. Figure out exactly what your must-haves are early on so that you can avoid going to showings that just miss the mark off the bat.
5. You Didn’t Get a Mortgage Pre-Approval
It’s a competitive marketplace out there and anything that you can do to position yourself as a top-notch buyer is a good idea. A mortgage pre-approval is helpful for two reasons: one, it tells you exactly how much money you have to spend; and two, it lets sellers know that you’re good for your offer. Both of these things will get you a bit further ahead on the playing field.
Ideally, you should get your mortgage pre-approval done before you even begin house hunting, though you can do it after you’ve started too. Getting a mortgage pre-approval requires filling out a loan application and providing key documentation on your income, credit history, assets, and debt. A mortgage underwriter will go over all of this information and tell you how much you are eligible to borrow.
It’s worth noting as a general rule of thumb that you don’t have to take all of the money being offered to you in your pre-approval, but it’s a big factor to consider when setting your housing budget.
6. You’re Dragging Your Feet
The world of real estate is notoriously fast-paced. Especially if you’re house-hunting in a seller’s market (when there are more buyers than homes for sale) you’re going to have to act fast when it comes to scheduling showings and making offers. Even waiting just one day can make the difference between snagging a fantastic property and seeing it slip through your fingers.
It may seem like this mistake is an antithesis to the idea that buying a home needs to be a calculated investment—after all, jumping into a multi-hundred thousand dollar purchase without careful forethought is not normally advised. But you need to find the sweet spot between thinking things through and being definitive in your actions. Fortunately, your realtor can help you figure out when to sit on something and think and when to act.
7. You’re Letting Others Get in Your Head
The home you buy is a personal decision. If someone else isn’t going to be paying for it or living in it, then you shouldn’t give their opinions too much weight.
Nobody knows what you want in a home better than you do. If you find yourself getting talked out of something that you really liked or being pressured into prioritizing a home feature that really isn’t all that important to you, then chances are you’re giving too much credence to “objective” outside opinions.
8. You’re Not Thinking Ahead
What you want and need right now in a house and what you’re going to want and need in the future may be different. Make sure that you’re thinking ahead when you’re house hunting and taking into consideration things like plans to work from home or expand your family. Even if you don’t think you’ll need certain accommodations for a couple of years it never hurts to put them on the priority list.
Moving isn’t a permanent decision and of course you can sell later on if the house you buy doesn’t work for you anymore, but it’s almost always going to be easier to plan ahead a little bit so you can grow with—and not out of—your home.
The biggest house-hunting mistakes are the ones that box you in and limit your options. Do what you can to have the best grasp possible of your finances, your wants and needs, and your strengths as a buyer. The perfect property is out there for you, you just have to remove the roadblocks to finding it.