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Buying a piece of real estate is a science. Buying a home is an art. The science is getting the legal and financial parts right. The art is finding a property that you'll be happy living in.
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.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.
You probably won't need to take your likes and dislikes lists with you, but by all means take a notepad and tape measure.
At most open houses you will find an information sheet about the house. The most complete 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.
If, at first glance, this looks like a house you'll want to pursue, sketch out floor plans on your first visit; they'll help you envision the house hours or days later. Also jot down special features. If you're looking at several homes, these will help you remember which was which.
You'll want a professional inspection made later if you decide to buy, but you can make some tentative judgments on your own:
Take a close look at the furnace, electrical box (fuses or circuit breakers) and appliances. Do they appear to be in good shape?
How about the roof, gutters and exterior finish?
Does the house have storm windows, or will you have to add them at your own cost?
If the floor plan doesn't suit you, can you rearrange space or add on?
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.