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What should you look for when buying a home?

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Marilyn Lavin
Marilyn Lavin
4 months ago

My most important lesson related to house purchase occurred while my husband was in the Army. He had been in ROTC and went on active duty during the Vietnam War. Fortunately, he was stationed at the US Military Academy at West Point. We were both in graduate school at the time and lacked a car; my father drove us around so we could find housing in ONE day– Tom was too low ranking to qualify for on post housing. We had the minimal amount for a down payment on a modest house, and looked at a couple that we could have afforded and which would have been fine. We decided not to risk a buy and instead found a rental. We stayed at West Point for 3 years; during that time, we saw career army people buy and sell their houses. They rarely planned to stay put for more than 3 years. Nevertheless, they rapidly found houses they thought would “work” for them and bought them. Every junior officer we knew followed this plan, and sold at a profit when their tour was finished.

After the army stint, my husband took a job at the University of WI — Madison. We were not mid-westerners and did not plan to stay (we actually have for almost 50 years!) BUT this time we followed the “army way.” We drove to Wisconsin with one week to find a house that would work for us and our two young children The inventory available was very limited, but we found a 3 bedroom ranch that met our needs but was NOT our dream house. We stayed in that house for 5 years.

During our initial week looking for housing in Madison, we did identify the small neighborhood in which we wanted to live, but it took us five years to find a house there that we could afford. We were constantly outbid until we came upon a true fixer upper. We were the first people to tour the house and we offered the full asking price. Our offer had no contingencies — we did not have it inspected (it would never have passed!), we gambled we could sell the ranch house before the closing, and we just held our breath. We sold the ranch for about 25% more than we paid, and closed on both houses the same day! Forty-four years later, my husband and I still live in the fixer uppers.

The house over the years has required a lot of work — both do- it- yourself and bigger projects that were done by professional contractors. But the house in which we raised 3 kids still works well for us as empty nesters. Realtors often claim “location, location, location” are the 3 most important factors in real estate. I totally agree — today, my neighborhood is as hot as it was 44 years when we moved into it. But I would tell any first time home buyer to determine his/her non-negotiable– it might not be location for them– and then proceed from there. No house is going to be “perfect,” and it’s important not to be overwhelmed by a housing purchase. The lesson from West Point was that what you buy, you can also sell! That approach definitely does work!

Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
4 months ago

Rick C crushed it below. Take a look.

I’ll take a little different spin. Never ask someone else if it’s a good time to buy a home. The market will do what it does, and buying a home really comes down to your situation, not the market. Timing the stock market is obviously a fool’s errand, but it’s even more perilous when trying to buy a home. Real estate markets heat up and slow down, but they rarely crash. You can’t sit around on the sidelines waiting for the market to come to you–particularly with historically low mortgage rates right now (3.0% for a 30yr fixed, 2.25% for a 15yr fixed).

So focus on where you think you’ll be in life in 5-10 years. If you think you’ll be somewhere else for a new job, buying a new home is not something you should look to do. If you plan to stay put and see little risk of moving, follow what Rick says!

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago

Buying s house is one of life’s biggest challenges, and can lead to a lifetime of happiness, or bitter regret. The more effort you put in to researching your new home, the more likely you’ll get the former. I use a funneling system – start with a wide array of information and narrow it down to specific targets. Some things to consider:

  • Area – decide if you want to live in a city, suburb, small town, woods farm, coast, mountains, … Is there family nearby?, Are there jobs nearby that you want/can perform?
  • Location – This includes local municipality (how are the taxes and services), schools, roads, shopping, access to nature, children’s programs,
  • Neighborhood – Narrow the search down to neighborhoods that have the type of house you want and can afford. Drive through the neighborhoods at various times of day, weekdays and weekends. Are there lots of kids playing, do neighbors interact, are the yards well kept? You can tell a lot from a driveway.
  • House – When I look at a house I start with the bones. Is it structurally sound? Are the electric and plumbing systems adequate and up-to-code. How old is rook? Any evidence of water – especially in a basement. Is it in a flood zone? Sidewalks and driveways?
  • Day in the life – Imagine a day in the life with your family in the house you are considering. This is a great technique my wife uses. Are there enough bedrooms for everyone? How will the kitchen flow (everyone gathers there in our family)? Where will the kids play? Room for in-laws? My Mother always asked this question – Where will you put the Christmas Tree? This simple question made you think about holidays and family and how the house would handle your family’s traditions.
  • First imagine. My wife and I learned a great technique for newly engaged or married couples. Independently, draw a picture of a big holiday celebration in your home on your 5th anniversary. Put in detail about the house. We did this with many young couples and it is amazing how many had wildly different ideas of how they would be living 5 years into the future. These couples had a lot of discussing to do!

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