The Beginner’s Guide to Searching for Your Next Home

We’ve all been a victim of shopping around for our dream home on Zillow – us included! We draw the lines around our preferred location hoping that something in our price range pops up, or look at the multi-million dollar mansions in another zip code to see how other people live. It’s fun and shows you a bunch of possibilities for the future. A quick sidenote: If you don’t follow @zillowgonewild on Instagram, we highly recommend it, especially if you love seeing the inside of crazy houses like us. 

When it comes time to search for your first or next home though, checking Zillow turns into a full-on treasure hunt and the choices that you enjoyed having when you were idly browsing can become a little daunting. That’s when it’s time to close the app and make a list – one of many you’ll make throughout this process. 

There’s three things that you have to think about when you’re planning on buying your first home: price, location, and must-have features. These are the top three factors that will impact every home purchase you make and determine which properties you consider for purchase. 

It might seem like these are in order of importance – and ultimately price will be the most important factor in your purchase – but it really depends on the buyer. One buyer might be fixated on a certain price range with a reasonable commuting distance to work, while another wants a two-car garage in their dream neighborhood. A location could be a must-have while a must-have could determine location. All of these factors are dependent on one another in the decision making process, so you have to begin by deciding what is most important to you in your next home. 

Here’s a few things to consider in each category as you begin your search: 

  1. Price. Before you consider buying a home, you have to know how much you’re willing to put down on the home and, if applicable, an estimated monthly mortgage payment. Start by determining how much money to have to spend on the home upfront – whether it’s an all cash offer or down payment. If it’s a down payment, you’ll also want to think about what percentage you’ll want to put down. 20% is considered the gold standard, but some states will let you go as low as 3% if you’re a first-time home buyer. From there,  you can approximate a price range that will guide your initial search. Hot tip: You’re going to be able to afford a home that’s more expensive than you thought – stick with your budget and your gut, or you’ll probably end up house poor.  Doing the prep work ahead of time will help you feel confident in what you can afford and where you’re financially comfortable. It is never too early to start talking to a lender to help you form your price range and has the added benefit of getting you pre-approved just in case the perfect home pops up unexpectedly. 
  1. Location. Deciding on a location is such a personal choice. Whether you’re a city, suburb or rural dweller, your location will be the biggest determinant of if you get the price and any of the must-haves you want. You’ll know where you want to live most based on proximity to work, school zones, leisure activities, or other important lifestyle factors. One tip that could help your search is having a few zipcodess or neighborhoods where you’re willing to look, otherwise you could get stuck searching for a needle in a haystack or willing to pay more than you should if you are just waiting around hoping for one of a handful of homes to hit the market.
  1. Must-haves. What are the main features that you need to have in your next home? A backyard for your pets and kids? Multiple guest rooms for out-of-town family? A space for a luxurious bathroom to unwind? Whatever they are, create a list that can help you narrow in on properties to see. It’s important to be reasonable – we’ve all seen that episode of an HGTV where someone wants a laundry list of home features that is not reasonable for their price range. Start by making your list long and then pare it back or number it in order of importance. This will help you visualize your ideal home and help you determine what non-starters are when you’re previewing new listings.

We’ve hinted at this already, but after you narrow in on the main elements of each of these factors, you then need to decide your level of compromise on each one. Are you willing to increase your budget because you found a home in an ideal location or it has one additional feature on your must-have list? Are you willing to get your hands dirty and put in some work to an old kitchen or decaying backyard if that means spending a little less? If you’re willing to do extra work, prioritize having the space to do it as opposed to it being done for you already. 

When we were searching for our current home, Alexa was interested in a city that was never on Andy’s radar, so much so that we weren’t even considering the city and surrounding neighborhoods. But when we weren’t finding anything we liked in other locations after a few weeks, our realtor urged us to look in this spot. Three properties and some aimless driving around later, Andy was hooked. It’s where we live now and want to purchase our next home too, where only 12 months prior our Zillow search circle wasn’t anywhere near. 

You have to know where you’re willing to compromise and your own limits as you search to find the best property for you – and a big part of that is also seeing homes that meet certain aspects of your criteria. You might fall in love with a home that isn’t an open concept or in a neighborhood you hadn’t considered. Come to every showing prepared with your list, but also know where you’re willing to make compromises too. 

With your prepared price, location and must-have list, you’ll be able to set up a meeting with a real estate agent and lender confident in what you’re looking for and what you can afford to spend. A good real estate agent will help you walk through this, but going into your first meeting with them already having most of this worked out will significantly streamline the buying process and help remove some of the uncertainty and stress of early home shopping.

What’s on the top of your must-have list? Comment below and let us know!

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