It’s the middle of summer, the mercury’s rising and you’re under a lot of stress because you’ve absolutely positively got to find a house before it’s too late to get a closing date before school starts again. You’re not alone, home hunting isn’t an easy job, and as the still, stagnant heat of the summer sets in, it can begin to feel like you’re never going to find a house that’ll work for your family. Before we get started on how to do this, I want to whisper a word of caution in your ear. The summer market is the hottest of the year, no matter where you live, no matter what the economy’s like, no matter what the real estate market’s doing. You’ll pay more, you’ll sacrifice more and you’ll lose more opportunities than you can possibly imagine right now. Don’t go wading into this market expecting to walk away with a deal — there are certainly deals out there, but you’ve got to be fast and lucky to find them. Expect instead to find a home.
Tips for Buying a House in the Summer Market
With the proper mindset in tow, you’ll hit your mark, but if you want the moon, the summer market will disappoint you every, single time. There are more houses than ever to choose between, but there are also more buyers to compete against. So be realistic, be prepared and jump when it feels right — hesitate and you’ll be lost forever in the stillness of the sea. Whatever you do, don’t give up, because that’s not helping — try these tips carefully combed from my many years of selling houses in the heat and humidity of many Ozarks summers.
Adjust Your Price Range. You’re probably looking in a pretty narrow band of prices, within maybe 10 or 20 percent of your loan approval. Have you considered looking at homes in a lower price range? I know, it sounds crazy, but sometimes there are some great catches that just need to have the ugly peeled out of them to be super fantastic homes. Or, maybe there’s an older gem in there that you hadn’t even considered. Pick through the houses in the next price bracket down and see if anything tickles your fancy.
In that same vein, look up — see what’s priced above your price range (but only just). Owners of houses that have been on the market for a while (your Realtor will have to tell you what’s an excessive amount of time in your area) may be willing to entertain lower offers or be willing to pay closing costs so you can bring a bigger down payment to closing. Don’t get married to that price range, but give it a glance because you never know.
Reevaluate Your Must Have List. Do you really need an in-ground pool or a four car garage? Take another look at your must have list and figure out what compromises you’re prepared to make. Maybe you don’t need a pool so badly if the neighborhood has a pool available, for example. Sometimes a long list of wants eliminates really good houses from the running, even those that would have been just fine if you had stopped to consider other options that would have worked for your lifestyle. Other times, you realize that those wants aren’t really that big of a deal after all.
I wanted a fireplace so badly when we were house hunting last spring. Fireplace. Fireplace. Fireplace. That’s all I could think. Nice kitchen, fireplace, wood floors. We looked at a lot of houses with fireplaces and wood floors, but the kitchens were the size of postage stamps. We ended up in this place, without a fireplace, but with a neat kitchen open to the living room, wood floors and tile everywhere. It was perfect, but if I had been married to that stupid fireplace, I’d never have known.
Revisit Some Houses You Rejected. When you’re going back through the houses in your list of “nos” and there are a few you can’t really remember why you kicked them off the list, it might be worth taking another look. This goes double for those houses you saw in the early part of your home search. Not only will you have more experienced eyes to see them with, these homes are primed and ready for a discount if you’ve been searching for long.
It’s funny how a second look after you’ve gotten a better sense of what the housing market is really like (versus what your idea of what the housing market should be like) can give you a new perspective on a home you weren’t really sure about the first time. In fact, you might discover that the house you rejected the first go was the one you’ve been looking for all along. Or, you might realize that with just a little paint and some new carpets, it could be the house of your dreams.
Change Your Neighborhood. According to the US Census Bureau, the average commute time is just 25.4 minutes, so adding just 10 minutes to your commute won’t be a huge deal breaker, but it can make a world of difference to the quality of houses in your price range. Everybody wants to be close to work, that’s sort of a universal truth, I think, but not everybody can afford to pay for the pleasure. If you’re looking for more house for less money, going just a little bit further out may make a huge difference to your housing outlook. I know you wanted to be able to pop home for lunch, but maybe you can negotiate a deal at work so you can telecommute instead.
The other big problem I’ve seen a lot of is when people get married to neighborhoods. Certain neighborhoods are really hot right now, but the thing is that they’re not always the best places to live. Sure, that historic neighborhood with the tidy little homes with perfectly manicured lawns looks idyllic, but are you really going to keep your lawn perfectly manicured? And do you have any idea what your neighbors will do if you don’t? Just because a neighborhood is popular doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Choose a neighborhood that’s comfortably in your price range, one that feels safe and secure and one that has stable home values. It’s your home, it’s not a popularity contest.
The Bottom Line: The Winds of Change Are Just Around the Corner
I know the market seems impossible to crack right now, I do. But I promise that if you try these things I’ve mentioned above, things like changing your neighborhood expectations, or revisiting homes you weren’t so sure about the first time, you’ll find a hidden gem. Sometimes, the home of our dreams is just around the corner, even if that corner is in a place we didn’t really think to look. My new home is a serious case in point.
I had my heart set on returning to my old neighborhood, a place called Woodland Heights. Charming area, filled with homes that dated back to the turn of the 20th century. Lots of character, a very active neighborhood association, a neighborhood park and building where meetings were held, close to a commercial center, lots of very neat stuff going on. I wanted to be there so badly that I almost missed a very lovely neighborhood called Doling that was built in the 1950s, absolutely smothered in trees and had a huge park, as well as a gym and recreational facility available. The commercial area nearby wasn’t as great, but it’s going through redevelopment.
I had no idea how much I’d love Doling, or how much people who live here love it and because of that rarely put their homes up for sale. It’s a little gem that even as a Realtor I knew almost nothing about. It just wasn’t on my radar at all. The only reason we even looked at this house was because it was close to the home of one of my husband’s friends. So, let me tell you, from both a personal and professional experience, there’s value to being open to what’s possible.
Take a chance, look in some of these homes you wrote off, take a drive through some of these neighborhoods you’ve never considered. You may find that they feel more like home than any place you’ve ever seen. That’s when you know you found the right one.
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