Picking out a new house can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. How do you choose the best location? What if the house has problems you can’t afford to fix? What’s the tiebreaker if you love two places equally?
The first and only way to begin the decision-making process is to grab your calculator. A dream home becomes a nightmare the moment you can’t afford it. “As you calculate, look beyond the listing price,” says Steve Jones, associate broker of Crawford Olson Real Estate in McCall, Idaho. Here’s why: A house with a vaulted ceiling costs more to heat than one with a low ceiling. And a house with a pool means paying to maintain it. All these extra factors can add up.
Another less-tangible way to decide if a home is right for you is to trust your intuition, says Pat Trainor, a realtor with Coldwell Banker High Country Realty in Blue Ridge, Georgia. “I believe that most buyers form an impression in the first few seconds after they walk into a house,” he says. Even as a seasoned agent, he says he formulates an impression almost immediately. “Is this a happy house? Or does it depress me? Notice how you respond—and trust your reactions,” Trainor adds.
Trainor says he’s noticed that when a house is a good fit for a buyer, the couple or family will begin to talk about where they’d place their furniture. “When a client is doing this, he or she is mentally moving into the home,” says Trainor. The upshot? If you’re viewing a house and find yourself imagining your sofa near the window and your green chair near the fireplace, pay attention. Chances are, the house is a nice match for you.
That said, there’s no such thing as a crystal ball when it comes to house hunting. And wondering whether the house will be too small if you get a dog—or too big when the kids leave for college—is inevitable. But Cindy Jones, also of Crawford Olson Real Estate, says that while it’s important to envision a home’s role over time, making a decision with too many variables in mind can work against you. “Buy the house for the way you are living today,” she says. Then adapt as you go. Another tip? Decide based on how you live, not where you’ll live. A house that offers dramatic mountain views and enormous windows onto a pond can seem like a wonderful place to call home. But if you’re rarely home during the day, the views aren’t going to be visible most of the time. Focus on features that will please you indoors. This advice is particularly applicable to high-traffic parts of the house, such as the kitchen. A sleek, minimalist European stainless steel breakfast bar may set your heart on fire, but if you’ve got busy toddlers, a practical kitchen with lots of room and sturdy smudge-resistant cabinetry may be a better match.
When you finally do make a decision, should you make an offer right away? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. “I usually advise sleeping on it overnight,” says Trainor. The exception can be when a market is especially active. “This is a real gut check time. Would you be broken-hearted if you lost this house to another buyer? If the answer is yes, make an offer. Seldom will you go wrong if you follow your heart.”