Before the pandemic hit in 2018, a married pair of nurses began pondering a home purchase. Even so, the couple, still in their 20s, put a priority on their splashy destination wedding in Hawaii. Homebuying would have to wait until their wedding bills were paid.
COVID-19 took an exhausting toll on the couple, who worked in the same hospital. But it yielded one silver lining: major salary increases to rebuild their savings. Hence, this summer they could pursue home shopping in earnest.
“(O)ur small one-bedroom apartment ... felt like living in a shoebox. So we rushed out to buy one of the first houses we could afford, a little one-story rancher with a big price tag,” the husband says.
At this point, the couple admits to buyer’s remorse. Looking back, they wish they’d bought sooner, before the big run-up in home prices and mortgage rates. They also regret not being more choosy when selecting a house this summer.
“Frankly, we didn’t play our cards very well at all,” the husband allows.
Real estate pros have long advised homebuyers to exercise caution when making a property choice, especially when there are few homes on the market, as is the current case.
Selecting a home should be a careful, painstaking process. Your quality of life and sense of safety are greatly influenced by the neighborhood you choose. Picking an outlying suburb or rural area could cost you precious family time due to a lengthy commute. And your children could be adversely affected if you move to a community with subpar schools.
Merrill Ottwein, the co-owner of an independent real estate firm, doesn’t know the nurses in this example. Yet he offers a few general pointers for would-be owners who are highly motivated to quickly conclude a home purchase.
“Buying a home in a hurry could be a terrific decision if it gets you a dream place and prevents you from locking yourself into an expensive long-term lease. But it could be a lousy choice if you aren’t careful what you buy,” says Ottwein.
Niko Voutsinas, an agent for Redfin, the national real estate brokerage, says the urge to buy quickly is due in large measure to the dearth of inventory.
“Some buyers are cutting back on other expenses to up their housing budgets because they believe home prices are only going to increase. They’re nervous that the minute rates come down, a flood of competition will edge them out,” he says.
Here are a few pointers for homebuyers in a hurry:
-- Question whether a long commute would work for you.
Ottwein says it’s not unusual for some purchasers to accept a punishing commute to a distant community in order to buy a large house.
“Some people say they don’t care how far they must drive to get all the bells and whistles they want. But then they call us back six months or a year later to say they can’t stomach that killer commute anymore,” says Ottwein, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).
How long a commute is too long? That depends on the buyers involved and the type of commute. For example, driving in heavy stop-and-start traffic can become far more tiring than doing so on a free-flowing highway.
“I would worry about any commute that’s over 50 minutes each way,” Ottwein says.
-- Proceed cautiously before buying a “fixer-upper.”
Ottwein urges buyers considering a property that needs major rehab work to obtain reliable estimates on the cost of restoring the place. To get a sense of potential repair costs, your home inspector can help with estimates and your real estate agent should be willing to help you arrange with contractors for bids.
Are you convinced you could handle the renovation work yourself?
If so, Ottwein recommends you do a reality check by canvassing friends who know you well. Ask them if they think this big do-it-yourself project would be a good option for you, both in terms of your skill level and available free time.
-- Select options early when buying in a new subdivision.
If you’re planning to buy a brand-new house, you’re likely to be faced with many trade-offs before your contract is written.
“For one package price, some builders give lump-sum allowances for anything ranging from lighting fixtures to appliances to landscaping to kitchen cabinets. Anything not included in that package will cost you extra money,” Ottwein says.
These choices should be made before the sales contract is written, but not under pressure from a hurried homebuilder or salesperson.
“To make genuinely solid selections, you may need to take weekend time or a day or two off work to explore the options,” Ottwein says.
Those who are indecisive at the outset may find they have to pay a premium price for options they later decide they want -- for example, for solid wood cabinets in the kitchen.
“Once your contract is signed, you have little leverage left in negotiating with the builder. So you’d better pick the right kitchen cabinets at the beginning,” Ottwein says.
New homebuyers on a tight budget may wish to defer those items that can be installed later with relative ease, such as landscaping upgrades or window treatments.
“Lock in early those choices that are part of the infrastructure. The other options can wait until you have the funds to put them in yourself,” Ottwein says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)