House hunting – the fun and not so fun

Castles in the Sand

I love technology and, although I may not be as well-versed as a 12-year-old, I do feel that for my generation I’m pretty competent. One of the best parts of the high-tech world we’re living in is the multitude of information on real estate at our fingertips. It also can be one or the worst parts of the high-tech world, especially if you’re house hunting.

Shopping online has become more than just a pleasant past time, it has become the go-to form of research for so many things, and house hunting is at the top of this list. Realtor.com makes it so easy to find homes in the zip code, price range and style you’re looking for that it will convince you to stay in your pajamas and make an offer from the bed, but that would be a whopper of a mistake. Online pictures are fabulous. Where else can you peek into someone’s home unobserved? But be careful – the wide-angle lenses typically used in real estate listings make small spaces look deceptively big and water views look endless. Naturally, pictures don’t show flaws in the property like cracked tile, torn screens and mold. Even renovated kitchens and baths will look better in pictures than in person.

The only way to thoroughly check a property is to get out of your pajamas, into the car and set eyes on it. The best thing to do is to use your online research as a guideline to help you pin down a location and get educated in price ranges.

In conjunction with that, getting a home value estimator online can also be a misleading and time-wasting effort. Unless you’re looking at cookie cutter homes or identical condo units, there are too many variables that go into setting the value of a home. Even then, the estimators can’t tell you about renovations and they also can’t keep current with market conditions.

But real estate professionals can keep current with markets and they generally have a pretty good idea about the condition of available properties in your price range and location. That said, remember that all real estate agents work for the seller of the property. The seller pays the commission. Unless you work with a buyer’s agent, be careful not to disclose too far ahead of time your interest in a property and/or an acceptable price for the property, especially if you meet an agent at an open house.

Almost all condo properties and many single-family homes and villas in Florida have homeowners’ associations. Don’t take this lightly. Thoroughly read the condominium rules and regulations, by-laws and financials. Condo boards are very powerful and can and will limit some of your activities. They also have the power to levy assessments. Not all of this is a bad thing; well run HOAs keep the values up and owner’s responsibilities down.

Finally, there are no perfect homes so don’t pass on a property because it may not have the exact color countertops or appliances you want. Changes and improvements you think you will need to make can be a good negotiation point and a little elbow grease could turn into thousands of dollars in real money.

House hunting is like marriage, best approached with good humor and compromise.  If I’m correct, I think you can do that online also. That would have been right up my alley. Where was the 12-year-old when you needed them?

More Castles in the Sand:

Florida’s new foreign buyers

A home’s equity is sometimes subjective

Why is the housing market declining?