Starting a house search

I started working in real estate in the Stone Age, well actually, it was the Paper Age. In 1991, I was the only agent I knew who read the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data at home from my computer. Now, everyone has MLS on their home computer, agents and the public. The access to listings has changed my job. I no longer provide the house listings. I provide advice on how to handle the house search on the computer.

The most common mistake that consumers make when setting up an MLS search is to limit their search too much or too little. The ideal search yields properties that are closer and closer to the goal. Bad searches yield either too few options or properties that don’t work, in the same way, over and over.

Setting up your search takes some thought.  Most buyers have heard the old saw: “three things matter in real estate: location, location, location…” But location isn’t everything; it is just the thing that is unchangeable.  To develop a good search, buyers need to balance the three variables: 

location + size + condition (with some variation for charm/style) = price. 

Location is there forever! Size is expensive to change — and may be impossible. Condition will change — whether you want it to or not. 

A smart buyer chooses location or locations first: check your commute, your walking routes, your regular shopping routine, night safety and quiet. If you have flexibility in your locations, you will have more choices. I am not saying that you must move far away or into a bad neighborhood; rather, I’m encouraging you to find neighborhoods that work for you by trying them out. This may be a town or a group of towns. It may also be within a certain distance from work, or from a T stop, or from you church, or from someplace else you regularly go.
Once you know the area or areas you like, then you can more comfortably balance the questions of size and condition. A home in the “best” location may be too small or too run down for you. Sometimes another good — but not great — location will afford you more space or a better condition. 

Next decide on your absolute smallest property you would consider. Since square footage on listing sheets are inconsistent, subtract about 100 SF from what you think you need, for starters. Change it once you establish that they are consistently too small at the bottom of the scale.

You can’t search for “good condition,” but you can search for age of the property or key words that would yield renovated houses. Hint: keyword “kitchen” will find renovated kitchens. Listing agents do not advertise “old kitchen” in the remarks.

Your search does not need to be consistent. It is not unreasonable to have several searches running to pick up several locations that might work, with different top prices, based on desirability. Some house-hunters search for condos in one town, but houses in another.
The joy of computer searching is that it costs nothing but time and concentration to set up a search that yields good options for you. Work with your agent to set up an intelligent search. “Let your fingers do the walking,” as they said in the Paper Age.

Do you have other hints for using the on-line data to your best advantage while house hunting?

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