What you should know before you buy a home

There’s a lot to consider, but we’ve provided a list of the most important factors to make home buying a little easier. Here are some key questions to ask yourself about the new home and its location.

1. How Should I Decide On The Community My Home Will Be In?
Location, location, location. It’s the most well known adage in real estate. You have to pick an area that best fits in with your daily life that includes services that are most important to YOU. How available is public transportation? Is shopping for daily needs convenient? Is the home in the district of the school(s) you want? Are there places your children can go to play that are safe and well maintained? What about your social life: like churches, museums, theaters and similar places where you go to socialize and relax. Or, maybe you want to be far away from all this and prefer peace and quiet. If so, maybe a rural community is more your style. You will eventually find a house in an area you like, but you need to remember you will be moving into more than a house, you will have neighbors. Take a Saturday afternoon when people are outside and walk the neighborhood and talk to the people you see. Let them know you are considering moving in and ask them what they like about living there… and if there is anything about the neighborhood you should know. Once people have been someplace for awhile, they like to share their knowledge of what is going on where they live. This will also begin the process of your becoming a part of the neighborhood by meeting people before you even move in. The final decision should be: would I be comfortable living here?

2. What About Local Schools?
Google “Public schools in X County” and you will get multiple K-12 resources that include: specific school boundaries; location of schools; state school grades and many special offerings or characteristics of each school. If you are considering private schools, contact them directly (Google for list) or visit a local church if the school you are considering is a church based school. Ask your real estate agent to help if you need some to get started.

3. What About Other Community Resources?
The local chamber of commerce has a wealth of promotional materials that include welcome kits, maps, and other information. Another resource is the local library where you can ask the Librarian for assistance. Ask if there are local periodicals or websites that focus on information on local events and resources.

4. How Much Do Other Homes Sell For In The Areas and Communities I Am Considering?
Here is where your real estate agent can be most helpful. They will be able to give you comparable pricing on other listings nearby where you can even note if some neighborhoods are generally higher or lower priced for similar homes. Ask your REALTOR® why the prices are what they are and they may be able to provide you with comparable sales that are maintained on a database.

5. What about Property Taxes?
This can get tricky and you need to be aware of why. The amount of the previous year’s property taxes is usually included in the listing information and may only be approximate, BUT, most residential homes are homesteaded in Florida and that holds down future tax increases. But, when a Florida home sells, the local property tax assessor’s office will usually adjust the next year’s tax amount based to the home’s current value (what you bought it for). What this means is that you should plan for a higher annual tax amount to go into effect after your first year. There is no getting around this… but you can take the same tax advantages by applying for your own Homestead exemption… if you qualify. Your country property appraiser’s office online website will provide lots of information.

6. Are There Other Tax Issues?
Yes, and it’s not all bad. Remember that your mortgage interest and all your real estate taxes are deductible on your annual income tax returns (USA residents) if you itemize… which you should if you own a home with a mortgage. A qualified real estate professional can give you more details on other tax benefits and liabilities, such as if you intend to run a home based business like consulting. (Be aware that zoning laws will restrict the kind of home businesses you can operate from home.)

7. Should I Buy An Older Home Or A New One?
It depends. Each type has its positives and negatives. There is something special about owning a brand new home with all brand new and modern appliances and fixtures. But remember, even brand new homes can have issues that you will have to address with the builder… while it is still under warranty. Plus it will be up to you to add all those amenities to make the house YOUR HOME. That may include work both inside and outside the house and in many cases, you will find yourself spending a lot of your free time adding shrubbery and yard items outdoors or adding trim and personal touches indoors. One drawback is that the neighborhood tends to be more “sterile” with everyone’s yards just getting started, but that again is a sign that the entire area is brand new which is desirable for some. Older homes tend to be in more established neighborhoods, and each neighborhood offers its own particular set of characteristics and ambiance. Plus, older homes tend to have lower property tax rates. However, know that since your home isn’t new and all homes eventually require regular maintenance, you may have items to repair much sooner than you would in a new home. It’s always a good idea to find out how the home was maintained to date, and if major items like roofs, air conditioning systems and other high cost items have been recently updated or replaces and aren’t needing immediate repairs (if they are, the cost of doing those fixes should be a consideration in the price you offer.) In either case, it is still a “home” and it always less costly if you are DIY person. It is now YOUR house to maintain.

8. What Are The Key Elements I Should Be Looking For When I Visit A Home?
Don’t waste time seeing homes that don’t meet your minimum or maximum requirements. But if the house “fits” your search list, consider the following:
• Will the house have enough room for your present family… and any future possibilities?
• Do the number of bedrooms and bathrooms fit your needs for both your family and additional guests if you often have visitors?
• Does the floor plan fit with your preferred lifestyle? (Open areas, entertaining, separate areas for quiet zones, etc.)
• Does the house include items on your “really want” list but that are not deal killers… like a fireplace, front porch, volume ceilings, etc?
• Will your furniture fit in the space? Is there enough storage space? (Bring an electronic tape measure to better answer these questions)
• Is the yard big enough for your family and planned additions? (Play yard, pool, patio, entertaining area, etc.)
• Do the yards have the amenities you want NOW? (Fence, patio, pool, screened in porch, etc.)
Before you close on a house, always have an Inspection done to make sure the house is structurally sound and the following items checked:
• Do the mechanical systems and appliances work?
• When was the last time the AC was maintained, and for what?
• How much useable life is left with the current roof?
• Does anything in the house or yards need to be repaired or replaced? Will the seller repair or replace the items?
• Imagine the house in good weather and bad, and in each season. Do you see yourself content year ’round?
Take your time and think carefully about each house you see. Ask your real estate agent to point out the pros and cons of each home from a professional standpoint and take notes! While you are walking through or immediately after leaving, write down what you liked and didn’t like about the house because you may forget a key point later. And remember this; it’s a Seller’s market in Florida. Don’t take forever to decide, waiting on the “perfect” home. There is seldom one perfect home and if there was, someone is probably living in it. All homes can be enhanced. Find the one that will be the best for you today and personalize it after you move in!

9. What Should I Look Out For?
Ask questions of the owner that focus on potential problems and maintenance issues that will cost you money shortly after moving in. Ask your Realtor® to help you create a common list for all homes. So, ask: Does anything need to be replaced? When was the house last treated for pests? Are there any roof leaks or other roof damage that you are aware of? Does the AC cool the house satisfactorily on the hottest days? Are there any drafty windows or doors? And more. But remember, ALL houses require ongoing maintenance (e.g., paint, roof, HVAC, appliances, carpets, water faucets and toilets, etc.) So don’t discard a house because it needs some tender loving care or known repairs. Noting these items may get you a better price but doesn’t have to disqualify the house from consideration. Also ask about the neighborhood, focusing on quality of life issues. Be sure the seller’s or real estate agent’s answers are clear and complete. Ask questions until you understand all of the information they’ve given. Write down the answers.

10. How Can I Keep Track Of All The Homes I See?
Pull out your cell phone and take pictures. Some owners may not want you to take pictures indoors for security reasons and it is their home, so don’t try to sneak any if they say no. Most homes are online and you can see multiple pictures from its listing. If needed and you are seriously considering a home, don’t hesitate to return for a second look. Then put a notebook together with your notes and any pictures you want to keep under separate tabs sorted by address. If you’re a computer wizard, you can probably do all this on your phone or home computer.

11. Is There A Set Number Of Homes I Should Consider Before Choosing One?
No. If you and your Realtor® have done your homework ahead of time to determine you minimum and maximum requirements, along with your needs vs. your wants, you should only be seeing homes that fit your desires. And some people fall in love with the first home they see! Even so, going to at least 2-3 other homes will later give you the comfort that you shopped around and picked the right one for you. However, if you and your agent are now about to see your 12th home, you might need to sit down again with your agent to see if your lists and desires have changed and if so, to determine what are your new criteria. Just be sure to communicate often with your real estate agent about everything you’re looking for. It will help avoid wasting your time… and theirs.

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