The earliest part of my home buying journey began last winter when I started what I affectionately call, “Open Housing.” Basically, I would get on Trulia on Sunday morning and see what houses were available to visit between 2-4. I would choose my targets based on the following criteria:
- When I started, I had no idea what my budget would be. In reality, I had no budget to spend. I wasn’t going to see houses listed at $500,000, but if I saw one in the $150,000 – $250,000 price range that spoke to me, then I would stop by. This helped me figure out what style and features I liked/disliked in a home.
- My next criteria was location. I’m fairly new to my city so it was important to me to explore different neighborhoods. I learned about a few areas from driving around looking for Open Houses, and now these are the areas I’m most interested in. I paid close attention to how I felt getting out of the car.
- If the pictures weren’t flattering, or if I had questions, I would go see it. If the pictures made it look too good to be true, I would go see it. Again, learning about neighborhoods, likes, and dislikes are so important in your house hunt.
Then, I would plan my route. Often along the way, I would spot signs for Open Houses I hadn’t even seen online and I’d just stop by. That’s how I accidentally ended up in the $154,000 house where the realtor tried to talk me into converting the basement to an apartment.
Here are some important things I learned while “Open Housing”:
- I can visualize myself living in a townhome because I’ve always lived in townhomes. But, I don’t want to live in a townhome because I want a yard and I’m over hearing my neighbors and I want a driveway.
- The neighborhood vibe is a big deal. My city is like swiss cheese in the sense that there’s no right or wrong side of the tracks but rather pockets of good and bad neighborhoods. In one neighborhood, I was drawn to the little 1930s bungalows that all seemed to be for sale, and its location to my job. When I did a few drive throughs, I got a weird vibe from the neighborhood. When I went to the open house, I loved the interior of the house but realized I didn’t love the neighborhood. Which is probably why a lot of the houses were for sale for less than $70,000.
- Pay attention to how you vibe with the realtor. The one that tried to get me to buy the house with a rentable basement was super pushy. She basically followed me out of the door even after I said the price was way out of my price range. Another one I vibed with pretty well, but I didn’t think that she would be realistic with me since she listened too much to my dreams and not my reality. I wanted to find one that would be real with me, and I did. I knew she would be my realtor when she asked my honest opinion about a patio space and I said it was too small and the fence makes it feel cramped, and she said she had told the owners that but they didn’t listen.
- Open Houses give you a good idea of what you can get for your money. After visiting these houses for months, I had a realistic idea of what I would be able to afford, and I started to modify my “must-see” list accordingly.
- I learned how to speak my mind and answer questions. Buying a home is, to me, the most important purchase of my life. I ask a lot of questions because I want to know what I’m getting myself into. Having to explain to realtors that I’m just looking, and no I don’t have a realtor, and no I haven’t talked to a lender, and yes its nice but its out of my price range, and no I don’t want to give you my number or email address, taught me to stand up for myself. So now I say what I’m thinking. I don’t want to feel like I was pushed into this big purchase.
So, if you have time to spare on a Sunday, visit some houses. No one is going to make you put an offer in on anything. You’ll learn about yourself, but also what you want in a property. It will help you when you’re in a position to buy, and you’ll know that the house you’re looking at is The One because while those other houses you looked at were nice, they just didn’t do anything for you.