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Step 2: Finding an Affordable Property

Once you've determined your price range, it's time to start looking at houses. But where should you look, what can you expect to find? While no property will have everything you want, the home you purchase should meet as many of your expectations as possible.

Where to begin

Do you have ideas about what you want in your new home? Get that list on paper. Consider the home's interior (number of bedrooms or bathrooms, type of kitchen), amenities (yard, extra playroom, storage space) and size, as well as location and lifestyle, commuting distance and community, schools and services. Whatever you put on the list should be a reflection of you.

Take the time to review and update your list throughout the entire homebuying process. The more items on your list that your new home has, the happier you'll be when you're living in it.

What are my options?

Before you can find the right house, you need to decide what type of home you want. There are a number of housing types to choose from, including

  • Single-Family
  • Condominium
  • Multifamily
  • Fixer-Upper

The pros and cons of different housing types.

Location, Location, Location

Location is often considered the critical factor in deciding on a home that works for you. Here are some things to consider when choosing a location:

  • How far are you willing to commute to work?
  • How accessible is the home to highways or public transportation?
  • How close are shopping, churches, day care facilities and recreation areas?
  • What is the quality of the public schools?

Again, prioritize the attributes that are most important to you. Would you trade a larger yard for highway access, public transportation for shopping and restaurants, a shorter commute for better public schools? With your list in hand, you'll be better equipped to find towns that suit your desired lifestyle.

Finding the Right Home

There are two options for finding the right home – doing it yourself or working with a Realtor. Conducting the search yourself is certainly manageable, but a fair bit of organization is required. First identify towns that fit your needs, and then seek out homes in those towns. Arrange appointments to view homes for sale, or find open houses you can attend.

There are a number of resources that will help you find the right house for you:

  • Online listings
  • Newspapers
  • Searching for For Sale signs in target areas
  • Bulletin boards at work, or in and around target communities
  • Talking to friends, acquaintances, co-workers

Real estate agents have in-depth knowledge about a number of communities, and can more easily identify homes that fit your needs by using a computerized system called the Multiple Listing Service. They are often aware of properties before they come on the market.

Brokers are typically paid a percentage of the sale price of the home by the seller. Remember that some agents work for home sellers, and others (called buyer's brokers) work for homebuyers. If you do elect to work with a buyer's broker, be sure you understand the terms of the relationship, how the broker is to be paid and by whom.

Open House Advice

Attending open houses is serious business. It's not just a matter of being physically tired: after a while, the houses start to look the same. Therefore, keep in mind the following:

  • Bring a notepad and map so you can mark each home's location and note its special features
  • Pick up a listing sheet whenever one is available. After a day of open houses, you may find that a home has more appeal than you initially thought
  • Pace yourself. Visit too many homes without a break and you'll start missing details
  • If you are going to look at a lot of houses, take big breaks. See three homes in the morning, then stop and have lunch. See three more, then stop and do something else. See three more in the evening and call it a day
  • Bring a camera and snap pictures of the houses that appeal to you. Grab photocopied pictures if they are available
  • Make a rough sketch of the floor plans of the homes you are considering
  • Remember, there are no foolish questions. Ask away!

You want to know everything you can about each property. Often, one question about pipes, heating or cooling systems, taxes, or recent repairs will lead to other questions. You may find areas of concern about a specific property that looked trouble-free. It's far better to know about a home's problems before you buy than it is to discover them once you own the property.