Turning a house into a home is no easy feat. Luckily, the folks at Rocket Mortgage are here to help you every step of the way—starting with their personalized loan options to help you get a mortgage that fits your family and budget. What’s more, we’re teaming up to bring you continued inspiration to finish off the process in our “No Place Like Home” series. Let’s get started.
Buying a home is no joke—with so many factors to consider, it’s easy to get carried away and confused between what you absolutely need versus what you just might want. You obviously can’t go above a certain price point, but besides that, what are the other important features when it comes to buying your forever home? “There’s a big difference between wants and needs, so create two different lists when searching for a home,” says Amanda Pendleton, Zillow Home Trends Expert. “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.”
But with everything you can choose from, it can be hard to figure out your absolute deal breakers. Below, real estate experts share the first things to look for when buying a home today, to help make that search just a little bit easier.
1. Property Condition
“When it comes to prominent features to look for when buying a home, I would say the condition of the property and how it was cared for should be the most important thing to focus on,” says Steve Wolff, founder of The Wolff Group. “Unless you're willing to roll up your sleeves and put some money into it, which would be very expensive.”
One huge issue is water leakages, so Wolff suggests looking for evidence of water penetration in the home, including roofs, windows, doors, and basements. “Water can be one of a property's worst enemies, and temporary fixes can leave you with serious expenses and issues down the road,” he says. “Of course, an inspection should help you identify potential issues, but it's best to look for those issues both online and in person. That can help you save money by taking note of those issues prior to a contract and, ultimately, the money that you'd spend on the inspection. An experienced licensed real estate agent can help point out potential problems to you as well.”
“Prominent features potential homebuyers should look for when buying a home are health and safety issues or big ticket items,” says broker Stacey Pratt of LSP Real Estate Solutions. “For example, an outdated roof or a large tree with roots could potentially affect the plumbing or sewer lines. Wear and tear or signs of rust on the cooling and heating systems would be extremely dangerous, and evidence of moisture stains on the ceilings or walls could potentially be a new or old water leak, and cause bacteria or mold.” You should also take a look at the safety features in the home, such as security cameras, and the safety of the neighborhood at large.
While it may be easy to simply think that you can go slightly over budget and take out a bigger mortgage, housing expert Lexie Holbert of Realtor.com suggests instead looking for a home that you can afford right now. “One of the great lessons of the recession and COVID-19 is everything can change very quickly,” she says. “Instead of buying a home that you hope to grow into financially, take a realistic look at your budget and look for homes you can afford now. One way to determine your budget is to save the difference of your rent and potential mortgage payment every month—that way, you can see what that payment really feels like. You can then search for homes by your affordable monthly payment.”
4. Square Footage
Make sure that the home you choose is of the size you want—or at the very least, find a home that you can convert into the size you want. “If a buyer is looking for a good investment and the best return on their home, and they plan to live there for seven to 10 years, my recommendation would be finding ways to add square footage,” says Megan Blum of Flux Real Estate. “If you’re looking at a property with an unfinished basement, make sure that the ceiling height is high enough in the basement to finish and make additional living spaces or bedrooms. That could almost double your square footage, and give you an amazing return on your investment when you go to sell.” Also look for a garage or space to create one if possible: “A garage can add as much as $20,000 in value to a home, and since it doesn’t need to be insulated or drywalled, it also doesn’t have to be a huge expense to get a great return,” elaborates Blum.
“Next to budget, location is one of the most important things to consider when buying a house,” says Pendleton. “Twenty-four percent of buyers found it difficult to find a home in their desired location, and that may be more challenging now than ever as inventory has tightened during the pandemic. 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 really identify a neighborhood where you’ll be happy living.”