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How to Shop for a Home

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Home buying ranks as the biggest purchase most people make, not just measured by dollars, but by decisions.

When buyers reach the closing table, it’s the culmination of many carefully weighed choices to select the home that best suits their wants and needs.

Or at least, that’s how it should be.

It’s not easy to be sure-footed through every step, especially for first-time buyers. But experts can provide guidance on navigating the twisting path, ending at the right new home for you:

VISITING A LENDER

This is not the fun part. Most real estate agents insist buyers get “pre-qualified”

– meaning lenders estimate the amount of mortgage a buyer is eligible for – before visiting properties.

“There is no sense in looking … if you haven’t validated what price range you should be shopping in,” explains Cara Ameer, a broker-associate with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Even a preliminary discussion of how much your down payment will be, your credit and debt picture and other financing factors involves a host of decisions. (The Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin, suggest learning more at sites like www.consumerfinance.gov and www.neighborworks.org/homes-finances.)

RANKING PRIORITIES

What do really want in a home? Probably lots, like being in a great school district, having a shorter commute to work, or huge closets.

Wish lists differ, with some putting a priority on items others don’t even rank, such as the quality of cell phone service in a condo, notes Jim D’Amico, owner of Century 21 North Shore in Boston.

Analyze your priorities carefully, advises Dr. Seung Hwan Lee, a professor at Colorado State University who has studied buyer’s remorse. If an item you’re ranking highly, for instance, is dependent on other future event, it could be a mistake to choose primarily on that priority. Lee illustrates: “If you buy a home that’s smaller than you want but choose it because of the school district, and then decide to send your son to a private school, you could regret [your choice].”

LOOKING, SCRUTINIZING

In the its 2014 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, the National Association of Realtors noted that 43 percent of buyers said they first looked at properties online, a share that’s been steadily increasing.

When browsing online, buyers typically view a shot of the front exterior first, says Michael Seiler, a professor of real estate and finance at The College of William and Mary. “Only if they like it will they read the property description,” he adds.

But the photos can be misleading, warns Seiler. “Many times the pictures were taken years ago … Don’t fall in love with a home on the Internet. There’s no substitution for a personal visit.”

“Buyers should look at all homes that match their search criteria,” advises Kat Becker of RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Antioch, Illinois.

When you’re interested, go back at different times of the day, and on a weekend and weekday, advises Ameer. Then leave no door or drawer unturned, checking space in closets and cabinets. Then walk both the inside and outside, noting conditions down to any scuffs on moldings.

KNOWING ‘THE ONE’

It will be a mix of practical reasons and intangible, emotional factors that come together on a particular property, giving you the sense that a particular property is right for you, says Lee.

Beware, though, that sometimes the most “practical” choice is not the best in the long term, warns Ran Kivetz, a Columbia University professor who has studied consumer satisfaction.

While he doesn’t advocate over-spending, Kivetz says that some consumers shy away from appealing features – in a home, that could be anything from more square footage to a lavish landscaping – because they feel guilty about the indulgence.

Checking with a financial adviser on the expenditure might provide a clearer view of what’s practical and most appealing, Kivetz concludes.

© CTW Features

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