I strongly recommend that anyone considering a home purchase contact a buyer’s agent early in the home search process to help them clarify goals, formulate a plan, access competent professional resources (i.e. lenders, inspectors, settlement companies, & contractors), and to gain access to the most accurate information available about the marketplace (if you’re using Zestimates from Zillow you’re looking for trouble!).
An exceptional buyer’s agent should not only be an unwavering advocate with a fiduciary responsibility to you, but he or she should also be an effective foil in your home search process. A Watson to your Holmes. A Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote. That being said, I have clients that come to me all the time who have been “casually” popping into open houses for months (or years!) before they feel they are ready to engage an agent.
With smart phones and real estate apps galore it is easier than ever to check out what is on the market in your desired neighborhood. With this reality in mind, the following are a few factors to consider that I believe will help you view properties with a more critical eye when you feel like being a weekend real estate warrior. Hopefully, my awesome/awful aptitude for alliteration and poetry will make these memorable! Just remember, these tips are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to doing your due diligence. Consulting a buyer’s agent is the smartest advice I can give you!
1. Ignore the Decor
One of the biggest issues that prospective home buyers have is being entranced or repulsed by a home solely based on the way it is furnished and decorated. Upon entering a home, we often have an instantaneous reaction to the environment that we have just walked into. In my opinion, the key to being a discerning buyer is the ability to acknowledge our initial reaction but still have the ability to dig deeper in order to understand what we are really reacting to.
Ask yourself, “Does the property make me smile because it is exquisitely furnished, filled with great art, or painted in my favorite color?” If the answer is “yes”, try to envision the space empty or with your furniture. Does that change the way you see the space? Remember, the opposite can also true. Clients often discount properties due to strictly cosmetic issues that are fairly inexpensive to change. Having the “vision” to look beyond what you see to what a space could become may be the key to spotting a diamond in the rough.
2. Focus on the Flow
Are the rooms configured in a way that would meet your needs? Does the floor plan make sense? Is space wasted or well used? Are there walls that you can remove to reconfigure the space to better meet your needs? Think about what matters to you.
Whether it is cooking or entertaining guests, being able to keep an eye on little kids or watching the big game, it is important to ask yourself if the layout of the house would help or hinder those activities. While I have yet to see a house that can do everything, it is important to know what trade-offs you are willing to make and what the property’s “capacity” is to accommodate the way you envision your lifestyle being.
3. Look for Light
Does the house get good natural light or does it feel dark? Realtors often turn on every light in the house to add as much light as possible so it is important to separate natural light from artificial light. Understanding the orientation of the house (i.e. which sides of the property face N, S, E, & W) will also help you picture which rooms will get more or less light during different times of the day.
Most open houses are from 1pm-4pm so do not forget to consider what the property will look like in the morning light. While everyone has a different sensitivity or need for light (my sister lives in Portland, Oregon and doesn’t mind not seeing the sun for a month at a time…I would go crazy!), a general rule is more light is always better than less.
4. Don’t be Shy! (Okay, this one doesn’t have a snappy title)
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Admittedly, it can be awkward to walk through someone else’s house with their family photos on the wall and their clothes in the closets, but don’t let that stop you from getting the information that you need about the house in question. This is another area where a buyer’s agent can be very helpful. Knowing the right questions to ask, how to ask them, and being able to verify the authenticity of the answers (remember…trust, but verify!) is an important part of our role.
Finally, neighbors are often the best source for getting the real scoop on a neighborhood or building. While I wouldn’t recommend knocking on everyone’s door and interrogating them, if you see a neighbor in the yard, walking their dog, in the elevator, or in a common area I have found that the vast majority of neighbors are more than happy to talk about the positive and negative aspects of where they live. No realtor will know a building or a neighborhood as well as someone who has lived there. Don’t be afraid to get the inside scoop.
David Abrams, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. He received his M.B.A. from Emory University in 2009 and currently works as a realtor specializing in DC’s emerging neighborhoods with The Koitz Group (www.koitzgroup.com) at Keller Williams Capital Properties. David is licensed in DC, MD, & VA. You can also check out his blog at www.thecapitalline.blogspot.com for more info on DC real estate.