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Buying & Selling a Home

Starting Your Home Search

A home's price shouldn't be the only factor in your search. Also consider the location and quality of the property.

Buying a piece of real estate is different than buying a home. The former requires getting the legal and financial parts right, while the latter means finding a property that you'll be happy living in. Here are some tips to help ensure that your next house is a place you'll want to stay for years to come:

Take Our Quiz: How Smart of a Home Buyer Are You?

It can't be overstated: Focus on the location and general quality of the property. Don't go chasing an exact price or a particular feature, be it a deck, a high-efficiency furnace or a finished basement. Price can be worked out in negotiation with the seller (given the right general ballpark), and a good-quality home in a good location can be tailored to your specific needs later.

Start by making a list of your needs and wants. List your dislikes, too.

This will help you zero in on a neighborhood and, together with your price range, will help your agent narrow the field of prospective properties.


If you can't afford what you want where you want it, sacrifice something inside the house rather than sacrificing the location. You can add a second bathroom or install hardwood floors to bring a house up to your standards, but you can't improve the neighborhood single-handedly.

Most buyers begin their shopping online. That's a useful and gas-saving way to familiarize yourself with your market. But remember, photographs and virtual tours can overstate a property's good points and understate its deficiencies. You might also unwittingly dismiss some really great prospects. To get real-world input review, review any listings of interest with your real estate agent.

It's smart to start looking at homes near the bottom of your price range so that you'll have room to bid higher. Also, if you start high and decide you can't or won't want to spend that much, you may end up disappointed because nothing at the lower end is appealing.

Touring the House

Make several visits to any house you're seriously considering. If things are so frenzied that you're likely to lose out if you follow that route, get the most out of every minute you're in the house. Consider yourself a reporter and detective, there to gather as much information as possible about the house and the sellers. Don't forget to take a notepad, tape measure, camera and even binoculars.


At most open houses you will find an information sheet about the house. The most complete ones spell out such things as square footage of lot and house, room sizes, property taxes, average monthly utility bills, and the ages of appliances and major mechanical systems, as well as the number of bedrooms and baths, and other basic data.

Sellers and their agents also are required by law to warn buyers of "material" defects in a property that would not be apparent during a routine inspection.

See Also: Home Buyer's Survival Kit

If, at first glance, this looks like a house you'll want to pursue, sketch out floor plans and take pictures on your first visit; they'll help you envision the house hours or days later. Also, take note of special features. If you're looking at several homes, these will help you remember which was which.

Cast a critical eye. You have to see beyong the owners' posessions or professional "staging" -- window-dressing used to make a house look most enticing. If the floor plan doesn't suit you, can you rearrange space or add on?


You'll want a professional inspection made later if you decide to buy, but you can make some tentative judgments on your own. Check for:

Poor water pressure. For example, turn water on in a bathroom sink and check for weak flow. Replacing corroding plumbing can be costly.

Ceiling stains that indicate something's leaking.

Overloaded electrical outlets or lots of extension cords. Today's electrical demands may exceed capacity of homes built even a decade ago.


Exterior features, like driveways, that slope toward a home. Without proper drainage measures that all but guarantees water in the basement and attendant problems.

Odors. Bad ones may be hard to get rid of. If a house smells too clean, like bleach, it may indicate that the owner has tried to cover up other problems, like mold or urine.

Deteriorating roof, gutters and exterior finish. Use your binoculars for a bird's-eye view.

Ease of opening and closing windows. This will also let you know if the house has updated thermal windows or old-style windows that you may need or want to replace later.

Are you looking at older houses with the intention of remodeling or expanding? If so, have an architect or contractor standing by to accompany you on a second visit. The judgment of these professionals on the ease and probable cost of renovation should play a major role in how much you offer.