House Hunting – Dos and Don’ts

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Charlottesville Real Estate Solutions

House Hunting – Dos and Don’ts

Searching for a house can be challenging and time-consuming, and most won’t be “the one.”

It’s tempting to dive right in and start looking at every open house listed in the paper or online. But before you dedicate your weekends, you need to know what you’re looking for.


In order to prioritize your wants and needs versus seeing everything in case you feel like you’re missing something, there are ways to make it through the process efficiently by avoiding these common house hunting mistakes:

When you see a sign – call your agent instead. Many Buyers see a sign in front of a house and try to contact the Seller directly because they feel they’re bothering their own agent. Don’t just pick up the phone, call the Seller and go by yourself.

First, it’s unsafe. Second, you can end up looking at a bunch of properties that don’t meet your search criteria or price range. Third, it can make Sellers think you’re unrepresented and, thus, that they have the greater bargaining leverage from the get-go.

Let your Solutions agent do their job; if you drive by an interesting property they haven’t mentioned to you, call them with the address and phone number, and let them research the property details.

Nine times out of 10, your agent hasn’t sent it to you because it doesn’t meet one or more of your search criteria. The 10th time out of 10 – your agent can escort you there and show it while the Seller is out of the house, so you’re not in direct contact.

Don’t plan something for two hours later. You don’t want to rush your search, as you may want to linger longer in one you really like. With drive time it can easily take three hours to see seven houses – not to mention that you may find one you want to immediately write an offer on, which will take another hour or so.

Avoid taking separate cars on your house tours. Every once in awhile a hot property will come up, your Solutions agent will call you, and you can meet them there. If you’re going to be driving from house to house, however, get in the car with your agent — even if it means you have to put the baby seat in their car.

This way, you don’t get separated, no one gets lost, and you can spend the time between houses debriefing and providing your agent with the feedback they need to narrow your search and hone in on your dream home.

Don’t bring a large coffee with you on your tours. This goes without saying, especially in vacant houses. If you need to, plan ahead to stop in the middle of the tour for a snack and a pit stop.

Don’t wear lace-up shoes. As we mentioned in our most recent blog, slip-ons, flip flops, etc. are ideal. Many well-prepared homes will have new carpet or flooring, and often the listing agent will have posted a “Please remove shoes” sign to help keep the flooring clean.

Don’t hesitate to look in drawers, cupboards and closets. Open every door. It’s possible to miss whole rooms and large storage areas by not opening one you assumed went to a closet.

It’s a great idea to find out how wide and deep the closets are, which you can’t find out without opening them up and having a look. If you really like a place, you should also open kitchen and bathroom drawers, cupboards and cabinets.

You’re not being nosy, you’re gathering information. Sellers have had ample notice to straighten up those spaces in anticipation of potential Buyers poking around.

Be respectful. Sellers may be listening, and some might be just steps outside or next door. They don’t always understand that it’s the most interested Buyers who pick the place apart to figure out exactly what they will need to do to make it theirs.

If you end up in a multiple offer situation, you don’t want to have an uphill battle because you badmouthed something the Seller had hanging in the hallway that they made themselves. So, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Until you get in the car, and roll up the windows – then you need to say what’s on your mind so your Solutions agent can learn your likes and dislikes.

Don’t think you can offend your Solutions agent. The house they’re showing is not a personal house. So, if you like it, great. But if you hate anything about it, don’t hesitate to say so. Don’t omit a criticism or concern you have. Doing so can result in you seeing more of the same, which is a waste of everybody’s time.

When you’re getting ready to make an offer – keep these tips in mind:

Get pre-approved for a mortgage

Before you head to a single open house, you should get a mortgage pre-approval, so you know how much your lender will actually let you borrow. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling in love with a home you can’t afford.

Don’t confuse a pre-qualification with a pre-approval

Mortgage pre-approval and pre-qualification sound alike, but there’s a crucial difference between the two.

pre-qualification is the first step in the mortgage application process. It involves providing some basic financial information to your lender, who will then give you a rough idea of what kind of mortgage you might qualify for.

Pre-approval is a more rigorous process where your lender looks closely at your financials and then tells you exactly how much you’ll be able to borrow and at what cost.

Don’t rely on a pre-qualification when shopping for your home as you could be in for a shock if you aren’t actually approved for the mortgage you expect.

Figure out how much you can really afford

The amount you’re approved to borrow and the one you can afford to spend on a house aren’t always the same. Your bank may be offering to lend you $400,000, but they aren’t thinking about your other financial goals, like saving for retirement or putting away for a college fund.

Home ownership comes with additional expenses, like higher utility bills to increased landscaping costs, as well as needing to have cash on hand for unexpected repairs. You need to have a clear idea of what you can really afford so that you don’t get in over your head.

Don’t get distracted by the staging

Sellers do all they can to make their home appealing. At a minimum that means making sure a property is clean and clutter-free. But some take it to the next level by using staging

Sometimes, stagers will use smaller furniture to make a room look bigger and cover up floor damage with rugs or furniture. Good home staging can make it easier for you to envision yourself in a home. But make sure you’re falling in love with the house itself, and not the added surface details.

Don’t focus on cosmetic issues

Some Buyers may overlook a diamond in the rough. So-called problems you should ignore include an unsightly paint color (either on the exterior or interior of the home), dated furniture or appliances, and even certain easily altered architectural details.

Be wary, however, if superficial problems are also paired with signs of neglect, like a lawn that hasn’t been cared for, unusual odors, or mold.

Don’t think every problem is an easy fix

On the other hand, you may get the idea that even the most dilapidated or dated property can be rehabbed into your dream home. But before you start mentally tearing down walls or rearranging the kitchen layout, consider that serious problems with a home’s flow or design could be a red flag, as well as a potential money pit.

Removing walls to create an open layout can be expensive, especially load bearing ones. Moving electrical and plumbing in your kitchen can cost far more than simply upgrading to new appliances and counter tops. Talk to a contractor about how much such the work will cost before you agree to purchase a house.

Don’t fixate on just one neighborhood

Location is everything. But if you’re only interested in buying a home in one or two select neighborhoods, you could narrow your search too much, especially if your budget is tight and the area’s attractive to a lot of other Buyers.

A better approach might be to focus on what kind of neighborhood or community you want to live in, and then look in areas that fit your criteria. That might mean neighborhoods you’re less familiar with but that still fit your needs.

While you don’t want to overlook factors like safety or good schools, a more open-minded approach could lead to your unexpected dream home.


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Charles McDonald

REALTOR®, Blogger, Principal Broker®, Owner
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