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Steps to Successful Home Buying

by Judy Leiser

Buying a house can be confusing and time consuming. Where is the best place to look for a house? What type of mortgage is best, and will I have trouble getting financing? Should I use a realtor or broker, or find a home myself? Here's help. By using the tips below, you can buy a house with confidence.

1. Get your finances in order. You should begin doing this as soon as you even think about buying a home. A good start would be to get a copy of your credit report, and find ways to improve your score, especially is it isn't good. In general, keep a cushion of savings and pay down any credit cards that charge interest. Try to limit the number of credit cards you have to no more than three (four at most). This is not the time to make any other large expenditures.

2. Determine what you can afford.
I like to see a mortgage broker or banker at this point, who can help you decide what price range to set your sites on, based on your income and expenses. It's important to do this before you begin your home search, since mortgage financing is such an important part of the process.

You hardly ever hear this anywhere else, but from my experiences, I would highly suggest subtracting 10% or more from whatever amount your mortgage official tells you you can afford. That's because once you get into your new home, you often will want to buy furniture, appliances, window treatments, and other items. If you spend every penny you can afford on your home, which is what his number implies, you will be in financial trouble within a few months. So, do yourself a favor, and pare down a little from his figure.

3. Choose some areas. If you have children, the school system might be the first consideration. If not, be sure to think about local schools at some point, since they will affect your future home's resale value. Pick a few school systems, and determine how they compete in safety, test scores, parent-to-student class-size ratios, and overcrowding in buildings. If the school district is rapidly growing and needs to build more buildings, find out how this will affect property taxes.


Protect yourself when buying a house. Learn more about home buying and home inspections. Rule out problem houses more quickly, and sail into your dream home!


What you want to do is narrow your focus to a couple of general areas. My brother chose his area because he already patronized some businesses nearby, and many of his friends had already moved there. Some people choose an area because it's close to work. Some fall in love with the architecture of a neighborhood, or a nearby business district. Whatever your parameters, your first step is to narrow your focus to one or two specific areas.

4. Select a realtor. When buying a house, it makes sense to use a realtor. That's because it costs you absolutely nothing. All the cost is absorbed by the seller. If you are selling a house, you may want to try selling without a realtor, which could put $10,000 or more in your pocket. Click here for six easy steps to selling your home without a realtor.

When choosing a realtor, it's best to select one who specializes in the area you will be buying in, since he or she should have more knowledge of the area. You might be tempted to use the realtor who has listed a home you wish to buy, but be aware that this means the realtor works for the seller, and may not have your interests at heart. It's best to choose the realtor first, then begin to look at homes.

5. Once you have a general idea of what area you wish to live in, your realtor will begin to show you MLS listings of homes for sale. As you begin to drive around to view houses, make notes of the specific neighborhoods. Check for nearby access to major roads and highways, stores, service stations, etc. Scrutinize the local shopping center. Is it rundown? Are there vacancies? This could imply a declining neighborhood. Also, look at the other homes. Do the homeowners seem to take pride in keeping up their home's appearance?

Do a little research. Your realtor may help here. You will want to have information on crime statistics and local services, such as police and fire stations and community services, and even community events. This will help you narrow your focus even more, to smaller areas within the larger, general community. You may also be able to find out information by talking to neighbors as you look at houses.

6. Choose the best positions on the street. Usually the best placement for a house is on a cul-de-sac. This reduces traffic and increases safety. The next best placement, for safety's sake, is in the middle of a block. Less beneficial is placement on a corner or on a busy street, which means increased traffic. Avoid a home that backs to an apartment building, a large business or a school.

7. Think of a home's resale value. Things that could affect price include a nice view, a large or level lot, nice landscaping, and a square-shaped yard, which is better than an odd-shaped yard. Try to avoid spending a great deal more for these items, but be aware that they could mean more dollars for you later on. Ask about recent improvements or add-ons. The most popular homes are three or four bedrooms, with at least two baths, a large kitchen with modern appliances, and easy access to the back yard. One fireplace, preferrably in the family room, is beneficial. The back yard doesn't have to be huge, but it should have enough room so a pool or patio doesn't completely absorb it.

A swimming pool doesn't affect the selling price. It's entirely a matter of choice. People with small children often don't want a pool, because of safety issues. If you want a pool, by all means, buy a house with a pool for your own convenience, and to save you the cost of installing one later on.

8. Inspecting a home. Although an inspector will be going through any home you decide to buy, you can save yourself a little grief by looking at structural conditions. Look for cracks in the walls, floors and ceilings. Do the doors close properly? If not, it could indicate uneven settling in the home. Look for plumbing leaks under the bathroom and kitchen sinks. Turn on the faucets, and make sure they all work and have good water pressure. Watch for electrical problems, and make sure the furnace and A/C seem to work well. Once you find a home you wish to buy, try asking to see it right after a heavy rain. Then look for water in the basement or elsewhere. I highly recommend the Home Buying Inspection Guide at to avoid making any costly mistakes in this area.

9. Make an offer. Once you find a house you love, it's time to make an offer. Your realtor will help you in this regard, especially by providing comparables. These are houses in the area with similar square footage, number of rooms, etc. Keep in mind the factors listed above in #7 that may cause the house to be worth more or less than the comparable.

Following these guidelines will make home buying go more smoothly. Though you may vary from what you originally had in mind, you will be in a much better position to act quickly when you see a house, and may just get jump on another buyer.

Judy Leiser is a staff writer for

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Related information:

• Protect yourself when buying a house. Learn more about home buying and home inspections. Rule out problem houses more quickly, and sail into your dream home!

• Find out what you need to know about getting a mortgage.

• Find out the best way to hire a real estate lawyer.


Home Buying: Is Your House Inspector Working for You?
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Homeowner's Insurance: What You Should Know:
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