The house hunt

Real estate and MLS research indicates that, on average, home buyers look at 9 houses before settling on one. Comparison shopping is an essential part of the home buying process. It's important to approach a home objectively.

Keeping records
Once you start looking at houses, it won't be long before they become a blur in your mind. For this reason, it is helpful to keep notes of all the houses you see. You will want to be able to compare features and prices of the various houses you have seen. Include observations about the interior and exterior of each house, including your first impressions. Make sure that you are judging the house itself, and not the furnishings. Take pictures, especially if you have a digital camera.

What to look for

Train yourself to look critically at every house. Rate houses based on your own needs. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the real estate sales professional and the owners. Expect satisfactory, straight-forward answers. If an answer doesn't seem to make sense, that's probably because it doesn't.

The neighborhood
The amount you're willing to pay for a house may be affected by the nature of the community. Is it a designated historic district, and if so, will you be bound by any regulations? Are many homes for sale in the area? If so, why? Are there plans underway to change the zoning regulations? If so, how will this affect the neighborhood? Is it convenient to public transportation, shopping, recreational facilities, and schools?

Real Estate Agent  Did you know?

One-bedroom homes and condos are more difficult sell than two-bedroom homes and condos, when it comes time for you to move.

2-bedroom/1-bath houses generally have less market appeal than 3-bed/2-bath houses, and therefore have less appreciation potential.

Physical details
Start with what is visible from the outside, such as size and age of the house, its structural condition and outside maintenance, the size of the lot, and landscaping. All these are important. Inside, you might want to make a sketch of the floor plan. How many rooms and baths are on each floor? Is there adequate storage space? What appliances are there and will they be included in the sale of the house? Is there central or room air conditioning? If you are seriously considering a particular home, you may want to check to see if there are water stains in the attic, or if the roof leaks.

Construction details
The quality of the building materials and the craftsmanship, as well as the condition of the house, are important considerations — whether the house is new or old. How well insulated is the house? Are the windows energy efficient? Can you "see through the walls?" Is the roof in good condition? Does the house appear to have been well maintained? Your real estate professional may be able to point out obvious "patch jobs" when he or she sees them. You don't want to wait until the home inspection is over to find these things out.

Major systems
Is everything in good working order: the plumbing, heating and cooling, and electrical systems? Some older houses in Pinellas County have "knob and tube" wiring in the walls and ceilings, placed there before the days of circuit breakers: Will the house need to be rewired? What type of fuel, if any, is used for heating? What is the approximate cost per month of the utilities?

The MLS printout provided by a real estate sales professional will include the asking price and may also include the property tax amount. If relevant, the listing may also include how large a second mortgage the seller is willing to "take back." If assuming a low-interest rate mortgage is part of your house buying strategy, the seller's current financing will be an important consideration for you.

Narrowing the field

Plan to spend enough time looking at houses so you have a good idea what the market is like, as a whole. After you've looked at a number of houses, you will begin to get a feel for what's available in various neighborhoods, and determine which areas you prefer. Your real estate professional will know the fair market value of the house and whether the home is appropriately priced.

When you find a house that you like, and it's in your price range, you will still want to proceed carefully and calmly. No matter how perfect the house may seem, you shouldn't make a decision without going back at least once to take a closer, more critical look at it. Visit the neighborhood at different times on different days. Are weekday evenings as quiet as Sunday afternoons? Chat with your prospective neighbors. See what they have to say. But remember, a desirable home will be desirable to others. Make your decision carefully, but quickly.

Local. Experienced.

Advantages of Home Ownership Advantages of Home Ownership Owning your own home can be a first-rate investment for a number of reasons, and there are also some advantages specific to Florida, too.

The Costs of Owning a Home The Costs of Owning a Home Your American Dream can come true with realistic goals, careful planning, and a clear understanding of the costs that will be involved.

Determining Your Price Range Determining Your Price Range How much home can you afford? There are more factors involved than just comparing your paychecks to your expenses.

Prequalifying for a Home Mortgage Prequalifying for a Home Mortgage The first step in the home search is home financing. Getting pre-qualified for a mortgage loan is necessary in today's market.

More Home for Your Money More Home for Your Money There are creative ways to make your money work for you when buying a home, and a little research can go a long way.

Deciding What You Really Want Deciding What You Really Want There are some simple things to consider before you start calling Realtors, and your final choices may surprise you.

Finding <em>Who</em> Finds Your Home Finding Who Finds Your Home Working with one real estate agent who has your confidence is better than stringing along several who question whether you are serious.

What to Look For When Looking What to Look For When Looking Not all homes are created equal. There are ways to assess the quality of a home in the same way appraisers look at homes.

Shopping for a Home Loan Shopping for a Home Loan With so many lenders advertising mortgage rates in Florida, how do you know which ones are good, and which ones are teasers?

Comparing Loan Terms Comparing Loan Terms So how do you know which mortgage offer is the one for you? Hint: take a look at more than just the interest rate.

Applying for the Loan Applying for a Home Loan You have the information the bank wants, but do you know how to present it to them in a way that will get you approved for the mortgage?

Mortgage Loan Processing Mortgage Loan Processing What is happening behind the scenes after you submit your application? A lot. Here's an inside look from the lender's perspective.

If Your Application is Rejected If Your Application is Rejected Getting turned down is not the end of the world, and it doesn't mean you have to give up looking. It just means you need a little help.

Negotiating the Purchase Price Negotiating the Purchase Price How do you negotiate the purchase price when you do find the right house? Hint: it's really more than about the price.

Contingencies in the Offer Contingencies in the Offer You've made the offer on a home, and now it feels like a tug-of-war. How do you move forward, and how do you get out of a bad deal?

Preparing for the Closing Preparing for the Closing What comes next, who does it, and how do you know it's being done in time? Preventing surprises at closing, and protecting your interests.

As Closing Day Approaches As Closing Day Approaches In the final weeks before your closing, there will be the title search, the survey of the property, and your final walk-though inspection.

The Day of Closing The Day of Closing The day of closing is finally here. So what you can expect? Here is an explanation of the documents and the closing costs you may encounter.