If you’re like many homebuyers in today’s market, you’re looking for a house that’s ready for you to live in right away. You don’t want to go through the hassle of making a lot of changes before moving your furniture in and calling the place home. Simply put, you want a move-in ready house.
But what does "move-in ready" really mean? Depending on who’s talking, it could simply mean that all the appliances work; for others, it means a freshly renovated home that reflects popular trends and styles. Or you may want a house that requires zero work – if the paint colors don’t match your tastes, it’s not move-in ready.
As a result, it’s hard to pinpoint what a listing agent means when the house is described as move-in ready online or in other marketing materials. To help you navigate the house-hunting process and manage your expectations when it comes to common listing descriptors, we’ve broken down how the definition of the phrase varies and how you can change your search to match the meaning you need to find your next home.
Take 'Move-in Ready' at Face Value
The technical definition of move-in ready, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is that the building can be occupied, meeting all local code requirements for living in it, including working plumbing and electricity and doors and windows that lock.
By this definition, how you see a property doesn’t really relate to whether it’s move-in ready. Freshly painted walls and a remodeled kitchen to match current trends may pull you in as a buyer, but upon inspection you could learn there’s structural damage that needs to be repaired before you move in.
When it comes to house hunting, however, move-in ready tends to take on a more cosmetic definition for homebuyers. Dan Galloway, a real estate agent and team manager for national brokerage Redfin in the District of Columbia, says some buyers get a wake-up call when they see what’s actually available for them to buy.
“It’s sort of the scourge of HGTV – [buyers] think that move-in ready means that it’s going to be completely to [their] taste, and fixer-upper means just change around some carpet, maybe some paint. And that’s not the case at all,” Galloway says. “Especially with the sort of nationwide inventory crisis that we have, you have to take what’s available. That might mean that you’re going to move into a place where you hate the green walls or you hate the shag carpet, but you’re not having to do any structural improvement, any systematic upgrades.”
While you may consider the space in need of updates or renovations to meet your needs and wants, you can’t assume a property description that includes move-in ready will adhere to all your personal preferences. Take claims of move-in ready at face value.
“Even [with] brand-new renovations, brand-new construction, there are always going to be minor imperfections in a home,” Galloway says.
Finding Your Move-in Ready Home
Since move-in ready can mean so many things for different people, it’s important to convey your preferences to your agent with plenty of specifics. Do you prefer to only see fully updated homes? Are you OK with remodeling for cosmetic purposes only? Does the thought of having to repaint a room disgust you?
By being able to better describe what you prefer in a home, your agent can discuss whether those expectations may need to be altered based on your budget and target neighborhood. For example, if the majority of houses going on the market in your preferred neighborhood are being sold by homeowners who’ve lived there for 30 years rather than investors who’ve renovated the entire property, you may have to consider a home that needs more work or look in a different part of town.
But if your determination for an interior with no work required means you have to live 40 minutes from your preferred neighborhood, keep in mind what you’re giving up. Joe Zeibert, senior director of products, pricing and credit for Ally Financial Inc., notes that in more recent years, homebuyers have been focusing most on the neighborhood, rather than all the finest details of the house itself: “People want something for their lifestyle, versus ‘I’m going to move somewhere for this house.’”
Keep this trend in mind when considering your ability to build wealth through your home – if you like a certain neighborhood, chances are other people do, too. The more desirable the community, the more likely you’ll see property values continue to climb over time and at a faster rate. Your ability to enjoy your home in the years you live there certainly takes priority over return on investment, but if your community preferences line up with trends in property value growth, sacrificing it for a brand-new master suite may not be the best money move.
If you’re struggling to find the kind of pristine, move-in ready condition you want in existing homes, it may be worth it to look at new construction, which allows you to either add your preferences to a house that will be built for you. Many builders offer brand-new homes that are almost finished with construction for those who don't need the custom design or may be on a tighter timeline to close on a property.
If time isn't a concern, you can always wait to see if a home that better suits your needs in your preferred neighborhood comes on the market. But if you're going to wait, be sure what you want is a reasonable expectation – you don't want to realize a year from now that the house you hoped to find simply doesn't exist where you want to live.
Consider Living With the Ugly a Little
Budgeting to buy a house in a pricey neighborhood and make immediate renovations isn’t always as feasible as you’d like. As long as the house meets that technical definition of move-in ready and you’re not living in squalor – but simply have a dated master bathroom – wait and save up a bit more before you start planning for a remodel. And if the house isn't move-in ready or in need of a new roof or furnace, focus your budget on those required changes before you make any cosmetic upgrades.
The neighborhood you buy in can also make waiting on upgrades a valuable decision. Zeibert says the primary focus for many buyers is to find “a community that matches [their] personality.” If you’re shopping in a unique, eclectic neighborhood for that reason, it may clash with that vision of a model home you have in your head. Wait to see if the narrow hallway or pedestal sink in the powder room that’s characteristic of homes in the neighborhood isn’t something you grow to love.
There’s a good chance you’ll learn to tolerate it. Galloway faced a similar situation with his own home: “I’ve bought a home saying, ‘I hate this kitchen. I’m going to rip it out the second I get in.’ And here I am, five years later, and I haven’t done a thing to it, and it doesn’t register to me anymore.”
Measuring twice is still a thing.
Doing a little home improvement on your own can be a great way to cut costs on a project. But you can find yourself having to do a project over again or in the middle of a dangerous situation if you don’t have a firm grasp of what you’re doing – no matter how many YouTube videos you’ve watched. Home inspection and contracting professionals weigh in on some of the most common do-it-yourself hacks that are a major don’t.Skipping the permits
Skipping the permits
Permit regulations vary depending on your location, but they
are often required when conducting plumbing, electrical, heating or air work to
ensure a home is safe. There will be an extra cost, but it’s
worth the price over getting caught doing the work without a permit, or far
worse, doing the work wrong. “The permits are there to enforce minimum quality
standards,” says Michael Flanagan, heating, ventilation and air conditioning manager for Michael & Son Services in
Leaving wires exposed
Leaving wires exposed is an obvious no-no,
but they also need to be covered properly when they’re hidden. Frank Lesh, the
executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says inspectors commonly find exposed wires in suspended ceilings of recently
finished basements. “It’s not that someone’s going to touch it, but mice are
everywhere … and they start gnawing on the electrical wire and insulation," he points out. "And
if there’s no cover on [the wire] … it could rub up against metal and short-circuit.”
Any electrical fix
Attempts at adding circuits or overloading circuits can
easily cause you to blow a fuse. Dave Geradine, owner of Expert Home Repairs in
Hollywood, Florida, says electrical work is particularly sensitive because a
connection could work a number of ways, but its flaws may not be apparent until
it’s too late. “If you don’t make your connections properly, you can have … an
electrical fire caused by an arcing of the two wires that aren’t tightly
connected,” Geradine says.
Closing vents to focus heat on another part of the house
Winter is coming, and parts of your house may feel it more
than others. You may be tempted to close the vents in one room to send more
warm air to other parts of the house, but Flanagan says that’s a bad idea.
“While you can close some vents to force more air to this part of the house and
that part of the house, you’re destroying your efficiency and you’re certainly
shortening the life of the equipment,” he says.
Squeezing space heaters into tiny spots
Electric space heaters are another way to heat up those colder rooms, but be careful where you put them. Lesh says people often push up space heaters against curtains or place them in other
areas where they become a fire hazard. Jury-rigging
a space heater to sit above a baby’s crib is a definite don’t. “A truck could go by or an airplane, and this little
heater on the shelf could fall into the crib and start a fire,” Lesh says.
Putting new flooring on top of old material
Replacing a floor is a great way to make a room feel new
again, but you should always remove old material, such as tile or linoleum, before putting new
flooring on top. Otherwise, you could find yourself with an uneven surface, and
you’ll have to replace it yet again. “You always want to go down to the bare
wood or concrete surface when you do new flooring," Geradine says. If you don’t? "What’s underneath your new flooring fails, [and] then your tile comes up,” he says.
Using the wrong replacement pipe
Finding the right pipe to match a section of plumbing that
needs replacement can be tricky and expensive. Aside from leaks, which are
possible with ill-fitting pipes, Lesh says you can easily raise a new
bunch of issues without even realizing it. For one, replacing a portion of copper or
steel pipe for a water heater with a plastic option can spell out
“If your electrical system is using the plumbing pipes
for grounding, there has to be a circuit there," he explains. "If you replace one of the water
pipes with something that’s not conductive like steel or copper ... then you no longer have that ground. And then the house
could be ungrounded, so that could be a fire or safety hazard.”
Using standard outlets near a sink or tub
If you don’t already know that water and electricity don’t
mix, put the drill down. When remodeling a bathroom or kitchen, be sure to use
outlets that include a ground-fault circuit interrupter for any areas near water.
In the event an appliance that’s plugged in falls into water, the GFCI
will trip the electricity so it cuts off, Lesh says. Otherwise, “if you have a
conventional receptacle, then you could get electrocuted.”
Using all-purpose glues or tapes.
Sadly, duct tape is not an effective go-to tool, and most
likely neither are those fancy tapes and glues you’ve seen on infomercials. “Those
spray-on glues and the tape that stops the leak in the water pipe you see on TV
does not work,” Flanagan says. When it comes to taping or gluing something
together, there’s typically an adhesive specific to the need that is most
effective and least likely to cause problems down the line. For example, Flanagan
says heating and air professionals use foil tape.
Fastening a deck to a home with nails
The more people a structure is expected to hold, the bigger
the bolt should be to hold the structure in place, especially when adding a new
deck onto your home. Lesh says home inspectors frequently see decks attached to
homes with nails, when the project requires specific bolts to secure the
structure. “Every year a deck collapses because a guy just used a
whole bunch of nails to attach it to the house,” he says.
Painting over chipped paint or wallpaper
While you may think a couple coats of paint could have any
wall looking brand new, it’s important to make the surface smooth and clean
first, particularly if you’re looking to get rid of old wallpaper or
chipped paint. “Paint will moisten the wallpaper and then make it bubble. And
then you have to cut out all the bubble spots and fill them with joint
compound,” Geradine says. Ultimately, you’ll have to remove the wallpaper
anyway, and it’s far easier to take off without paint over it.
Replacing pipes in old homes without checking
Many older homes could use a bit of TLC, but be wary of the
dangers that could be lurking beneath the surface. There is a chance that old
plumbing could contain asbestos, which isn’t something you want to let
in the air. “There could be hazardous material in there, and that is nothing
to play around with," Lesh says. "You can’t just wear a dust mask and take that stuff off –
the fibers are microscopic and you can really, really injure yourself long term
if you touch that kind of stuff.”
He adds that you should seek a professional with noted experience
handling hazardous materials to ensure particles aren’t left in the air to
wreak havoc over time.
When in doubt, call a pro.
You can be handy with tools and still need to submit to a
professional’s help sometimes. If you’re unsure of the dangers of a project,
contacting someone who does know will make it far less likely that you'll turn
your home into a death trap.
“With the trades – plumbing, heating, air and electrical –
there may be five ways to do it right, but there’s a thousand ways to do it
wrong,” Flanagan says. “And people tend to find those thousand ways before they
find the five ways. So if you’re just not confident and competent in what
you’re doing, you should just call a professional.”
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She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.