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Smart Tips for Buying a House That's Right for You


En español | Whether you’re looking to purchase your very first home, upgrade to a larger residence or relocate to another city or state, it’s always a good idea to do a little legwork before you set out for “the hunt.” The home-buying process can be stressful. The last thing you want to do is to overspend or underprepare. Here are a few tips for finding the place that’s right for you.

1) Hone in on a neighborhood (or two)

In addition to calculating your commute to work, you should check out the public transportation options, and nearby grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. Take a look at home values in the neighborhood. How does the house you’re considering compare to others in the area? If possible, do a “personality check” of the neighborhood. Who lives there? Is it mostly families? Young singles? Older couples? Do the neighbors hold monthly block parties or keep to themselves? Most important: Could you see yourself living there?

Virtually there: Check out these on-the-go real estate apps1

Zillow – Find homes for sale or rent in your targeted area. Filter your search using keywords or a GPS locator, and get text notifications when new listings hit the market, drop in price, hold an open house or are sold.

Smarter Agent – Using your location, Smarter Agent instantly provides information about homes for sale around you. Easily access listing information, including property details and photos.

HomeSnap – Want to know how much a home cost or when it was last sold? Open the HomeSnap app and take a photo to find out all about it.

Trulia Real Estate – Stay on top of your home search using Trulia’s app, which allows you to quickly find homes for sale, open houses, or recently sold homes in your search area. Receive alerts when prices drop for properties you like or new listings pop up in areas that interest you.

2) Determine how much you can comfortably afford

When it comes to buying and owning a home, you’ll be responsible for a lot more than just the down payment and monthly mortgage payment. You’ll also need to factor in closing costs, homeowner's insurance, utilities, property taxes and ongoing maintenance costs. By running the numbers on our home loan calculator, you can estimate your monthly mortgage payment, based on current rates and mortgage type.

3) Make a "love it" list

Second-floor laundry. Big backyard. Double-sink vanity. Desirable neighborhood. It’s fun to list everything you’d love to have in your dream home, but what can you realistically afford? Consider making a list of “must-have” versus “nice-to-have” features as you evaluate potential homes.

Determine what type of home you like. Do you favor new construction or existing, mid-century, modern, or historical? Do you have a penchant for stucco or an aversion to vinyl siding? If you’re working with a real estate professional, be sure to share your list, as it will help narrow your search.

4) Keep a cool head

You know the saying “Love is blind”? Just like when you fall for someone, it’s hard to see the flaws when you’re emotionally invested in a particular house. Following your heart can cause you to overpay for the property, overlook structural issues, over-trust the seller’s agent, and omit important buyer-protecting steps. Remember: This is a business transaction. Protecting yourself now helps ensure that you’ll still love the house once the honeymoon is over.

5) Be prepared for the hunt

Want to house hunt like a warrior? Wear comfortable shoes, stay hydrated, pre-program house addresses into your GPS, and bring a list of questions to ask the real estate broker or homeowner.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the average time a
buyer spends looking for a house
is 12 weeks.2

Typical questions might include:

  • Why is the current owner moving?
  • Neighborhood pluses and minuses?
  • How's the school system?

6) Get your financing in order

Before you start looking at homes, it’s a good idea to get prequalified for a mortgage. Knowing what you can comfortably borrow will help you focus your search on homes that fit your lifestyle and your budget. Talk to a mortgage loan officer to prequalify and get an estimate of what you might be able to borrow.

Get the big picture

The mortgage payment is just the beginning. Before pulling the trigger, don’t forget to factor in the hidden costs of home ownership. If you’re upgrading to a new or larger home, chances are there will be larger expenses to go along with it. Property taxes, yard maintenance—which can include both lawn mowing and snow plowing, depending on where you live—furniture and furnishings, landscaping, trash collection, water, electricity, heat, and even things like gutter cleaning all add up. Every few years, you can also count on shelling out some dough for repair and maintenance—whether it’s to fix a roof, burst pipe, or malfunctioning heating system.

7) Apply for a mortgage

You’ve found the house that’s right for you, and the seller has accepted your offer – congratulations! Now it’s time to apply for a mortgage. Find out about different types of mortgages, what documentation is required, and how to lock in a rate by visiting

8) Get a home inspection

Though not always required, it’s extremely important that you get a home inspection—and make your offer contingent upon getting a good report. Unless it’s brand new, chances are the home you’re buying may need some minor repairs. But more importantly, you’ll want to make sure that the foundation and structural features, as well as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, are all in good condition. Inspectors can check for pests and mold, too. Be sure to use a reputable inspector who is certified with the American Society of Home Inspectors.

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1Merrill Lynch may provide information related to third party applications as a convenience. Merrill Lynch has not endorsed or approved the content on any apps that are not owned or managed by Merrill Lynch, and does not monitor or maintain any of the information contained therein.

2 Source: 2014 National Association of Realtors® Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report