Once I had decided to pursue this whole grown-ass-person thing and figured out just how much money that was probably going to cost me, I got to the fun part of searching.
Before I spoke to a realtor, I started looking at things on my own – through MLS, ComFree, Grapevine… and of course, checking with housecreep.com to make sure everything was legit, as in:
This is really where the fun part begins, and I of course found a way to nerd-it-up. I kept track of houses that I was looking at online, how long they seemed to stay listed roughly, what the list price was, what the features that mattered to me were, and I started ranking things. A whole big system. It helped to get a sense of the market and helped to pick out things that looked like a good buy, or looked crazy.
After some time doing that, I started going to Open Houses. They were… interesting.
The very first Open House I went to, I was very methodical. I brought a copy of the listing, and made notes before I went into the house and after I left. I brought my dad with me, and was amazed by the kinds of things that I wasn’t even bothering to look at or think about at all – “did you see the stains/damage on the wood floors?” “they had wood floors?!” – I learned that house-hunting takes practice, and it helps to go with people who have done it before. They don’t feel so awkward about opening doors, flushing toilets, and touching things. I started out by treating every home I stepped into like it was a museum at first, but over time got better at being nosy. Nosy is good; you should spend at least as much time hemming-and-hawing over a house as you do over a pair of jeans, I mean really.
Going to Open Houses also helped me to learn about how a listing looked online vs. what you wound up seeing in person, and really see what was realtor-speak for certain things.
- “Fixer-Upper” and “Handyman” mean “dump; avoid unless you are a professional.”
- “Cozy” means “Tiny.”
- “Awaiting your touch” means the homeowner hasn’t done a damn thing to update the place, but they haven’t let it become a total dump. Prepare to step into a time capsule.
As well, I learned to beware the DIY-er who tries to bill you for an upgrade as if it was done by a professional. DIY-jobs generally get to be pretty easy-to-spot, if not done by someone with exceptional patience, and for some things that’s maybe not such a big deal, but I would run upon seeing any evidence of major-DIY work; i.e. something that probably required a permit but never had one. That said, I’m not judging the whole DIY-thing; just don’t try to pass off an obvious DIY-job as if you shelled out the coin for a professional.
I checked out all kinds of things through Open Houses, all in my budget – I looked at the areas that I was interested in, as well as the areas I had no interest in, to see if even after all my thinking I had a clue about what I wanted.
I also learned that unless the place had been sitting for ages, you were often going to be told it “had an offer on the way” or “had a lot of interest” – and surprise! those houses often sat for some time after that. As of July, 2015, this is no longer legal – it’s a practice called “Phantom Bidding” and you can read more about that here.
Much as I monitored and searched online, the real figuring out what I was looking for came from the Open Houses; I also learned quite a bit through Open Houses about what I wanted from a realtor. Some of the agents at Open Houses were very aggressive – which was very off-putting. Others spent more time selling themselves as a realtor, knowing that at the time I didn’t have an agent, than they did the house – and in several instances committed to following up with me, insisting that they had “just the thing” in mind, only never to be heard from again.
Finally, one realtor from an Open House was approachable and committed to following up with me, and actually did. She sat down with me outside of the Open House visit for a chat, walked me through what her process was, and in the few days that we spoke was highly responsive, personable, and instilled a lot of confidence in her experience and ability, while still seeming realistic.
Ultimately, I chose a realtor who shared those same qualities but also came with a personal referral. More on that later.
By the time I finished going to Open Houses, I was not remotely methodical about writing things down – my impressions outside and in, before and after, blah blah blah. I think I was starting to get what people meant when they said you “just knew” about houses and when you were finding “the one.” After going to a pile of Open Houses, I figured I wasn’t really anywhere near finding the one so it was time to enlist help – I’ll tell you about that next time.