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The steps to success in the home-buying journey

One of the most joyous moments in life is the purchase of your own home. If you are not careful, the dream of home ownership can become a nightmare if you don't prepare the right way. While everybody knows that buyers shop based on price range, there are many additional considerations to make when looking for a home. And, most buyers end up refining their criteria once they start touring homes. Ultimately, your home criteria should depend on your lifestyle and needs. Regardless of what you’re looking for, here at American Title Trust would like to suggest some general rules you should follow to make sure you’ll be happy with the home you buy for the foreseeable future.

What are the top features buyers look for in a home?

All of us have different priorities when it comes to buying a home. Below is a quick list of features that the general public according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019.

Neighborhood Wants and Needs

  • Safety: 82% say a neighborhood that feels safe is very or extremely important

  • Walkability: 60% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Preferred neighborhood: 56% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Proximity to shopping, services and/or leisure activities: 53% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Optimal commute to work or school: 52% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Offers a sense of community or belonging: 48% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Close to family and friends: 46% say it’s very or extremely important

  • A preferred school district: 43% say it’s very or extremely important

Home features buyers want

  • Within initial budget: 83% say it’s very or extremely important

  • Air conditioning: 78% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

  • Preferred number of bedrooms: 76% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

  • Preferred number of bathrooms: 67% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

  • Private outdoor space: 67% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

  • Preferred size/square footage: 67% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

  • Floor plan/layout that fits preferences: 67% of buyers say it’s very or extremely important

Search for the right price

The price will ultimately dictate what you can or cannot buy. While looking at homes above your price range can be fun, it’s not a good use of time — and it can lead to heartbreak when you realize it’s not financially feasible. However, 55% of buyers stayed on budget, while 26% will go over their initial budget.

How to set your home buying budget

  • Zillow has an Affordability Calculator: This handy tool gives you an initial budget range based on your income, existing monthly bills, and down payment amount. Once you have that range, you can set up online alerts or ask your real estate agent to keep his/her eye out for homes on the market that fit your price range, along with other criteria.

  • Get pre-approved: Once you’re ready to start your home search, you’ll want to get pre-approved by the lender of your choice. They’ll approve you for a loan up to a specific amount, based on your income, debt and credit history.

  • Forecast your mortgage payment: Ok, now that you have been pre-approved for a large loan from your lender, you should make sure you’re comfortable with your estimated monthly housing payment. You to be sure the taxes, insurance, and HOA fees are accurate — those items can make a big difference in your monthly costs.

Prioritize the location

Besides having the budget for your home purchase, location is one of the most important things to consider when buying a house. A study was done in 2019 which uncovered that 24% of buyers found it difficult or extremely difficult to find a home in their desired location. If you can’t find or afford a home in your ideal neighborhood, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions (and enlist the help of your agent) to find a location that fits your lifestyle, needs, and budget. Remember — your home’s location can’t be changed, so take the time to identify a neighborhood where you’ll be happy live. Proximity to downtown Believe it or not, homes closer to core downtown areas have better resale value, thanks to their shorter commutes. Buyers should expect to pay more per square foot for a home within a 15-minute rush-hour drive to the downtown core. Community attributes If you like being able to walk to restaurants and shops, try walking the distance to town to see if it’s doable. Spend some time exploring the area, checking out nearby parks, and figuring out what kinds of attractions are nearby. If you’re someone who likes a more solitary life and doesn’t mind driving, you might prioritize a home that offers more privacy, perhaps in a location that’s off the beaten path. School district quality If you have kids (or are planning on having kids in the future), you want them to get the best education possible. Checking out the school district ratings is a starting point, but you should visit the local schools to gather your assessment of the education and programs. Even if you don’t have children, the school district that your home is in can impact your future resale value. Flood zone status Homes located in flood zones require additional insurance, and buying a home in a flood-prone area means you need to be prepared if a flood happens.

Think long term

The typical homeowner stays in their home for 14 years before selling. When shopping for a home, don’t just think of your immediate needs. Make sure the home you select will meet your long-term goals, so you won’t have to move again shortly.

Bedrooms and bathrooms If you plan to expand your family shortly, make sure the new home can accommodate your plans, whether it’s an extra room for a new baby, an in-law suite for parents, or a guest bedroom if you’re moving out of state and anticipate lots of visitors. The same goes if you are planning to downsize or you have grown children who will be moving out soon. Outdoor space Most buyers rank outdoor space as important. If you have a dog (or plan to get one), have kids who need a safe place to play, or are an avid gardener, you’ll want to make sure the home’s outdoor space meets your needs. Potential to personalize Many buyers look for a home that’s move-in ready, so they can avoid costly repairs and updates (especially right after moving in). But at the same time, it’s nice to be able to add some personal flair to make a house feel like home. If you’d like to add some of your styles, be sure to steer clear of homes that you won’t be able to change enough to fit your preferences.

Lifestyle amenities Ideally, your new home should enhance your current lifestyle — and you’ve probably already envisioned what your life in a new home will look like. As you evaluate houses, consider your hobbies and what makes you happy. For example, if you love spending time outdoors, you probably want a home with a nice yard. If you love to cook, maybe a nice, big kitchen is on your wish list. And, think about your current living situation: What things do you wish were different? Assess the property condition

TV makes home renovations look easy, but in reality, they’re anything but. If you’re a first-time buyer who has never undergone a renovation, you may want to steer clear of a home in serious disrepair. The costs can add up quickly, and if the home needs structural work, it could delay your move-in, causing unnecessary stress. Here are the three major categories of property condition.

Move-in ready A move-in ready home is new, close to new, or has been recently renovated. Zillow-owned homes are move-in ready homes that have been recently renovated by a licensed contractor and are ready for new owners to start their lives. Minor updates A home that needs minor updates might have cosmetic issues you’d like to change or have some dated mechanical systems that could be updated for energy savings. Learn more about minor cosmetic details below. Major renovation A home that needs major repairs is usually priced lower due to the work that needs to be done. One upside to a major renovation is the opportunity to personalize the home to your tastes. Keep in mind that the return on investment for a major renovation isn’t 100%, and you risk a delayed move-in if the repairs are more extensive than anticipated.

Check the condition of costly systems No matter the condition of the home you’re buying, make sure your inspector checks to make sure major systems and mechanicals in the home are functioning properly. If issues are uncovered, you’ll want to ask the seller to either repair them before closing or offer credit so you can fix them yourself. Look out for the following costly issues: > Damaged roof > Older furnace or HVAC system > Flooding, water damage or mold > Old insulation > Plumbing issues > Exterior cracks > Uneven floors

Don’t focus on minor cosmetic details

No house is perfect, so try not to get hung up on little imperfections. For example, don’t eliminate a home from your list just because you don’t like the interior paint color. Cosmetic changes are fairly easy and affordable to make. Don’t let the following minor issues keep you from buying a house you would otherwise love: Paint * Hardware * Furnishings * Landscaping When you attend showings and open houses, or even when you’re just browsing through pictures online, it’s easy to get distracted by clutter. Try not to pay too much attention to the seller’s stuff — it’ll all be removed by the time you move in. Put in the effort to picture the house as a blank canvas for all of your belongings.

Stick with your must-haves

There’s a big difference between wants and needs, so create two different lists when searching for a home. For instance, a shorter commute may be a must-have, but smart home features are a nice-to-have. Practicality and functionality should always take priority over the bells and whistles.

Things to consider when buying a house: needs vs. wants For example, your list of needs might look like this: Need: shorter commute Need: a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms Need: parking

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