Good Morning

I stayed up way too late last night looking at houses on Realtracs and I got up way too early this morning because I couldn’t sleep wanting to look at houses on Realtracs.

I’m busy compiling a list of things I do and don’t want in a house.

And now, dear readers, I ask, if I were sitting at your kitchen table with you right now, sharing a cup of coffee, what advice about homebuying would you have for me?

33 thoughts on “Good Morning

  1. 1) It is worth paying a really good inspector to go over any house before you make an offer on it; I’ll be glad to give you a name.

    2) Talk to the neighbors before making an offer on any house. You can learn a lot about things the real estate agents won’t mention that way, and you’ll also get a feel for what the people are like who you’ll be living among.

    3) I would also advise looking in East Nashville or Inglewood. But you knew that.

  2. ~ Make sure the house is above street level, so you don’t have to worry about puddles or runoff. At the same time, make sure your yard is not too steep with hills so you can easily mow.

    ~ Visit the neighborhoods yourself before going on a real trip with your realtor. Eliminate the ones you feel are sketchy and remember those zip codes for future reference.

    ~ One of your other regular commenters mentioned this, and I have to second it. Worry less about negotiating the price down, and more about getting the seller to pay closing costs. What is $2500 spread over 30 years opposed to having that $2500 in your pocket now?

    ~ Windows. Windows. Windows.

  3. It’s better to have a small house with some distance between you and the neighbors.
    Think about the cost and hassle of maintenance: Lots of windows=high heating and cooling, how hard will it be to keep up the yard?, where will your car go?
    If possible, visit the neighborhood on a saturday night. Things can be very different then.
    Look at the house from space. My house is a mile from train tracks and I can clearly hear the train go by, several times a day. I can’t imagine what living 200 yards from it is like.
    Look out for homeowner association fees; they can be a killer.

  4. As we discussed…avoid low lying areas, watch for large root systems near the house.

    Pull a three yr record of utility bills, gas/electric/water. Smartest thing I ever did when I bought my first house.

    Excellent advise about getting to know the neighbors. Ex made a great point…Saturday nights, when it is warm, can tell you all you need to know.

    Lastly, NEGOTIATE EVERYTHING. Realtor fees, closing costs, price, repairs, etc. ALWAYS ask for way more than you will settle for, so you can kick something later, and still be happy.

  5. Everybody has pretty much covered everything. I do have a couple of others:

    1. Always check the water pressure. Turn on at least two faucets and ALWAYS check the shower. Nothing can ruin the perfect house like a trickling shower every morning for 20 years of your life.

    2. If the house has an deeply inset front door, make sure there’s another entrance, such as through a garage, that you can use on a regular basis. Deeply inset doors are favourite hidey-holes for burglers.

    3. In line with Mack’s point about negotiating–never be afraid to walk away. Don’t get stuck with a lemon of a house just because you like the stained glass transom over the front door.

    4. Feel free to ask friends to go with you whenever you look. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.

    5. Take a camera with you and take shots of what you like and what you have questions about. It makes your negotiating process a lot smoother.

  6. Be careful not to get drawn into disregarding your real priorities, whatever you choose those to be. There will inevitably be houses with neat features that tempt you, but if those neat features are not on the core priorities list, make yourself throw them out of consideration unless comparing two houses equal in every other way.

  7. 1) Know yourself. If you can’t stick your finger in your ass with both hands and you don’t own a hammer, don’t buy a fixer-upper and expect that you’re magically going to be a carpentry whiz. Or if what you’ve always dreamed of is being able to home-make, don’t buy a house that offers few opportunities for personalizing. If you want to hold parties where everyone hangs out in the kitchen and cooks together, you won’t want to go for a narrow galley of a kitchen. If you dream of a sunny garden, you need to be sure the yard gets some sun (she says, from hard experience). If you privilege private space over public space in a house, you’ll want a bigger bedroom and smaller livingroom. Basically, know yourself — or the self you want to become.

    2) Know the difference between things that can be replaced, things that can be replaced but are costly, and things that are just going to be thataway. In the last category, put location, lack of windows, windows in the wrong places, no closets or storage space, lack of yard space, a too-narrow alley between you and the neighbors, a sharp turn in the staircase where people have to bend double to get by. Windows and heating systems and roofs and septic systems cost a fortune to replace. Everything else pretty much can be redone over time.

    3) Be clear about what’s in the deal and what’s out. Are those coolio Roman blinds staying? How about the great bathroom ensemble with matching fancy towels and shower curtains? Will you be stuck with the three old wringer washers down in the basement? Could the seller take down the rusty swingset in the backyard before he leaves? Is the garden lighting staying? If there’s something you like in the house that’s not nailed down, remember that you can bargain for it and have it rolled into the house price. (That’s how we got our washer and dryer…they didn’t want to move it and we didn’t have money to buy a new set.) Likewise repairs — get the seller to pay for the necessary repairs that need to be done BEFORE you take the house. You want that house in the best possible condition because you won’t have access to a home equity loan and your own cash will be going into the thousand and one things you don’t know you need.

    4. Everything is negotiable. There’s always other houses to look at and each one will have its charm. The process of looking is about finding the right fit for you. Enjoy it.

  8. Taking a camera is a great idea. You’ve been given some great advice. This may sound crazy but some older houses may not have an electrical outlet in the bathroom. Two years ago my Dad sold his step-mothers house for her, it was built in the early 1950’s had no outlet in the bathroom, not even in the hall.

  9. Don’t buy a perfect house in a shitty neighborhood.

    You’re going to have to compromise on some things, so figure out what features you want the most and be willing to bend on the rest.

    Oh, and check the neighborhood during the day, not just in the evenings and weekends. A lot of people handing around in the middle of the day could be a bad sign. Or mean that they all work nights.

  10. Things I wish I had noticed when I bought my house:

    1. The electric was still run off a fuse box. I had to change to breaker box – $700
    2. The washer hook up had no handles and ooooolllld rubber hoses. I had to put in new faucets and hoses.
    3. Jiggle the plumbing under sinks, my kitchen drain was very loose

    GOOD LUCK!!!

  11. This may sound crazy but some older houses may not have an electrical outlet in the bathroom.

    Or newer houses. Our house doesn’t have an outlet in the MBath and it drives me bonkadilly.

    Things I wish I had noticed when I bought my house:

    Kitty, did you have an inspection? At least the first two items on that list (breaker box and washer hoses) should have been caught by the inspector.

    Good call, Kat. If only you were better at euchre…

    If only I were better at a lot of things…

  12. pay a professional inspector to check on the big ticket items. if you can, shop around for that inspector — the one we used delivered a really spiffy report, in print and online too, yet missed some obvious structural gotchas that we KNOW he had right in front of his face at least twice.

    if the house is old, just resign yourself to not really knowing the place for a year or two. the stories i could tell you about my attic and how i learned to know it…

    americans all seem to want breaker boxes. i don’t see what the big deal is. i grew up in a house with a fuse box (built in the late 1970’s, no less) and those fuses worked just fine. oh well…

    oh, and under-sink plumbing? yes, check and triple-check. i’ve got stories on that count also. it’s just easy enough to do that lots of people who shouldn’t be trying to do it, try to do it…

  13. So much great advice here…

    The only thing I’d add is to make a note of how easy it is to get out of the driveway. I always notice when there are these beautiful homes that have blind drives because they are on a hill or at a curve. I can’t imagine what a pain that must be every single day.

    You’ll have to get a termite inspection, and I’d be sure to get an independent home inspection by somebody who has no vested interest in selling you the house.

    I’m happy to help in any way I can, B…just call me if there’s anything I can help out with!

  14. So much great advice here…

    The only thing I’d add is to make a note of how easy it is to get out of the driveway. I always notice when there are these beautiful homes that have blind drives because they are on a hill or at a curve. I can’t imagine what a pain that must be every single day.

    You’ll have to get a termite inspection, and I’d be sure to get an independent home inspection by somebody who has no vested interest in selling you the house.

    I’m happy to help in any way I can, B…just call me if there’s anything I can help out with!

  15. So much great advice here…

    The only thing I’d add is to make a note of how easy it is to get out of the driveway. I always notice when there are these beautiful homes that have blind drives because they are on a hill or at a curve. I can’t imagine what a pain that must be every single day.

    You’ll have to get a termite inspection, and I’d be sure to get an independent home inspection by somebody who has no vested interest in selling you the house.

    I’m happy to help in any way I can, B…just call me if there’s anything I can help out with!

  16. Wow, there’s a lot of stuff here I wish I’d read before I bought my first house. And second house. I really should have asked why there was all that plastic sheeting in the attic…
    Best advice is to take other people with you. They’ll ask questions you won’t think of. Take lots of pictures. Visit often. Open every cabinet, every closet, make sure they’re not hiding anything.
    And don’t get an inspector from your agent; get an independent one. And go with them to through the inspection.
    Jag’s advice was really great. And beware a house sold by a re-habber. Re-hab it yourself.

    And, my god, Realtracs is crack. I’m not even in the market and I can waste a whole day on it.

  17. Ah, so totally second what Ginger and Lesley said an independent inspector. We took one off the list that the agent gave us (because we were new to the area and dumb as rocks) and came to find out that the realtor and the inspector were a “team” — she pushed the houses, he assured the buyer to close the sale. They went to the same church, their kids played together, she had been in his wedding, she was carrying his cards and his personalized pens….While he did an ok job and the house was pretty sound, it was very nervewracking the day of the inspection to find out how very chummy this supposedly neutral evaluator was.

    Definitely attend the inspection and follow the inspector around. Ask questions and take notes. You’ll learn a lot about your prospective house like that.

  18. Yeah, our home inspector had a cross or a fish or some other christian symbol. He also had a neato printout report from the back of his car.

    He also somehow missed that the center support column for the main room of our house was cracked all the way around.

  19. I pretty much agree with what everyone else has said. I totally agree with checking out the electrical outlets throughout the whole house, not just the bathroom. We looked at a house once that had only one for the entire second floor. Also, closet space. Our current house has ok closets in the bedrooms, but after that, nothing. I miss not having a linen closet and a place to put the vacuum cleaner, not to mention coats, boots, etc.

  20. Inspectors can be excellent and they can be useless. Get a recommendation on one from someone you trust and know.

    Imagine putting your stuff in the kitchen cabinets and make sure there’s enough cabinet space. Walk through all the rooms in he house and listen to see if the floor creaks and cracks as you walk around. Get down and look in the cabinets under sinks to see if there are water stains there. Open all the exterior doors and look out. You’ll be seeing that for years – do you want to see whatever’s out there? Talk to the neighbors, especially any older people – chances are good that they’ll tell you about all the kooks.

  21. The older neighbors usually are the kooks. When we were moving in, we had a long-distance moving crew from NYC plus a couple of locals they picked up to guide them in their deliveries around Nashville. One of the local guys said he used to live in the next block around 10 years earlier and asked if the old lady with her nose in everybody’s business still lived next door. We told him yes, and he hid in the house the rest of the time he was there — didn’t want to see her again after all those years.

  22. The reason everyone wants a breaker box and not fuses is that the breaker box is safer. And a lot of insurance companies don’t want to insure a home with a fuse box. It can also lead to problems getting a mortgage.
    Also don’t buy the biggest house on the block, that’s the one that will increase in value the least. A midsize is best because it will maintain and grow value the best over the course of time.

  23. I know a GREAT home inspector and he’s in East Nashville – email me for details if you are so inclined.

    And FYI, every single neighborhood as a Ms Kravitz (nosy neighbor). It’s a law or something, but those people are great when there are shady people lurking

  24. If you like a house, go look at a few others before thinking about an offer. Then go make a second trip to it and see if you still like it. The first trip you decide if you like it, the second trip you decide if there’s anything wrong with it.

    Pictures are good because they help you remember which house is which.

    Make sure someone checks the floodmap. If it’s on a floodplain the bank is required by law to make you get flood insurance before giving you a loan. Flood insurance ain’t cheap and the bank will definitely check. A decent realtor should already know that, but be sure to ask them about that for any house you’re seriously considering. You can also check it yourself. Email me if you need help.

    Consider the drainage like Lee said, and think about how hard it is to get into and out of the neighborhood. Some of the houses we’ve looked at are in single entrance subdivisions. Not a great problem, but can be annoying to get in and out of during heavy traffic.

    Be sure to have money set aside for maintenance. The older the house the more you need to have set aside for when something breaks.

    Buy my house, it’s way better than Sarcastro’s, and it comes with a built in herb garden and fenced backyard.

  25. I think breaker boxes are code now. Seems like I recall an old realtor friend telling me you aren’t allowed to sell a house with a fuse box any more. At least not in Davidson County.

  26. Good advice so far.

    I’d add/second:

    Make sure, if it’s an older house, to check the wiring.

    If you have an insurance agent, get THEM to check the house. They’ll point out things that make the house uninsurable or expensive to insure.

    Try hard to get a copy of the utility bills for the last year; the cost to heat and cool a house can vary by a factor of 5 depending on windows, insulation, and heating/coooling system, and all those are expensive to change.

    Good windows make a house much more comfortable and cheaper to maintain. Old single-pane leaky-framed windows are not desirable.

    If you don’t have water and sewer, make sure the septic system and well are good.

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