How to Make the Most of Your Home Shopping Experience
If you’re shopping for a new home, the good news is that there is one that’s just right for you. The downside is that it isn’t easy to find. The reason is that too often we can be fooled by looking at the wrong things. Homes are easy to stage to look appealing for a great first impression. Granite countertops, impressive flooring, designer ceilings, and elegant light fixtures are a few things that will tug at your heart. Yet sadly, the quality of the construction and other lasting features of a home are usually at the bottom of a sales conversation. Typically, on these subjects, a home shopper can only rely on what the home builder or sales consultant says. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some key points and questions to consider before you make what will most likely be the biggest investment of your lifetime—buying a home.
CONSIDER YOUR NEEDS FIRST
You should have a good idea of what your basic needs are. In defining these, you should also consider what your needs will be as your family grows or as your lifestyle changes. Aside from your budget, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms should be the basic element that drives your new home search. Make a list of your priorities and be prepared to throw some of them out. When making the list of what you want, a good idea is also to make a list of what you don’t want. Call it your Deal Breaker list.
A big part of what makes a home right for you is its location. Is your homesite close to schools, work, shopping, and all the other conveniences you may need? Is the neighborhood quiet and safe for your children, and does the new home community offer perimeter fencing or a gated entrance? Does the location provide easy access to expressways or major roads? Remember that coming home is about arriving where you live—and that includes your neighborhood.
GET PRE-APPROVED FOR A HOME LOAN
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan before you begin your home shopping is highly recommended—especially if you are serious about buying a home. The pre-approval process begins with visiting a mortgage lender who will instruct you on what documents are needed to determine exactly what you can afford. Many companies offer free pre-approval services, and the process will help you narrow your search for a new home, thereby helping you avoid the heartache that comes from falling in love with a home you cannot afford. It is important to note that the amount you qualify for doesn’t mean you should buy a home that equals that amount. Remember to consider all the hidden costs of moving into a new home, which may involve new furniture, new appliances, and moving costs. You also need to include in your budget the monthly costs of homeownership, such as utilities and maintenance.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING
As mentioned above, don’t be taken in by a home’s beauty. Ask questions about what’s behind the walls. Is the home insulated with spray foam or batt insulation? Is the air conditioning unit sized properly for the size of the home to avoid high utility bills and an uncomfortable interior? Was the home constructed to comply with the state’s mandated 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)? Was the home built to minimum code standards or is it a high-performance home certified by the BUILT TO SAVE™ or the ENERGY STAR® programs? If it was built to minimum code standards, was it built to the 2015 code law as required by state law, or was it built to an older version of the code and not compliant? If it was certified as a high-performance home, you should be shown or given a copy of the BUILT TO SAVE™ or ENERGY STAR™ certificate as proof.
KNOW THE ENERGY EFFICIENCY YOU SHOULD EXPECT
As required by the State of Texas, every home built and sold after August 1, 2016, is required to meet the energy efficiency standards of the 2015 IECC. Mandatory also is that every home be tested with a blower door test and a duct leakage test (unless in conditioned space) to ensure that the home meets the state’s new code law. These tests are performed by a home energy rater who calculates the home’s energy rating score (ERI or HERS score). This rating is an excellent predictor of the home’s projected energy efficiency and will tell you what to expect in utility usage and costs. It is important to know that not all the municipalities in Texas are enforcing the state’s 2015 IECC code, so ask before you buy. The best advice is to look for a BUILT TO SAVE™ or ENERGY STAR® certified home. Only then will you know for sure that what is behind the walls was inspected and tested by a third-party home energy rater and that the home’s construction complied with the 2015 IECC state law.
DO YOU BUY A NEW OR EXISTING HOME?
This is a question that will most likely be determined by your budget. While new homes are typically more expensive, there is no doubt that if constructed correctly, a new home is the best option. New construction materials and processes along with new technology and superior energy efficiency construction are a few of the reasons that make new construction the best option. Most important, with a new home, you will have the option of customizing it to fit your needs—exactly. The Rio Grande Valley is an area of the country that has many talented custom home builders ready to build your dream home. However, whether you are buying a new or existing home, remember to ask questions. Don’t assume that every home is built the same way. They are not.