Don’t kid yourself, finding and securing a home is hard work. This will easily be one of the most important investments in your life – you’d better do your homework. Soon you’ll be writing a check for 5% of the purchase price and that’s no laughing matter. In addition to searching onlne listings of properties for sale, you’re going to need to become proficient at stalking your new house.
I’m not suggesting you go it alone. A good buyer’s agent is invaluable – however, we are not all created equal. Skill and work ethic vary wildly in my industry. Find someone you can trust and look to for solid information. It’s likely that your agent isn’t always going to be with you, especially if your search spans a long period of time. You’ll need to get good at stalking houses, and then bringing your agent in for a second opinion. If you’re being thorough, or if your search spans a handful of neighborhoods, you’ll easily be viewing 50+ homes. Even if a good buyer’s agent only has 3-5 clients, there’s no way they could view that many homes in a reasonable amount of time. This market is moving way too fast.
So, here are 9 tips to stalking a great new home:
- The Stakeout – assuming there’s an open house, arrive wicked early, park down the street and observe. Watch the activity on the street and around the house. You’d be amazed at the insights you can get from just observing. Watch the attendees come and go. Are they lingering outside whispering with their agent? Are there a lot of agents coming and going? Stay after and see if people are doing 2nd or 3rd drive bys. How fast are attendees viewing the property? Are a lot of people coming to look, but leaving quickly? Size up the competition!
- Act casual – don’t feed the buzz. Put on your poker face. Be nonchalant. Don’t walk around cooing and saying how much you like this and that aspect of the house. Don’t measure the space to see if your couch will fit. Don’t say to your partner that your art will look good there. Talk about the house quietly or after your visit in private.
- Don’t talk smack – the opposite is true as well. Don’t try and devalue the home by pointing out weaknesses. The agent won’t appreciate this – certainly not in front of other potential buyers. Don’t forget you will need this agent to cooperate with your agent. A huge part of real estate is intuition and instinct. If an agent thinks you’re a jerk – you’re dead in the water.
- Don’t peek in the windows – don’t get too close to a house unless you have an appointment or there is an open house. It’s creepy and rude. Just because the house is on the market, doesn’t mean the occupants forfeit privacy.
- Don’t ask the agent, “why is the seller selling?” Real estate agents hate this. It has little relevance in regard to the market value of property. If you find out this kind of info due to reasonable sleuthing (public records) that’s fine, but many agents will be annoyed by this.
- Talk to the neighbors – take a nice walk in the neighborhood. If you see neighbors out in the yard, introduce yourself. If they are pleasant, you should feel free to ask about the neighborhood. I wouldn’t recommend asking about the subject property or the seller themselves (talkative neighbors may give you more information than you bargained for) but it’s totally reasonable to inquire about a neighborhood before you invest there. Ask them what they like and dislike about living there. Ask if there’s a neighborhood association or a crime watch.
- Be a detective – hit the bricks and do your homework. Go in person to the local inspection services department and pull the “jacket” or file on the property. Have building permits been pulled? Has the homeowner been doing their own work? Any violations? Run the address through the state lead database. Call the police department and ask if there has been any crime on that street or at that address. Most registries or town halls have records on the property. Has there been foreclosure proceedings? Are the taxes paid?
- Drive the neighborhood – check adjacent streets and the wider neighborhood. You’d be surprised how many people buy a house without exploring the larger neighborhood. Py special attention to traffic patterns, feeder streets, cut throughs, schools, problem properties, etc.
- Measure the distances to the amenities you use the most. How far is it to the grocery store? Go inside! What if they don’t have the items you like? The hardware store? Do you have a dog? How far is the nearest green space? Police and fire stations? You can actually create your own “convenience score” that you apply to properties in your search.