Looking for a retirement home in Talbot County? Relocating to help your aging parents? We will walk you through the steps from your wishlist to signing!
You’ve managed to put together enough for a down payment and you know that somewhere out there, the retirement home of your dreams is calling to you. But how do you go about finding it?
While we all know how to comparison shop to get the best buy on a stereo or car, houses or condos seem much harder to find, especially when you realize that buying a place to live is probably going to be the last big purchase you’ll make in your lifetime.
But, panic doesn’t have to be part of the process. Getting the best value for your money in the housing market isn’t all that difficult; it’s just a matter of knowing how to go about it.
You’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how and where you want to live – house in town, house in the country, big yard, no yard, co-op, condo. Now’s the time, before you go out looking, to make a list of everything you want in a house. Write it all down.
Let your imagination soar. Have you always thought you’d like a kitchen with a bay window? Have you dreamed about a fireplace in the bedroom? Put it on the list. Is space for a vegetable garden important? Add that, too.
It helps to itemize everything you plan to do in your new home, too. This may seem simplistic, but it’s a very effective tool. If for example, you plan to have grandchildren visit often, you ought to think in terms of a home that’s compatible with your plans. If you like to entertain, you’ll want to put more emphasis on cooking and eating areas; if you enjoy the outdoors, a more rural setting might be appealing.
A bit of organization and you’ll be able to see what’s really important on your list – two bedrooms or three, for example, or a detached versus a semi-detached house – and what would be nice to have but isn’t written in stone. Put essentials on an “A” list and then separate the rest into “B” and “C” lists.
For example, you may like the way an open contemporary floor plan lets you keep an eye on the grandkids in the family room while you prepare dinner in the kitchen. Or, let’s say the grandchildren are teenagers who like to blast the CD player. Well, for your sanity’s sake you may prefer the style of older homes, which feature rooms that are generally closed off from one another or have finished attics or basements.
You’ll also need to get an objective evaluation of your buying power. You need to find out how much of a down payment you can manage, along with what your mortgage limit might be. You might think you can afford to make a $2,000 a month payment, while a mortgage lender might feel $1,600 is more realistic.
Once you have a clear picture of what you want and what you can afford, a real estate agent will help you find a place that fulfills both qualifying factors. Advises Anne Roe, a real estate agent with Benson and Mangold Real Estate in St. Michaels, “Stay in touch with an agent even if you don’t see anything you like right away. New places are always coming on the market, and if you call regularly, the agent is going to realize you’re seriously interested and will let you know when something appropriate is listed.”
If you’re lucky enough to find a house that suits you perfectly the first time you go out with an agent to look, don’t shout “We’ll take it!” immediately.
Marla Baines, a real estate agent with Long and Foster Real Estate says, ‘’Even if you absolutely love the first place you see, you still owe it to yourself to look at others.”
Actually, if you were frank and thorough in your qualifying interview with the real estate agent about what you want and what you can afford, it won’t take long before you’ll get a good idea of property values and how much you can expect to get for your money in any given area. Be prepared to view many houses before finally making up your mind.
“Don’t be swayed by the cosmetics,” warns Anne Roe. “If you’re going to be a canny buyer, concentrate on the major systems and the structure, which are the most expensive items to repair or replace.”
For example, test the plumbing. Run all the faucets at the same time, if you can manage it. Flush all the toilets, too. If the water pressure seems lethargic, or you see stains on the sinks or bowls, or the water looks a little rusty, there may be a problem. Also, look under the sink to see if there are any leaks, and you should run the garbage disposal and the dishwasher to see if they function properly.
Ask the owner for a copy of a recent water bill, and then check with the water company to see if usage for that size house is normal. Ask to see recent fuel bills, too.
Later, if you make an offer that is accepted, you should hire a professional house inspector to go over the place, inside and out, with a fine tooth comb. See “Is the House Physically Fit?” on page 24.)
Now’s the time to bring out your lists and compare. Ask yourself, honestly, how well does the property you are considering match up against your needs? Remember, you don’t want to discover after you’ve moved into a house that the 30-minute drive to the supermarket takes too much valuable time.
Sometimes, the way to close the gap between what you want and what you can afford is by investing a little sweat equity in a fixer-upper. But unless you’re handy enough to do most of the work yourself, repairs and renovations can become so expensive you actually wind up paying more than you might for a place in move-in condition. One quick rule: When you estimate the cost of renovations or repairs, double your figure after you calculate all the costs. That second figure will be closer to the truth.
When you find a house or condo that has most of your “A” list, a few on your “B” and maybe a sprinkling of “C” list items, you’re getting closer to becoming an owner. It’s time to make an offer.
Are you interested in building a new home in Talbot County, instead of buying one? Visit our article on Building a New Home.