Knowing what you want is key to finding a house A BUYER'S GUIDE

March 19, 1995|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Special to The Sun

Finding the best house with the least amount of frustration requires buyers to shop wisely -- long before they tour the first property for sale.

* Know your priorities.

Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis, authors of "All America's Real Estate Book" (Viking, 1985), suggest everyone in the family write down what they want in a house: double garage, close to shopping, fireplace, woods nearby.

Include also what isn't desirable: a busy street, sloping lot, high payments that prevent you from taking vacations. Give the list to your agent.

If you don't yet know what you want, tour a few open houses, including builders' models, to get a feel for what is on the market. You can shop by phone or on-line with the help of interactive services advertised in the real estate section of the newspaper. Check out classified ads, too.

Get a large map of areas you like and write on it the advertised prices of homes. You'll soon begin to see trends in home prices.

Know also what kind of mortgage you want.

"You should understand financing ahead of time, and understand whether you want a fixed rate mortgage or an ARM," an adjustable rate mortgage, said Terry Williams, an associate broker with RE/MAX Results Realty in Perry Hall.

It pays to find out what options you have so you'll know the lingo when agents and lenders start talking about conventionals, balloons, caps and P&Is.

It also behooves buyers to keep tabs on interest rates. Little rate changes can make big differences in your monthly mortgage payment, depending on the financing you choose. Buyers who have been following the tracks interest rates are taking, and where pundits predict they are likely to go, can make more informed decisions when they select mortgages.

* Know what you can afford.

You may get prequalified for a mortgage loan through a lender before you begin house hunting. Some agents think that's a waste of time.

"In my opinion, that's the agent's job," Mr. Williams said. A good agent can determine what price range is practical for you. And if you've told them what your priorities are, they should be able to guide you to what you feel comfortable buying, not just what you can afford.

* Research communities, neighborhoods and lots.

If you've been honest with your agent about what you want, the agent should be able to go through multiple listings and select properties for you to consider. Each listing notes the property size, address, features, asking price and special financing arrangements if there are any. Also ask the agent to give you sales prices of comparable homes so you can see what is realistically priced.

You can review the listings right from the agent's office and highlight the ones that are worth a look. You may also find a house just by cruising a neighborhood where you'd like to live. Jot down addresses of interesting houses, for sale or not.

When you are ready to begin looking at houses in earnest, let your agent do the work. Have them map out a few properties in one area to visit at a time. Have them drive so you can ask questions as they occur to you, make observations and notes.

Look at how well the houses and streets in the community are maintained. Consider how well you'll be able to get where you need to go daily, in good and bad weather.

Mark price ranges on your map. When you find a house for sale by owner, compare their asking price with the other prices you've already noted on the map. That should tell you whether the house is priced right for the area.

When you find a place you like, note what you like, and go on with the rest of your tours. Authors Janik and Rejnis caution against making an offer on a house after just one visit.

"Our first impressions are often influenced by what we want to see as much as by what we actually see," they write.

Plan to go back another day. This time spend a long time considering the area and the property from every angle.

Ask the agent to find out about property tax rates, association fees and bylaws, accessibility and quality of services in the community. If they don't know, find another agent.

Visit the neighborhood at different times of day and different days of the week to find out how traffic and noise patterns change.

If it's a new house, find out about the builder. Ask other homebuyers in the community for references. If it is an older house, ask neighbors with similar homes about their experiences. Find out who the builder is.

Walk the property to find out how level the ground is and how tTC well drained the soil is. Check out the view, where hot sun falls in the summer and which parts of the house never see sunshine in winter.

Consider traffic patterns in the house. How easy would it be to carry groceries from the driveway or front door to the kitchen? How many rooms would dirty family members have to pass through to get from the outside to a washroom?

Even if the house passes muster on all your priority points and the agent thinks it's a great match for you, use gut feel for the final analysis.

If you can see yourself waking up happy in this house day after day, you may be ready to make an offer for it.

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