Soft Rules for House Hunting

More and more I hear of people who regret buying their house (like here or here).

I’ve been there and it sucks. I want everyone to be as happy as they can with their choice.

So I thought I’d share some tips and reminders so you can increase your chances of finding a house you love with zero regrets.

Here they are; my soft rules:

  •  Always know the comps and know them well.
    • Comps are the sold homes which are similar in neighborhood, size, and condition to the homes you’re considering. Don’t let real estate agents fool you into only looking at the active comparable listings which are currently on the market. Yes, I know the pandemic housing bubble threw this rule out the window, but only for the uninformed, the impatient, the rich, or the desperate. A house is more than an asset, sure. But it is still part of your nest egg. Comps are the starting place for making sure your asset is solid. If I could figuratively beat anything into your head, it would be to know your comps[1].
  • Always see the home-to-be in person.
    • At the very least, have somebody you trust go on your behalf, but I wouldn’t even do that. Trusting someone else is a huge risk because their expectations and their eyes, nose, and ears may not be as sensitive as your own. Don’t fall prey to bad smells (which may be indicative of an underlying problem), terrible layouts, parking issues, ruined interior cabinetry, animal funk, or the watchful mean neighbor with a pet dog or cockatoo. You also need to be able to catch those “bad vibes” and that creepy feeling you had in that one basement. You, dear friend, need to visit the home you’re thinking to purchase. In person. (I guess there’s an exception if you’re going to be a major renovation… but even then! I’d still suggest seeing it in person.)
  • Always be able to envision yourself living in the home.
    • Can you see yourself there? Will your furniture fit and make sense? Do you like the style and era? Does the floorplan work? Are you cool with the location? Does it feel safe? Can the home comfortably hold you for five years? Seriously rethink things if you answer no to any of these questions. The reason is three-fold. First, if you answer no to any of these questions then you probably won’t be as happy living there as you should be. Secondly, if you need to change the layout or buy all new furniture, it’s going to be incredibly expensive. Third, if you answer no to these questions, someone else likely will too and it might be more difficult for you to sell later.
  • Always visit the home more than once.
    • And if possible, see it at a different time of day than the first time. There is so much to take in when you visit a home. Your senses and your brain simply cannot capture everything in one shot, especially if the house is cluttered and full of furniture. Additionally, it is hard to “see” everything if you’re yapping with your realtor or partner/friend, whatever. I promise, you will find things that you failed to notice on round one. Pull up those rugs and look behind the curtains but don’t forget to make sure the “obvious” things are there too. I once bought a house with no hardwired overhead lighting and didn’t notice. The light switches only controlled the outlets- (which had the owner’s lamps plugged into them at the time). Yep. That happened to me; don’t let it happen to you. And you could miss something a lot worse than that, I got lucky.
  • Always be ready to walk away.
    • It’s perfect- except (bla bla bla major thing you wish wasn’t major). Walk away if the home is overpriced or the seller comes across like an asshole. Walk away if the layout sucks but you think you can live with it. Walk away if you love everything but hate the location (or vice versa). Walk away if you do not have the abilities or the funds to address serious problems. Walk away if you get creeped out by a neighbor. Yes, you do need to be flexible and realistic and the home probably won’t check every box. But you can get close, you really can! That’s because there will always be more houses coming along- even though it may not seem like it.  Patience is your best weapon to bring hunting.
  • Always keep basic contingencies in your contract.
    • Your contract should allow you to back out if you suddenly realize, “Never mind, this house is a gold-plated turd.” These three standard contingencies offer you some protection:
      • Contingent on satisfaction of home inspection results
      • Contingent on property appraising at or above purchase price
      • Contingent on final approval of buyer’s loan
    • Some people will have enough cash that these contingencies aren’t necessary. Some people may be contractors or carpenters or be very experienced and they may not need all of these either. Getting into the nitty gritty of the exceptions and when to forgo contingencies a whole other post which you can find here.

  • Relax while being decisive. It can be stressful but it doesn’t have to be. Follow the rules above and you’ll be ready to move at lightning speed when the right house comes along (which will be necessary by the way). You’ll become confident and that confidence will leverage you to get a home that works for you and at a price you can live with- or better!

Tell me, what do you think; would you break any of these rules and with what caveats?

Or have you broken any of these rules and regretted the outcome?

Share your trials, terrors, or successes; I want to hear all about it.

Good Luck out there,

HouseRat Zero


[1] Here is a post all about how to become knowledgeable about your market and the comps.

Also, if you need some super snarky attitude to help you make a decision, check out my parody post, How to Buy A House That Guarantees Misery

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