Whether you are house hunting in the suburbs or searching for an apartment in the city, there is an endless supply of information to take in and evaluate before you decide to submit an offer. This includes the listing’s history on the market, information on the property’s physical condition, the lifestyle of the surrounding neighborhood, outlook and strength of the local marketplace, and so much more.
Too often, this information overload can distract a buyer from her primary and most important objectives.
It's common for even the most focused shoppers to get distracted and forget their main priorities. Unless you're looking for a fixer-upper, most people want something that is move-in ready, or needs minimal, cosmetic touch-ups like a fresh paint job or updating fixtures.
These buyers often pay too much attention to appearances and secondary issues. Instead, they should be prioritizing some of the less obvious aspects – particularly those that could have a significant financial impact and play a larger role in their purchasing decision.
Here's what homebuyers should ignore on an in-person home tour:
- Staging and decor.
- Paint color and other design details.
- The kitchen at face value.
- Sound systems over how sound carries.
- Pricey upgrades.
Staging and Decor
There is a reason beautifully staged homes are likely to sell more quickly and successfully than those that are unfurnished or outdated. Staging can effectively highlight a property’s best features and, at the same time, cover up its shortcomings.
A stunning coffee table, a romantic canopied bed, impactful wall art and gorgeous window treatments give a home personality and help buyers imagine themselves in the space. Yet, many buyers become so enamored with the spectacle of staging that they forget that it doesn’t come with the property. What they’re buying is the empty space, which may not be as large as the clever staging made it appear, once their own furniture is in.
To see past this, focus on the property’s “bones” and don't get distracted by the window dressings. You should take note of what you like about the property design – the square footage, the floor plan layout, the ceiling height, the views – but don’t get sidetracked by the decor as it deflects from the property’s real features, both good and bad.
[Read: 5 Reasons You’re Still Renting]
Paint Color and Other Design Details
While many people overvalue tasteful interior decor, the reverse is also true: Homebuyers often become obsessed with things like wall coverings, floors and millwork that feel outdated.
Instead of ruling out a home because of the owner’s preferences and tastes, do your best to envision it as a blank canvas and focus on the home’s physical condition. Even the savviest buyers can become fixated on an unattractive wall unit or paint color, instead of seeing the potential of an easy fix like a fresh coat of paint or refinished floor that can make a huge improvement.
Pay attention to the condition of the walls, millwork, cabinets and even the floors. If they appear to be in decent shape, these are features you can simply and affordably update to your personal aesthetic.
Hint: To check the condition of the floors, go to the corner and see if there is any space between the baseboard and the wood. If there is, it means the floor has been refinished multiple times and may not be able to withstand another sanding job. It is far more costly to realize that the perfectly bleached wood floors you love have been sanded and stained so many times that they can't be redone only after you purchase the home and begin to renovate.
The Kitchen at Face Value
Buyers are often attracted to a brand-new kitchen with gleaming, top-of the-line appliances. While this is certainly a selling point, many assume that a magazine-worthy kitchen is high-end, functional and expensive without giving it much more thought. They see the marble and stainless-steel appliances, and the "dream kitchen” box is metaphorically checked.
But if you’re passionate about cooking, your needs for a kitchen will go far beyond brand-name appliances and new equipment. Instead of being preoccupied by the aesthetics and labels – which can easily be updated or improved – focus on functionality and quality.
Ask these important questions:
- Will you be able to add a second oven or additional appliances that might push you over electrical capacity? Start with the electricity and take a look at the circuit breaker plan.
- How big is the oven on the inside? Will it fit a 10-pound turkey?
- Are the drawers and cabinets made well? Open and close the drawers to check for quality construction.
- Is the sink where it should be in relation to the stove, following the golden triangle design rule of thumb?
- Are the drawers deep enough to hold pots and pans?
- Are the counters a good height for you, and is there enough counter space?
If you’re an avid chef, make sure the kitchen is equipped to your needs and is actually as high-end as it looks before overvaluing the prior owner or developer’s renovation.
Sound Systems Over How Sound Carries
A lot of people notice a smart home system, built-in speakers, surround sound and other audiovisual home entertainment upgrades. That’s fine, but the noise you should be more concerned about is what comes from outside the home, or how sound travels inside. Are the windows new and double-paned? Is the street you’re on quiet and residential, or is it on a busy avenue or intersection? Are the doors and walls thin and cheaply built, or of good quality to contain noises from room to room?
Real estate brokers and their marketing departments spend a considerable amount of time and effort carefully curating property descriptions loaded with specific details, brand names and perceived improvements to impress even the most discerning buyer. Calacatta marble and 8-inch oak plank floors are lovely, but just like a book, you can’t judge a home by its professionally designed cover.
Often, these high-end touches distract buyers from the decidedly unattractive things they should really be finding out about the property – like the age and quality of the home’s major systems, or when the condenser, roof or boiler were last updated. There are houses where the marble and wood were beautifully maintained, but the major systems neglected that actually keep them running. Cost-cutting measures had been made “behind-the-scenes” purposely, or it was out of sight, out of mind.
Thoroughly research the true costs of maintaining internal systems, and pay just as close attention to their upkeep as you do to the visible renovations. It is far more upsetting and frustrating to find out after the fact that you have to pay to replace these big-ticket items, than knowing from the get-go that you need new kitchen counters – which is something you likely factored into your offer price.
Browse for homes – and maybe even close a deal.
Luckily for homebuyers, house hunting apps are growing in number and sophistication. As the online real estate marketing industry becomes more competitive, mobile apps are getting better at helping consumers find accurate housing information while offering features to help users narrow down their search. Read on for some of the most popular and helpful apps to use when searching for your next house. All apps are available on both iOS and Android.
Updated on Nov. 6, 2019: This slideshow was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.Zillow
(Courtesy of Zillow)
This is the most downloaded real estate app for both Apple and Android phones, and it includes Zillow's signature map and home value estimate tools. With more than 100 million homes in its database, Zillow's app is the most popular method for users to explore the platform. In fact, Zillow reports that more than two-thirds of its usage takes place on a mobile device, jumping to more than three-quarters on the weekends.
Best feature: The app’s dashboard includes a Your Home tab that allows you to store your property’s information and see how its value estimate changes over time.
Pro: You have the option to filter your saved searches by property listings that have recently changed, so you don’t have to scroll far to see if a house's asking price dropped.
Con: As much as you may want it to be, the Zillow Zestimate isn’t a guarantee of what your home will sell for.Realtor.com Real Estate Search
Realtor.com Real Estate Search
(Courtesy of Realtor.com)
Filters on this app's search function allow you to include specific details on your must-have list, such as multiple floors, a fireplace, central air and even community swimming pools or security features.
Best feature: With the Sign Snap feature, you can take a photo of a real estate sign you see in a neighborhood and get details about the property right away.
Pro: You have the option to connect with a real estate agent who can represent you as the buyer in a deal, but you can also see the contact information of the listing agent if you want to talk to him or her directly.
Con: The more specific filters rely on listing agents using the right keywords, so if you’re struggling to find everything you want in a house, you may have to widen your search and keep an eye out for details in listing photos.Trulia
Trulia’s app gives users a desktop-like experience in a mobile platform, with a focus on design that makes it easy to use.
Best feature: Trulia polls its online users who live in specific neighborhoods and includes the results on the app. For example, you might find that 93% of one neighborhood's respondents feel comfortable walking alone at night or that 76% say kids play outside regularly.
Pros: On each property profile, Trulia lists local legal protections, noting whether there is legislation in the area to protect against discrimination for gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing or public accommodations.
Cons: On any property profile, you’re prompted to call or email an agent about the property. While this is convenient if you’re serious about buying but don’t have an agent, it can get in the way if you’re just browsing.Redfin Real Estate
Redfin Real Estate
Since Redfin utilizes an out-of-the-box business model with agents and professionals specializing in different steps of the homebuying and selling process, the company’s app serves as a way for users and Redfin agents to communicate. A map indicates which properties are listed by Redfin or another broker and also notes homes that are likely to sell fast through its Hot Homes feature.
Best feature: You can schedule a tour with a Redfin agent directly through the app. The app even lists the next available tour time.
Pro: You can click the heart symbol to keep a property you like on your radar, and you can also nix properties so they don’t keep popping up in searches.
Con: If you don’t live in one of the 80 markets where Redfin has agents, the app offers local listing information pulled from the MLS, but you won't be able to utilize the features that connect you with Redfin agents.Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals
Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals
(Courtesy of Homesnap)
Homesnap gives house hunters the reins with this app. A signature feature allows users to take a photo of a home, and the app will identify the property and provide details about it from the local multiple listing service or public records.
Best feature: The beginning of each property profile details the property history, including previous sale prices and when it last went on market.
Pro: Each home has a section that allows you to determine your commute route and time and see both map and street views of the property.
Con: The property details are in list form, which you can expand to see everything from the home's architectural style to number of bathrooms and homeowners association fees. The depth of information is helpful, but long lists can make it easy to lose focus and miss key criteria.Homes.com
On this app, you can search based on your needs and desires, including buying versus renting, home value information for properties on the market and what neighborhoods are ideal based on your preferred commute time.
Best feature: An exclamation point in the corner of a property profile lets you know that it’s a new listing, which can help you move quickly to avoid competition with other buyers.
Pro: If you'd like to get in touch with a local agent, the bottom of a property's profile often lists more than one option, making it easier for you to shop around for the right agent.
Con: While Homes.com has much of the same property information as other house hunting platforms, the app doesn't offer much in the way of neighborhood information.Estately Real Estate
Estately Real Estate
Estately aims to connect consumers with the right local real estate agent, and its app offers multiple ways to get in touch with agents.
Best feature: Users can click on icons on property profiles for quick information on taxes, utilities, appliances, schools and more. Profiles also include scores on things like area noise pollution and internet speed – details that aren’t always considered but could be deal-breakers.
Pro: The app encourages you to see houses in person, with multiple opportunities on a property profile to schedule a day and time to visit.
Con: Estately only covers markets in 40 states, so those looking for homes in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky and several others are out of luck.Century 21 Local
Century 21 Local
(Courtesy of Century 21)
A longstanding national brokerage, Century 21 provides consumers with access to home listing information pulled from the local multiple listing services. The app can particularly come in handy if you plan to use a Century 21 agent, as that’s who you'll be in touch with if you would like to inquire more about a property.
Best feature: The app provides a notes section for every property, so you can keep track of your impressions as you compare homes.
Pro: If you start searching for homes in a different city, information about the local Century 21 brokerage you should contact changes accordingly, although you can still see listings from brokerages outside Century 21.
Con: This app pulls from Zillow to provide home value estimates, but occasionally lists "unavailable" even if the property has a Zestimate available on Zillow.The best apps for house hunting include:
The best apps for house hunting include:
- Realtor.com Real Estate Search.
- Redfin Real Estate.
- Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals.
- Estately Real Estate.
- Century 21 Local.