Are you looking for a house and getting discouraged? Trust me, I know how it is. I had to house-hunt for many months. While you might get lucky and find the perfect house quickly and have no problems with the contract going through, most people deal with a lot of frustration during the whole process. Using what I’ve learned, I can at least help you get organized and be as efficient as possible while searching. Follow these tips and you might even have days where house-hunting is sort of fun (savor them, my friend, for they probably won’t not last).
Tip #1 for Efficient House-Hunting: Search On-line for Houses
The first thing you will want to do, after finding an agent who will help you look, is do your own searching. Newspapers are good, but they don’t show every listing and aren’t very detailed. Go on-line and search as many websites as you can find.
Realtor.com is a great overall website that includes listings from several major real estate companies. Remax.com is another good one. You might also try byownermls.com for houses being sold by the owners. Don’t limit yourself to one, though. You will want to sign up for an account with each one to save and track favorites and have new listings sent to your e-mail. You should also check them all as often as possible; every day is ideal.
It is tedious, I know, but it has to be done if you want to be one top of all the listings out there. If you already know the county or town you want to live in, this part will be much less complex. I had to look across several counties I was unfamiliar with. Most sites are clunky and inefficient. I wrote an entire article about my frustrations with sellers and real estate websites, found here, but the sites were still more helpful than not having them available.
Many real estate sites allow you to use search filters, such as price, how many bedrooms, etc. As tempting as it is to use them, try not to choose too many. Not everything is put into the system correctly and you could eliminate your dream house. If you’re in a rush, though, using the filters can help you narrow down a daunting list of houses; just don’t assume every house you might like made the cut.
Tip #2 for Efficient House-Hunting: Get a Binder
I quickly realized that searching over several counties would mean a lot more houses to look at and organize. After looking for the first couple of weeks, I went back into my saved favorites with my husband and we narrowed them down. Then we printed the ones we wanted to drive to see. I put them in the binder in alphabetical order by town and then by price. Later, as we drove by each house, we took notes on the page with the house. If we liked it, we put it behind the tab labeled “Houses to See with Realtor.” If we didn’t, we filed it under “Did Not Like.”
At first, I threw them away, but then realized how often we forgot that we had already seen a house and didn’t like it. We kept them in the binder so we could look and make sure we weren’t going to the same house twice. You might think you can remember every house, but several weeks and tons of houses later, you could get confused. After you see a house with your realtor, you can file it under “Did Not Like,” “Sort of Liked,” or “Really Liked.” If you have your own way of filing them, that’s great. This is just the way we kept things straight.
Tip #3 for Efficient House-Hunting: Plan Your Route with Yahoo! Maps
This was the second time in my life that I had to look for a house. The first time, things went much faster, but we were also only looking in one town. Even narrowed down to a much smaller area though, we spent way too much time driving back and forth across town looking at houses, not realizing how close we could have been to another house before heading to the next one far away. We just looked at a map after each house we found in the newspaper and went there. It was very inefficient. This time around, however, figuring out a better way was a must, especially when looking at houses usually meant an entire day of driving through several counties.
So, here’s what you can do to make things much, much easier. Follow this tip combined with Tip #4 and the chances of getting in a major fight over wrong directions will be reduced by 90%. You might even enjoy the countryside as you listen to music and relax.
Step one: Have all the print-outs of the houses ready with the addresses highlighted (or at least have a list of addresses for all the houses you want to see).
Step two: Go to Yahoo! Maps, which is http://maps.yahoo.com. Enter your starting address in A. Then proceed to enter any of your addresses in box B. In no particular order, just start adding addresses in one at a time by clicking on the “add another location” link by the next letter. You will start to see letters pop up all over the map. Get them all entered and then print the map.
Step three: Write the assigned letter at the top of each appropriate house print-out or next to your list of addresses so you know which is which.
Step four: Look at the map and decide the shortest, most efficient route and draw a line from one letter to the next. Then write the letters in order somewhere. You can write the addresses by each letter or flip through your pages each time to find the print-out with that letter.
Step five: If you don’t own a GPS or can’t borrow one from a friend, then go back and change the order of the addresses in Yahoo! Maps, so that the directions will be correct. Then print them out.
Tip #4 for Efficient House-Hunting: Get a GPS
Using the letters you figured out from Yahoo! Maps, put the first address in the GPS. Go to that house. Take your notes. Then put in the next address and so on. If you need to eat, look up restaurants nearby.
Do you really need a GPS? Well, I suppose you could survive without one. However, did it possibly prevent me and my husband from strangling each other during the many hours spent in the car driving through unfamiliar areas and getting turned around? Most Definitely. That little gadget is worth every cent. Knowing what I know now, I would have paid hundreds of dollars for it. It saved us time, gas money, frustration and possibly our lives (you know, from not strangling each other). It helped us find food and the nearest restroom when we were in the middle of nowhere (I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to squat in a field). If you and your significant other are the type to get easily frustrated and fight while lost, this could be the best investment you’ll ever make.
A map or printed directions can only take you so far. If there is a detour or you want to veer off the path for something, such as an open house sign, you can still easily get lost. Not to mention, either the driver or passenger will be spending way too much time reading directions, looking for signs and unfolding large, awkward maps to look for microscopic or non-existent road names. No wonder we were so frustrated last time.
Tip #5 for Efficient House-Hunting: Drive By Houses First
I would also highly recommend driving by all of your houses before getting a real estate agent to go with you, because we eliminated about a third to half of ours just by seeing the neighborhood or yard. One house even had an old, dilapidated cemetery in the front yard (think Civil War era). This little fact had been conveniently left out of the on-line photos. In addition to looking unsightly, I was kind of afraid that the house would be haunted with the ghosts of old soldiers or something. It is a waste of your time and that of the real estate agent to set up tours of every house you like on-line without ever driving by. Unless you live too far away, you should really try and see the outside in person first.
Tip #6 for Efficient House-Hunting: Bring Food and Drinks
Okay, so this one is probably obvious, but it never hurts to have snacks and drinks in the car for a day of driving. If it keeps you from stopping a bunch of times to get food or drinks from fast-food places or gas stations, then you will save time and money.
So, there you have it. I hope these tips help you find the house of your dreams without as much frustration. Good luck!
An Open Letter to Anyone Selling a House On-line, From a Buyer’s Perspective
Adventures in House-Hunting, Part 1: Moving Stories
Adventures in House-Hunting, Part 2: The Short Sale