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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

House Hunting Heats Up

By Kimberly Blaker

Buying a home begins with the exciting prospect of finding your perfect space and the exhilarating idea of new beginnings. As the hunt progresses, you may experience anxiety over whether you’ll find a home within your budget—or because you’ve fallen in love with a home outside your budget. 

When you do make an offer, you may be worried you offered too little, too much, or find that another buyer beat you to the punch. You’ll also experience disappointment if your offer is rejected.

However, once you’ve closed on your home and are confident you made the right decision, you’ll rejoice. These recommendations can help you stay on course in finding your perfect (or near-perfect) home.

Before You Shop Make a list of your objectives. Are you trying to reduce your work commute? Is there a particular school district you’d like your kids to attend? What about proximity to shopping or recreation?

Consider features you want. Would you like a larger garage, updated kitchen, ample closet space, or a home that’s turn-key ready? Be as detailed as possible, noting if each item is a must-have, prefer-to-have, or nice but not necessary.

When you find a home that wows you, consider your must-have criteria. Maybe you’ll decide your wishes have changed, or you’ll be reminded to continue searching for a home that better suits your needs.

How Much Can You Afford? Prepare a budget and figure out how much you can comfortably spend each month on mortgage and interest payments, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance. Also, consider whether there’ll be a substantial difference in your monthly utilities. Include an allowance for home repairs and maintenance.

Get pre-qualified through your bank or a mortgage company. Despite what you think you can afford, a lender will ultimately determine your maximum budget. Don’t risk getting your hopes up on a particular home until you know how much a lender will loan you. Most Realtors won’t show homes to prospective buyers until they’ve been pre-qualified.

Starting Your Search Now you’re ready for a Realtor. Working with a real estate agent has multiple advantages. Realtors have access to the MLS system, the database in which all homes listed by real estate agencies appear. They’re only able to access MLS for listings within their own region, however. If you’re moving to a new area, choose a Realtor in the area where you’ll be relocating.

Another important reason to work with an agent is so you’ll have someone to advance your interests. If you find a home and want to put in an offer, in many states, you can ask the listing agent to write up and submit your offer. In states that allow this arrangement, the agent becomes a dual agent. A dual agent is required to treat both parties with fairness and honesty. In this capacity, the agent cannot solely advance your interests because the agent is also working for the seller.

A couple of factors to consider are customer reviews and whether the real estate agent is willing to sign an Exclusive Buyer’s Agency Contract. Under an Exclusive Buyer’s Agency Contract, the Realtor represents you, the buyer, rather than both buyer and seller.

The agent should ask you plenty of questions to gain a solid understanding of what you’re looking for in a home, and needs to be available to show homes during your hours of availability. Be cautious of high-pressure tactics to get you to sign an exclusive contract. If you’re not comfortable with the agent, be prepared to say you need time to think about it.

The Home Inspection Once you’ve made an offer, getting a home inspection is crucial. This will help ensure you’re making a sound buying decision. Unfortunately, too many homebuyers learn the hard way that inspectors are not required to be licensed or have any special skills or training in many states.

Do your homework before hiring an inspector. Ask about their qualifications and how long they’ve been in business. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau and online reviews.

A knowledgeable, skilled inspector will look at every aspect of the home, including windows, foundation, attic, roof, plumbing, electrical components, and much more. Your inspector should alert you to all defects, big and small, and note any aging features that could require repair or replacement in the not-so-distant future.

Final Advice Regardless of what the bank says you can afford or if an agent pushes you to go higher, you’re the best judge of what’s really within your budget. Remember, your financial well-being and lifestyle are on the line.

Don’t get impatient but don’t drag your feet. Make sure a home meets enough of your criteria that you can live happily for some time to come. If it is a desirable home or a buyer’s market, it might get snatched up before you act.

If you see flaws that’ll require costly repair, weigh it out carefully before making your offer.

Finally, once you make an offer, try not to get your heart too set on the home until it’s been inspected. That way, if the report comes back reflecting costly repairs, you’ll be able to make a wise decision on whether to proceed or back out. 

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online store, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera, and more at