Buying a new home can be stressful at the best of times. If you’re going through divorce, it can be even more overwhelming. But Suzanne Whang, host of the popular HGTV show "House Hunters", believes that you can still enjoy the journey of buying a new home. Here are some of her tips.
Benjamin Franklin visited a friend in London and was invited to admire a home that his friend had recently built. Behind the handsome colonnaded façade, Franklin discovered an oddly and inconveniently laid-out house on an irregular plot of land. Franklin commented, “All you need to do to enjoy your home, my Lord, is to rent a spacious apartment directly across the street.”
I believe that in the house hunting process, it’s crucial that you enjoy the journey and not focus only on the end result or destination. In fact, that’s a great way to approach your entire life! Who is the first person to call when you start looking for a house? No, it’s not your therapist. But it might be your mother, or possibly your best friend, to share your dream with and maybe ask for a little advice or better yet, a cash gift of 10 percent of the purchase price! I highly recommend calling friends or family in your area who have financial intelligence and have owned at least one home to find out which agents and mortgage brokers they would recommend. I’ve found wonderful agents by word of mouth. Pick three locations that interest you. Then, for each, make a list of the pros and cons. Compare your lists; then identify your first, second, and third choices. The following is an example of a pro and con list for me. Location: Santa Monica, CA – first choice.
- Beautiful neighborhood
- Close to the beach
- Clean air
- Good restaurants and shop in walking distance
- Good schools
- Excellent freeway access
- Historical architecture
- Ridiculously expensive
- Limited parking
- Tiny homes for the money
- Far from most places I need to go on a regular basis
- Terrible traffic to and from the area
I used to rent a townhouse in Santa Monica in a beautiful and safe neighborhood, close to the beach, and within walking distance of nice restaurants and shops. However, the place was very small, and I never went to the beach. I rarely walked to those restaurants and shops, and it took me over two hours each way, in heavy traffic, to get to most of the places I needed to go on a daily basis. So, as it turned out, it was nice to be able to say I lived in a beautiful neighborhood like Santa Monica, but it wasn’t the ideal place for me.
Elements to consider in your pros and cons
- Safety of location
- Convenience to where you need to go
- Is it quiet enough for you?
- Is parking adequate?
- Cost of homes in area
- Size of homes
- Is there an apartment building right next to you?
- Proximity to good schools and places of worship
- Architecture and style of homes
- Proximity to police and fire stations, as well as hospitals
Look for a pattern in what you’re viewing
Although it’s wise to focus your search, it is essential to keep an open mind. Often, a buyer will end up in a totally different location, a different kind of home, and even a very different price range than planned. Why? Because the search for a home is more than street coordinates, crime ratings, and proximity to schools or churches. The search for a home is visceral. This is why in a search you must remain totally open to where the path leads. After you have chosen your top three areas, drive around, make notes from real estate signs, and use a digital or instant camera to take pictures of the houses, condo buildings, trailers, or tented cabins. Do you see a pattern in what you’re viewing? Are the listings you like being handled perhaps by the same agent? If so, call the agent and/or company that represent properties that appeal to you. Also, ask real estate agents or mortgage brokers for references and actually contact them! Most people don’t follow through on this level of reference checking, but it’s wise to do.
Remember – real estate is a business
Real estate sales are commissioned sales. While the search for a home should be a fun and enjoyable experience, the person who is making the sale earns a commission. So remember at all times that you are entering into the real estate business. When I bought my first home, I found an agent who was doing very well and didn’t need my commission to get by. Therefore, he wasn’t pressuring me to buy a house quickly or buy a house that was too expensive for me. If you choose to work with a newcomer to the field, be certain you are secure and comfortable with that person’s ability. New agents often lack the connections more seasoned agents have. Nevertheless, a new agent can be just as creative, possibly more dedicated and hardworking, and a perfect fit for you.
Hiring a relative or friend with a real estate license
Most people are diametrically opposed on this issue. What it comes down to is your own comfort level. Remember this: Never do business with anyone you don’t totally trust. That goes especially for friends and relatives. Judge the person and the potential association on all levels of business – not only on personal factors. That’s the best way to decide. Most important, don’t choose your agent because you think you are doing the agent a favor. It’s your dream house. It’s your time and your money.
Time for more research
Once you’ve focused on your area and gathered information about potential real estate agents/companies, the next step is to devour anything you can in your local newspaper or on the Internet about your real estate market. Both are also good sources of advertisements for both properties and the people who represent them. Use ads as tools but remember, they are come-ons, not always accurate or even remotely correct. It’s a place to start and a gauge for prices for any particular area. You must dig deeper, make agent calls, check with city hall if you are really a go-getter, and find out what’s selling and at what price. Most folks also rely on word of mouth from friends. This, too, is helpful.
A word about open houses
Perhaps even before you make any calls to potential real estate agents, it might be wise to spend an afternoon visiting open houses in your desired locations. Simply drive around your target neighborhoods and follow the signs or tear out the listings of open houses from your local newspaper, usually on any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
When you’re visiting open houses, you’ll get to meet agents, some with whom you might have become familiar via checking out signs and reading ads. This is the perfect opportunity for you to determine if there is any chemistry between the two of you. Trust me, chemistry is essential, as in any relationship!
If you meet an agent you click with at an open house, you might wish to begin your search in earnest, allowing the agent to go to work for you providing up-to-date information on the marketplace. The relationship between buyer and agent is often based on a handshake though some areas and offices require a contractual agreement.
Start keeping files and folders
So you’ve made a decision on your location and you’ve scouted potential listings. You’ve become an expert on reading the ads. You’re visiting open house and meeting agents. You’ve asked for recommendations from trusted relatives and friends and you’re meeting those agents as well. You’re checking references from the agents you like. You’re on the road, and the search has begun!
Now you need to start keeping files and folders of everything you tour so you can compare and contrast all of your options. Whether you decide to begin your search and continue to look on your own or team up with an agent, organization is important. I promise you that after you have seen 10 homes, you might be really confused. Make notes. Keep real estate flyers. Take pictures (as long as you have permission from the owner or agent).
Set a timetable
Finally, consider setting a timetable for your search. When do you want to be in a new home? Do you need to move by a certain time or season? Is it important to move in time for a certain school year deadline? Depending on your location, you may need to take weather factors into consideration. For example, a move to the Northeast in the dead of winter would not suit the preferences of most people. While a timetable is important, it’s more important to find the right house. Everything else will fall into place.
This real estate article was excerpted and adapted with permission from the book Suzanne Whang’s Guide to Happy House Hunting, published by Meredith Books. Whang, the host of HGTV’s television show House Hunters, takes readers through such home buying basics as finding your credit rating, pre-qualifying for a loan, real estate investing, finding and working with a real estate agent, and hiring a home inspector. A stand-up comic and actress who has appeared on numerous television shows, including Two and a Half Men, Las Vegas, Cold Case, and Boston Legal, Whang offers a light-hearted but practical approach to help readers navigate today’s complex real estate market. The book is available at bookstores everywhere as well as through meredithbooks.com.
For articles on creating a new home during and after your divorce, visit www.divorcemag.com/articles/Your_Home.