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At Home with Valerie: Dating vs. Home Buying

After what seemed like an endless search, you met the one. It’s most definitely love. Your heart goes pitter-patter when you’re nearby. You’re ready to stop the hunt and make a big commitment. Although you don’t admit it to many people since it’s still early, you’ve been daydreaming about your future together. Celebrating milestones. Starting a family. Growing old together. Sure, there are flaws, but they’re overshadowed by all the amazing qualities and the way you feel when you’re with each other.

But is it reciprocal? It’s almost too perfect and you’d be utterly devastated if this one doesn’t work out. So, what do you do?

Leave it to your real estate agent.

Buying a home is just like dating.

Thinking short term vs long term: Buying a home is a long-term commitment. Relationships can be, too. Are you ready to move on from your former apartment… or ex? If you’re not sure you can stay in one place for the next five or more years, you’re probably better off renting.

It’s a numbers game: Be patient. Most people don’t buy the first house they see, or marry the first person they date. According to the National Association of Realtors®, home buyers typically look at 10 homes before purchasing. With that comes the same heartbreak of the dating world, like when you submit an offer and get rejected or someone else (maybe someone with more money) swoops in. You may go on 1,000 dates before you find your match, but you learn and grow from each one and you never settle until you find your perfect partner.

First impressions matter, but don’t be superficial: We’ve all gone on an online date with someone who looks nothing like his or her photos. I once had to leave the table to double check a JDate profile to make sure there wasn’t a mix-up. Well, the same thing can be true with real estate. Staging and camera angles can make a home look much better online than in person, and there can be a lot more shingles on the roof if the picture was taken five years ago. However, this person or home may possess all of the other qualities you’re looking for, so don’t get too caught up with appearances.

Everything changes when you meet face to face: Tinder, Jswipe, Bumble, Match.com, eHarmony. Zillow, Realtor.com, Padmapper, HotPads. You can swipe through single men and women as well as single family homes all from the comfort of your couch. The internet is an incredible tool that can bring a world of options narrowed down to your exact specifications with the click of a button. But, just like you wouldn’t begin a relationship with someone without meeting in person, you shouldn’t fall in love with a home sight unseen. Once you’ve narrowed down the pool, get off the internet and go in person! It’s the best way to see if you’ve found your true match.

Talk to your friends: Friends are invaluable while you’re dating. They’re your wingmen, your confidants, and your shoulder to cry on. Think of your real estate agent as your trusted friend during the home-buying process. Real estate agents will get to know you, set you up with prospects that match, listen to you, and be there for you through the highs and lows of the experience.

Some people like fixer-uppers, but there’s only so much you can change: You can make small fixes to both a home and a significant other relatively easily. A coat of paint here. A new sweater there. New blinds here. A stern lecture there. If you put in enough time and effort, you may even be able to tear down walls, both metaphorically in relationships, and literally in home remodeling. However, if you find an issue in the foundation, it’s best to walk away before getting too emotionally invested.

Perfection doesn’t exist: Everyone has a list of qualities they desire in a partner, as well as in a home. Some are non-negotiable, like being okay with dogs. Some should be negotiable, like being walkable to work. These qualities may take a gentle nudge from a friend or real estate agent: Maybe you should actually consider crossing the Potomac at some point, for a date or a dream house.

It’s a never-ending project: Both relationships and homes require upkeep throughout the years. Both can be improved every day, every month, and every year. You’ll no doubt face unexpected challenges, but will also find stability, joy, and fulfillment with many wonderful memories together.

P.S. I know this might seem like a LOT to remember. That’s why I’ve created this handy-dandy infographic that you can take with you on your next first, second, or third date with your potential home-to-be. Good luck on your home “dating” journey ahead!

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About the Author: Valerie Hillman Bluestein is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you. She is a Washington, D.C. native, and knows the area inside and out. She was born in Georgetown, grew up in Bethesda, received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, and currently resides in Dupont Circle. Valerie spent a decade marketing and event planning for communities in the metropolitan area, before translating those skills into real estate. As a realtor, Valerie makes the home buying process as smooth as possible through her attention to detail, perseverance and ability to communicate efficiently. She also has a passion and eye for design, which helps her clients envision the greatest aesthetic potential for their homes.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

How to View an Open House Like A Realtor

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!

Sherlock Holmes

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.

Ignore the Decor 1Ignore the Decor 2

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.

Focus on the flow

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.

Look for light

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.