Are you planning to embark on a major housing move? And do you wish to take a methodical approach to the change, giving yourself several months of lead time to research your options before buying your next property?
If so, you may be among the wisest of home buyers, according to Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies."
"Home buyers should always take the time they need to compare neighborhood alternatives before moving," Tyson says.
Spending ample time to research their options is especially important for those planning a dramatic lifestyle change, such as leaving a suburban house in favor of an urban condo-apartment, or vice versa. Likewise, those moving from one part of the country to another are smart to take their time.
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"Making a major housing move is analogous to a big career change. Both can have consequences for years to come, including financial consequences," Tyson says.
Here are several pointers for long-lead-time buyers:
- Find a seasoned real estate agent to help guide you.
People who are relocating, whether for a job change or a retirement move, are well-advised to search for an agent who has years of experience selling homes in any community they're considering, says Tom Early, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org).
Before you start looking at specific properties, a strong agent will help you navigate the new locale, supplying you with data on home prices and valuation trends, relative school performance statistics and information on nearby amenities, such as parks and hiker- biker trails.
- Drop any agent who seeks to rush you to a premature conclusion.
Although agents are compensated on commission, and therefore don't make any money until a sale goes through, a reputable one won't try to hurry you into a purchase before you're ready, Tyson says.
Of course, it's not fair to ask the agent to spend multiple weekends showing you property unless you're progressing toward your goal of finding the best available neighborhood and home in your price range. Every veteran agent has had to cut ties with clients who looked continuously without any serious intention of buying.
Still, as Tyson says, it's not unreasonable to spend up to six months doing intermittent (yet focused) outings with an agent before committing to a property purchase in an area that's new to you, Tyson says.
- Augment your search with visits to open houses.
If you're a long-lead-time buyer planning a major housing change, you needn't rely solely on your agent to help you sort through your choices. You can do much of the footwork on your own, Early says.
"By visiting a lot of open houses, you can narrow down what you do and don't like in a home," he notes.
Many open houses are heavily advertised with street signs posted by the listing agents for the properties. If you're considering condo-apartments, however, Early suggests you consult local newspaper advertising for open house details.
- Do on-the-ground research with the locals.
As you develop a short list of housing alternatives, some of the most useful sources of realistic information are those who live and work in the areas you're considering.
"Unless they're trying to unload their home, the neighbors will tell you the real skinny about traffic tie- ups, school problems and noise issues," Early says.
What's the best way to approach neighborhood residents? He recommends you walk through the community on a weekend afternoon when many people are likely to be out in their yards. Tell them you admire their neighborhood and are considering a move there. Then feel free to politely pose a few questions.
Those considering a condo-apartment may find it harder to chat with a building's residents, though some may talk to you as they enter or exit the complex. Also, an agent who lists property in that building may also line up contacts for you.
- Don't rule out a short-term rental.
If you're like many established homeowners planning a housing change, you're resistant to the idea of taking a rental, even for a short time, until you can check out neighborhoods in a new city or become familiar with a different type of housing.
But Early contends that renting for a few months can be a good idea for people who want more time to explore their choices before submitting a contract to buy a place. And he says that one way to find property owners willing to rent for a short time is to ask listing agents if their home-selling clients would be willing to rent a vacant home that's gone unsold for a lengthy period.
"You're a lot better off renting for three to six months than rushing into a purchase just to meet some arbitrary deadline," Early says.