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1. Get pre-approved.
Call up the bank, and make an appointment to meet with someone. Talk to them about different loans; figure out if you qualify for a single family, two family, or four family home; talk about whether or not you could get money to remodel a house if needed. Talk to them and make sure that you get the "Okay, start looking for a house because you qualify for a loan in the amount of _____ and YES, we will back you up with the money!" and not just the "Okay, you're pre-approved." We learned that tip from our home teacher who is into the buying and fixing up homes business right before we decided to start talking to different banks about loans.
2. Decide what your budget is.
There's a big difference between someone telling you what the maximum amount you can borrow from the bank is and what you can realistically spend. What monthly payment fits into your budget? What is the maximum price you would spend on a house? What is the minimum? Knowing that price range is key to beginning your search for a home. :) Also note that you'll have to pay taxes and insurance each month, as well!
3. Ask around about finding a realtor you can rely on.
When our bishop heard that we were wanting to buy a home, he quickly recommended his realtor that he and his wife have used multiple times. We asked them a couple different questions about the realtor and decided to set up an initial meeting with the realtor to talk about what we were looking for. Which leads me to point 4...
4. Know what you're looking for.
When we met with the realtor, we knew that we wanted to stay in our ward boundaries (which covers more than half of St. Louis, so it wasn't that limiting...) and we had narrowed it down to 2-3 neighborhoods that we wanted to look in. We knew that we wanted to find a duplex or a fourplex so that the renters would cover most of the mortgage.
5. Don't be afraid to pester your realtor.
Send your realtor listings for houses that you find. Don't be afraid to call your him/her and ask little questions or set up multiple times to see houses in one week. It's their job to help you find the house you love.
6. Mention to people that you're in the market to buy a house.
Once we had told people in our ward and coworkers that we were looking for a house, people started telling us about houses that they had seen for sale. I got texts from my visiting teacher of "For Sale" signs with numbers to call, and coworkers showed me listings online of houses their friends were trying to sell. Networking works!
7. Be realistic.
Your dream home probably doesn't exist. Sorry, but it's true. Most houses we would come across were good, but not perfect. We really had to sit down and talk about what was most important to us in a home, and talk about what we could live without. Also, we had to be realistic about the timeframe. We started looking for a home back in May, and easily spent 10 hours or more a week going out and looking at houses with no luck. By the time September had rolled around, we had put offers in on two houses (crazy stories about both of those...) but had no house to show for it. It takes time.
8. Learn to see a place for its potential.
I wish I could list out all of the disgusting things we saw while walking through houses. We walked through one two bedroom house that was home to a refugee family of 10. There was so much garbage on the floor, I thought for sure I was going to step on bugs and who knows what while walking through the house. When we got out to the car I told Ben that there was no way I'd ever live in that house. Ever. It took him a solid month to get me to see places for their potential and to not focus on how disgusting they were. Walls can be painted, kitchens and bathrooms can be remodeled, and flowers can be planted. Once I was able to look past the junk and garbage, we found some homes that I could see myself living in and really, really enjoying.
Okay, that's all I have for you, I think. So let me ask you...
Do you have any tips or tricks for house hunting?