Buying Tips, Choosing An Agent- Buyer, First Time Buyer, Researching to Buy, The Buying Process, Tips For the Buyer

Your Dream Home Questionnaire

Here are some questions to help you establish your search parameters and allow your agent to assist you.  This will help you set  a realistic understanding of what the market offers in your price point while searching! 

  • Town(s)You’d Like To Buy In:  ________________________________________________ ​
  • What is your primary reason for searching? 1st Time Buyer / Upsize / Downsize / Relocation / Secondary  ​
  • Current living situation? Rent / Own / with Family ​
  • When Do You Want To Purchase By: ___________________________________________​
  • Do you have a Pre-approval? Yes / No​
  • Maximum Price that you are Pre-Approved for:  __________________________________​
  • Has the mortgage pro reviewed documents ie tax returns, statements, pay stubs? Yes / No​
  • Are you currently working with an agent? Yes / No​
  • How long have you been actively home searching? Just started / 1 month / 3 months / 6 months /Longer​
  • Do you prefer a 1 Floor / 2 Floor home / Something different?​
  • Minimum Bedrooms: _______________    Minimum Bathrooms  ______________​
  • Do you prefer a Tub / Stall Shower in the main bathroom? ​
  • Preferred Square Footage?:  ________________​
  • Basement? Yes Has to Have / Wouldn’t mind / No​
  • Garage? 1 car / 2 car / 3 car / Added Bonus if it has one/ Has to have (circle then car#)​
  • Your Most Desired Features:  _________________________________________________​
  • What do you not want?  ____________________________________________________​
  • How long do you anticipate owning the home? <5 years / 5-10 years / 10 years +​
  • Do you entertain a lot? Yes / No   Where do you entertain most? ____________________​
  • Do you have any pets? Yes / No    If so, how many pets? (HOA restrictions) ____________​
  • Do you need a Fenced Yard? Yes / No ​
  • Do you want a Formal Living Room AND a family room? Yes / No​
  • Do you want a Dining Room? Yes / No​
  • Do you want a Kitchen Island? Yes / No​
  • Do you want a Kitchen Pantry? Yes / NO​
  • Do you want a Fireplace? Yes – woodburning/ Yes – Gas /  No / Wouldn’t mind​
  • Do you need a Home Office? Yes / No  Can it be on the 2nd floor? Yes / No​
  • Do you want a Pool? Inground / Above / Either / No​
  • Do you have a particular lot type in mind? ______________________________________​
  • Do you have to have Central air conditioning? Yes / No ​
  • What kind of parking do you require? Driveway / On street / Garage​
  • What condition do you prefer? Move In / Average / Fix up​
  • Are you purchasing with: Cash / Conventional / FHA / VA / 203k or rehab / Alternate​
  • What kind of down payment? 0% / 3.5% (FHA) / 5% / 10% / 15% / 20% / Over 20%​
  • Do you have cash for closing costs? Yes / No / Will need seller credit​
Buying Tips, Choosing An Agent- Buyer, First Time Buyer, Renting vs. Buying, Researching to Buy, Tips For the Buyer, Uncategorized

Before You Start House Hunting


  1. Is owning a home right for you?​
  2. Have you determined the desired location? ​
  3. What is your lifestyle? Condo / Single Family / 55+​
  4. Are you financially prepared for the purchase? ​
  5. Have you considered the costs of home ownership​
  6. Have you established credit & credit history?  ​
  7. Have you planned on a down payment? 20% is a misconception! Beyond a down payment, you will need prepaid items & closing costs (seller concessions can help to offset the closing costs) ​
  8. What are your current & immediate future needs?​
  9. What is your current situation- Renting / Own / Family​
  10. Speak to a mortgage professional! They can let you know if your credit history / score is sufficient (and guide you if it isn’t)!  They will calculate your affordability based on debt to income ratio (and guide you if you need to improve it to obtain a higher budget)!  They will assist you… ​
  • By reviewing documents & getting you Pre-Approved !​
  • Advise of down payment needed & cash for closing ​
  • Provide estimated monthly mortgage payments​
  • Advise you of mortgage types that exist and what you qualify for​
  • Advise on the conditions of the loan that you will need to satisfy prior to closing​
  • Your closing time frame​
  • Remain in constant contact with you through your purchase!​
  • Advise you on what to do and NOT to do during the purchase – ie change jobs, make large purchases, open new credit accounts, etc.​
  • Be a KEY part in your purchase! ​
  • Help you with all of your mortgage needs!​
Buying Tips, Choosing An Agent- Buyer, Researching to Buy, The Buying Process, Uncategorized

Buyer Questionnaire

No matter where you are in the buying process- just researching, ready to look, ready to purchase, you are going to need to know what it is you are looking for. Searches many times evolve.  But thinking about what you may want and knowing what you are initially starting with, helps significantly in the process and can reduce the amount of time you spend actively looking.

Initially, you begin looking online and driving by listings or through neighborhoods.  That is a great first step.  This however, is very different than physically walking through homes.  Every home is different in design/structure and every person has different uses for the home.

Sit down and think about your use for the home and what it is you need for your life.  Using the below sheet (there is a jpg and pdf printable), you may be able to identify some items to focus on.

I always tell my clients, you can change paint and flooring, you can do some remodeling with walls, however, you can’t change the location or the property lines.  Adding rooms will require additions to be put on down the line as well.

As you are going through homes, you will begin to narrow it down.  You will sometimes wish that you could take the kitchen from one home, the yard from a second home and the pool from a third home and then one day, it’ll click.

When agents are working for you searching for listings, we type in your parameters which gives us the results to share with you.  The biggest ones are generally: Township(s), Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Garage, Basement, Budget.  As I said, when you start going inside homes, you may realize that the 4 bedrooms your search started with, is too big or too small for your family.  It’s a process.  I try and keep it as stress free as possible 🙂


buyer questionnaireNJ Real Estate Buyer Questionnaire – Printable PDF

Buying Tips, Researching to Buy, Uncategorized

The Facts on Lease-to-Buy

There’s more than one way to get out of your house. You can, of course, sell it outright. Or you do a lease-to-buy deal.
If your house has been on the market for a while, you need to move quickly, or you have a motivated buyer who can’t gather enough cash to buy but can put down a non-refundable deposit on a future buy, you might consider a Lease-to-Buy Option.

Your Realtor (or your collection of real estate books) can walk you through the details, but the overall picture is this: You and your  leasor  agree to a set price (great for the  leasor /buyer if the market goes up and great for you if the market goes down) and time frame to make an offer with a non-refundable “earnest money” deposit (often called a “consideration” in lease-buy options) from your  leasor . The  leasor  may offer to buy at any time during your term, often putting their rent and earnest money against the agreed-upon price. If they decide not to buy, you keep the earnest money and put the house on the market again (you hope at a higher price than the year before), continue your lease-to-buy, or simply switch to a standard rental agreement with your tenant.
Buying Tips, Offer & Acceptance, The Buying Process

How to Write an Offer Letter That Will Win the House

You love the house sooo much. The problem is, lots of other people probably do, too. How can you stand out in a competitive environment? Try writing an offer letter that knocks the seller’s socks off.

“Making the highest offer is typically the best way to win a bid, but when a seller is faced with two very similar offers, a letter can oftentimes tip the scales toward yours,” says Realtor® Mindy Jensen of Longmont, CO.



So how do you use writing to woo a seller to your side? Check out these snippets from winning offer letters, then learn how you can follow in the footsteps of these real-life buyers.


A winning game plan

The words that wooed: After seeing a number of properties that have not “spoken” to us in a significant way, we were delighted to discover your home, with its mixture of charm and warmth. We envision family gatherings within its open living area and drinking coffee while watching our children play in the pool. As basketball is in the family blood (Steve is a former employee of the National Basketball Association), I’m sure there will be plenty of pick-up games for everyone.

Why it worked: “My clients were up against a better offer from a builder, but the seller couldn’t bear the idea of their house being torn down,” explains Anne West, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Winnetka, IL. “They wanted to sell their home to someone who would raise their family there and who would love it as much as they had, and my clients were able to articulate that they were just that family.”

How to do it yourself: Find out some backstory about the owners or other bidders if you can. The tidbit about the builder, for example, was crucial knowledge. But for any property, most sellers who have taken good care of their homes want to make sure they will be loved by the next owner, too, so let your enthusiasm shine to gain the edge over pricier offers.


Must love dogs

The words that wooed: My husband and I have been searching for our first home, and we believe your house will be the perfect place to raise our growing family. Our son is due in September, and I know he will be so happy playing in the fabulous backyard with our two dogs.

Why it worked: “The seller appreciated her praising specific things that were obviously installed by the homeowners,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor in Longmont, CO. “But the tipping point was when she included a picture of her dog with the letter. The seller specifically allowed her to match the highest offer, based solely on her dog.”

How to do it yourself: Make yourself relatable. Take a cue from the lovingly tended roses or, in this case, a dog, and try to glean what the seller values. It could be kids, a dog, or even a love of gardening. If you share those same interests, offer them up. You never know what phrases may spur the seller to choose your offer over another.


This way to Easy Street

The words that wooed: We are not looking for a bargain, just a fair price for something nice. This would be a cash sale, and we could close quickly or at a convenient time for you.

Why it worked: “This was a no-brainer for the seller, because you can tell these folks are clued in, and money talks,” says Bruce Ailion, a real estate agent with Re/Max Atlanta. “This letter makes it clear that this is going to be an easy transaction: cash sale, market price, close quickly or on your timetable.”

How to do it yourself: Get your ducks in a row before you make an offer. Even if you’re not doing an all-cash offer, have a pre-approval in hand. Especially in a seller’s market, make it clear that you are going to be easy to work with and that the seller can call the shots.


Sentiment sells

The words that wooed: We grew up in the city and our parents live very close by; one of them is living very close to your home. It’s important to find a home close to our family, so that when we start our family, our children will be close to their grandparents.”

Why it worked: “If the seller has raised their own family there, they have an emotional connection to the house,” says David Feldberg, broker/owner of Coastal Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, CA. “Talking about several generations plucks those heart strings.”

How to do it yourself: Include details about your family and connection to the area. And always include a photo. When the seller is considering multiple offers, the photo makes your offer stand out from the pack.


Flattery can get you everywhere

The words that wooed: From the moment I walked in, I knew this place felt like home. (Well if I am being honest, I fell in love with the wallpaper in the bathroom first!! ha-ha.) I also really appreciate the attention to detail in the upgrades you made: the stain on the floors, the wall colors and the charming lights, and I absolutely love your furniture selection.

Why it worked: “My client clearly admired the seller’s decor decisions,” says John Michael Grafft with Berkshire Hathaway Koenig Rubloff in Chicago. “It turned out she was an interior designer. Everyone appreciates a sincere compliment.”

How to do it yourself: Find details that you love about the home and mention them so it’s clear you’re not sending a generic letter to every potential property seller. The seller chose those design elements, so find something you love that you can mention sincerely. Even if you are planning to change everything about a place you consider a fixer-upper, compliment the fact that the seller took great care of the home.


Short and sweet

The words that wooed: Semper fi.

Why it worked: “The rest of the letter was great, but in all honesty, that phrase at the end of his letter sealed the deal. He and the seller were both Marines,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor in Longmont, CO.

How to do it yourself: Common interests can make all the difference, but don’t lie. That goes for military service, of course, but also other details. Don’t tell the seller that you want to raise your children there, if you don’t have any. Instead, if you hope to eventually have a family, you can say, “I hope to someday be able to raise my children in this beautiful home.”

Buying Tips, Choosing An Agent- Buyer, First Time Buyer, Researching to Buy, Uncategorized

10 Things Every New Homebuyer Needs to Know

Homebuying can be a confusing and somewhat daunting task. We’ll help you understand the homebuying process and find the home that’s the perfect fit.

1. Know your needs.

First, examine your lifestyle. Do you long for bucolic pasturelands? Feel energized by urban cityscapes? Looking forward to a family-friendly suburban lifestyle? It’s important to think of the limitations each locale places on your lifestyle and the perks each has to offer — before making the commitment to buy.

Suburban lifestyles are flexible, offering children the opportunity to play outdoors and enjoy a neighborhood environment. Urban areas offer greater social, culture, educational and career opportunities. Rural environs offer privacy, room to roam and the ability to pursue hobbies — such as gardening — on a larger scale.

In addition to locale, it’s important to think about the type of dwelling you’re considering. Will you quickly outgrow that handsome city brownstone? Is a country cottage the perfect size? Will purchasing a condo allow you to forego lawn and home maintenance and enjoy more leisure time?

2. Weigh the costs of homeownership.

There’s more to consider than just a monthly mortgage payment. Will you be able to afford the expenses that come with owning a home? Utilities, property taxes, repairs, homeowners association fees, lawn maintenance (unless you will do the work yourself) can all add up.

If you’re moving to a new part of town or a new city, it’s important to consider the cost of living for that area. Transportation, school tuition and everyday living expenses can also make homeownership more expensive than it initially appears.

3. Better to build or buy?

Having a home custom-built to your specifications can be expensive. But are you ready to take on remodeling and updating an older home to meet your needs?

A remodel can often be expensive and in the end, is less satisfying, and finishing a project yourself, without experience, can result in the purchase of costly tools and the loss of your valuable time. Do your research before signing with a contractor or deciding to revamp an older home.

4. Location, location, location.

A bargain is never really a bargain when located in a bad neighborhood. Sometimes lightning will strike and gentrification of certain areas will result in skyrocketing property value — but that’s rare. It’s better to take a chance on a smaller home — or one in need of repair — in a great area where the value will only rise.

5. Know your loans.

A loan rate can look great in an advertisement, but once bankers have drawn you in to the branch office, what will you really pay? Points, PMI (private mortgage insurance) and closing costs can drive your mortgage cost up.

Some programs allow buyers to have smaller down payments. But how long are you required to stay in the home without penalty? And how much more will you pay each month?

Be sure to read all the clauses and fine print before getting a mortgage. And don’t be afraid to shop around for the best rate.

6. Consider a buyer’s broker.

Most real estate agents represent the seller, but a Buyer’s Broker (also called a Buyer’s Agent) represents your needs and desires and helps you locate the property that’s best for you.

While buyer’s brokers are difficult to locate in some markets, locating a professional advocate who is required by law to get you the best price and terms can alleviate home shopping stress.

7. Demand full disclosure and a professional home inspection.

Most states require that a home seller disclose potential problems with the property, but the homeowner may not always know or reveal existing structural problems (despite the legal requirement). The only way to truly know what’s going on inside (and over and under) a home’s structure is to secure the services of a reputable home inspector. Expect to pay $300-600 for the inspection. It seems like a lot of money, but consider the thousands it could save you if the home isn’t up to code or has major issues.

8. Get it in writing.

Perhaps one of the best ways to protect yourself is to have every part of the sale in writing, and make sure you understand every aspect before making a commitment. Legal jargon and real estate terminology can be confusing and somewhat frustrating, so hone your real estate vocabulary before house hunting, and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions along the way.

9. What to do before completing the purchase.

First, make sure your title is “free and clear” and there are no problems with you assuming ownership of the property. Then, purchase homeowners insurance. Finally, decide if the purchase of a home warranty (if not included as part of the sale) is in your best interest. These should all be taken care of before “closing.”

10. Don’t forget about taxes.

Are your property taxes rolled into your monthly mortgage payment? Or will you be responsible for paying them yearly? Don’t forget to keep paperwork for your annual federal or state income tax return. You can often deduct the property taxes, points and interest paid on a mortgage. Set up a consultation with a tax accountant to learn more about the restrictions on these types of deductions.

After reading this article, Melissa Christopher, Ocean County, NJ Realtor® Associate has the following insight:

When I personally purchased my Barnegat Pines home in Lacey, NJ over 10 years ago, it was my first home purchase.  Luckily, I was fortunate to have great resources at my disposal (my agent!) and the items listed within this section were presented to me then and still ring true today.  Trust in your real estate professionals to guide you through the process, but also do your own research- you have the internet at your fingertips which means endless information.  But also, you need to do some foot work too and drive by the homes different times of day, research the areas and really think of what you want in a home.  How long do you think you’ll be there?  What plans do you have in that time frame?  If you purchase a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom home on the bay for example off Beach Blvd, how long do you plan on staying?  Will your family grow?  You may realize that in 2 years you will be starting your family and your needs will change to more of a backyard, swing set and a home in a different neighborhood such as Cranberry Hill due to its proximity to the parkway and schools.  Use this as a guide!

Buying Tips, Choosing An Agent- Buyer, First Time Buyer, The Buying Process, Tips For the Buyer, Uncategorized

Take These Pointers When Buying a Second Home

Brush up on location, lifestyle and finances while searching for your retreat.

Buying a second home has become one of the fastest growing trends in the United States. In fact, more than 30 million Americans are expected to enter the second home market within the next decade. It can seem like a daunting task, but with a few essential steps you can learn how to turn buying your second home into a sane, reasonable venture.


Assess Your Lifestyle

  • Think about what spot you love the most and the amount of time you will be spending in your vacation home.

  • If this house will be for weekend getaways, anything more than two hours may seem like a long trip.

  • Condos have relatively low maintenance, making them a good option for those using their homes one season a year, or for those who want a place farther away from their primary home.

  • When considering a condo, find out whether you can live with the homeowners association rules.

  • With a single-family home, you will have more privacy but you’ll have to handle all the maintenance.

  • Many hotels are now providing rooms as condominium hotel rooms. These offer all the services of a hotel, but yet you’re still able to benefit from the appreciation of that property over time.

 Choose a Location

  • The best way to spot the up-and-coming neighborhoods is to drive around the area that you like, and go farther out; the homes in these areas will likely see their value increase as well.

  • Find out from local people how the town has changed, what’s being built and what types of people are moving to the area.

  • Pick up the local paper to obtain information about political issues, tax issues and more.

  • Visit your vacation spot during each season to get a good idea of what it’s like year-round.

  • If you might retire in your second home one day, make sure that there is quality, accessible health care nearby and that the environment is both safe and affordable.

  • Find out if there are enough places to pick up part-time work if you want or need to.

  • It’s always important to check out the weather, especially if you plan to use for all seasons.

  • Think beyond the price tag of the home:

    1. Check out the area public schools.

    2. Consider neighborhoods just off the beaten path.

    3. Rent two or more years in a row to get the true flavor of a place.

    4. Do a test drive to the location at peak times, look for alternate routes.

And, finally, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I love one spot?

  • Do I have enough time?

  • Is it close enough?

  • What can I afford?

Assess your lifestyle before buying a second home.

 Shop and Evaluate

Take your time and have some fun finding the right vacation home for you, and be sure to view at least 10 to 15 properties before making your decision. You can check out some virtual home tours on the Internet to help you get an idea of what’s out there.

  • Your most valuable resource is a good realtor.

  • Pick up the local paper. The most successful agents are always advertising and promoting their listings. Go to some open houses on your own and choose the best agent.

  • The right agent should be punctual and return your phone calls promptly.

  • There will be more than one or two house options in a given area so experts insist: Cast a wide net.

  • Make sure you look at a wide variety of houses, both above and below what you can afford, to truly compare the price that you’re paying and the value you’re getting for that price.

  • Once you start narrowing down your choices, seriously check out the potential neighborhoods. Talk to the current residents to make sure you get the insider’s view.

  • Keep in mind, a vacation property is likely to have more blemishes than your first home. Homes that are built as vacation homes often aren’t built as well as year-round homes.

  • Many vacation homes are built over crawlspaces which have wood and soil in close contact. This can result in decay.

  • Porches are often built without adequate foundations and may need to be re-supported over time.

  • Trees around the home can damage it. They drop leaves and nutrients on the roof, causing decay. Houses surrounded by trees aren’t able to dry out as quickly.

  • Water is a problem with all homes but is more of an issue with vacation homes, because we are not there to notice if a water problem has occurred. Also, the home is susceptible to mold.

  • Keep thermostat on year round to avoid frozen pipes.

  • Hire someone to look in on your property while you’re not using it.

  • Make sure your home inspector is registered with the American Society of Home Inspectors.

  • Use mold-resistant materials in all remodeling and avoid manufactured wood products or materials that incorporate wood products, such as wafer board, particleboard and sheet rock.

Get Your Bucks in a Row

  • If you have reasonably low debt, and money left over at the end of the month, you can probably afford a second home.

  • Lenders want to make sure that your debt does not exceed 40 percent of your gross income.

  • You’ll get the most competitive mortgage rate on your first home, not your second. Your mortgage rate could be up one-quarter or even half a point.

  • The climate right now is great for getting a good rate, because of competition between lenders. Make them work for you!

  • For second homeowners insurance, be prepared to shell out a little more than you do on your primary home. A lot of insurers realize that if it’s a vacation home you are not around all the time.

  • Stay with your current home insurer and you may get a solid discount.

  • A central alarm system that detects burglars and fires can cut 20 percent off your rate. Buying a home in a gated community could save you 10 percent.

  • A second home can actually help you out with regard to your taxes if you live in your vacation home more than 14 days per year, you can deduct your real estate taxes and mortgage interest, as long as your combined mortgages don’t exceed a million dollars.

Rent It

  • For many second homeowners, an occasional renter can help offset a lot of expenses.

  • If your house is rented out for fewer than 14 days a year, you don’t have to report that income to the IRS. If you rent out for more than 14 days, you have to report the income to the IRS, but you can deduct some expenses too.

  • If you’re going to be renting, make sure you have a very good accountant.

  • Don’t expect the rental income to cover your monthly mortgage.

  • Make sure you screen your tenants very closely. Use a good property management company that will guarantee the condition, if not, make sure you get a large deposit on the property from the tenant.

  • A good property management company will take a lot of the work, and worry off your plate.

  • Encourage long-term renters to take out renters insurance. Rent only by the month or the season, as longer-term renters tend to take better care of a property.

  • Make sure you have a locked storage room that only you have the key to.

Quick Tips

  • Current debt load should not exceed 40 percent of your gross income.

  • Mortgage rates on vacation homes can be a quarter to half a point higher.

  • Some home insurers offer discounts of 5 to 10 percent on second homes.

  • Half of second homeowners leave their homes unoccupied for 330 days a year.

  • The fee is usually 20 to 40 percent of rental fee.

Think Before Remodeling

  • Normally, a new kitchen will have 80 to 100 percent return at time of sale, but not necessarily on a vacation home.

  • Before you spend any money on improvement, check with the real estate agent how it will affect the value of the property.

  • Don’t count on getting your investment back on hot tubs, saunas or tennis courts.

  • Safer investments include outdoor barbecues, decks with panoramic views, adding a bathroom for each bedroom or expanding two small bedrooms into one big bedroom.

  • More bedrooms can add significant value to a home.

  • Consider the city as more and more people now are buying vacation homes in the cities.

After reading this article, Melissa Christopher, Ocean County, NJ Realtor® Associate has the following insight:

Purchasing a second home is a little different, but not much.  A vacation home will more pertain to what you do for your leisure activities.  Think about when you will be staying there.  Is this easily accessible.  The drive time or plane ride. Gas, tolls, airfare, traffic, your work schedule.  If this is going to be full time yours or will you rent it out?  Being in Southern Ocean County,  we see our fair share of vacation houses!  We also have in the surrounding areas of LBI the Barnegat Bay running through backyards with a boat/jet ski parked in the back.  Many homes down here are vacation properties.  Before purchasing, don’t just buy a home on a whim the day you leave town from your trip (although who wouldn’t want to?!)

Buying Tips, First Time Buyer, Researching to Buy, The Buying Process, Tips For the Buyer, Uncategorized

8 Home Buying Tips to Learn from HGTV’s “House Hunters”


If there’s one show that I chain-watch the most, it’s “House Hunters.” Seeing hopeful would-be homeowners search for the property of their dreams gets me every time – and because of my obsessive watching, my husband is now hooked too.



In each episode of “House Hunters,” a person or couple looking to purchase a home meets with a real estate agent and offers a budget and a list of must-haves. The agent then takes the hunters to three different properties, where they have the opportunity to explore and discuss each one’s pros and cons. At the end, the hunters pick which house they want, and the audience is treated to a quick post-purchase update.

Whether it’s about setting the right budget or determining needs and wants, the home buyers on “House Hunters” can either set a shining example, or a cautionary tale. While I’ve lived in my home for about eight years – and don’t plan on moving anytime soon – I know that if and when the time arrives, I’ll be ready thanks to the lessons I’ve learned from “House Hunters.”

Home-Buying Lessons From “House Hunters”

Whether you’re in the market for a new home or you’re just curious about real estate, there’s a lot to learn from a 30-minute episode of “House Hunters.” By keeping some of the following tips in mind when you embark on your hunt, you just might score that happy ending in your own episode.


1. Agree on Your Budget

Your real estate agent uses a budget to narrow down your options, and if you’re hunting with a partner and you disagree on what you should spend, one of you is going to be set up for disappointment before you even set foot in a home. A good rule of thumb is to multiply your yearly household income by 2.5 – this should give you a conservative number you can afford.


Beyond that basic math, though, creating a house hunting budget requires two steps:

  1. Determine how much you’re comfortable spending each month by creating a budget based on your income, expenses, and debt. Don’t forget that in addition to your mortgage, you need to pay for property taxes, mortgage and home insurance, and maintenance and utility costs each month.

  2. Head to your bank and ask for a mortgage pre-approval amount. The bank takes the same debts, expenses, and assets into consideration, but also factors in your credit score when determining an amount that you can be pre-approved to spend.

Keep in mind that the bank might actually approve you for more than you expected – but don’t consider this permission to go over the budget you’ve set for yourself. Banks don’t factor in things like how much you put into savings each month, your discretionary expenses, or what you’re going to pay for utilities in your new place. Know what number you and your partner are comfortable with, even if the pre-approval amount comes back higher.

2. Be Realistic

I’m always surprised by how often some folks on “House Hunters” demand laundry lists of features and then give the real estate agent ridiculously low budgets. Jetted tubs, huge property lots, granite counter tops, and in-ground swimming pools add up. Instead, be realistic and understand what you can actually hope to get for your money.


A great way to gauge that amount is to do some research and look at MLS listings in your desired area on your own. You should be able to see exactly what your money can and can’t get you, taking the price of certain upgrades into consideration.


For example, a pool should add a big chunk to the list price, and you need to adjust your budget accordingly. Other upgrades – such as granite counter tops or new fixtures – may not. Knowing the difference between various upgrades and how they affect your budget can help you either temper your expectations or decide to increase your spending limit if you realize it’s too low to accommodate your wish list. Ask your real estate agent which features are easier to find at your price point.

3. Separate Needs From Wants

Speaking of expectations, home buyers on “House Hunters” are notorious for fixating on specific features. Sometimes, I have to laugh – a functioning bathroom is a need, but vaulted ceilings? You can probably put those down as a “want.” Obsessing over certain features could mean overlooking great properties that don’t meet your perfect criteria.


Try writing a list of needs and wants before you look for a new home. Then, number those items according to priority, with “1” being non-negotiable, “2” being preferable, and “3” being something that would be nice, but not necessary. It’s fine to have a few features you really need, whether it’s a fenced backyard for your dog or a bungalow for an older parent who can’t navigate stairs. Just don’t let a laundry list of “musts” stop you from getting your dream home.


No, you probably won’t be able to add vaulted ceilings, but some cosmetic needs and wants can be added after you move in during a renovation. If you really want hardwood floors, try adjusting your budget or put in an offer that nets you the extra money to install them. Don’t get caught up in finding the perfect house as-is.

4. Go Outside Your Neighborhood

Being from a large metropolitan area, I have to chuckle when I see hunters specifying an exact neighborhood they want to live in – no negotiation. Living in a desirable area is great, but only if you have the money for it. Buyers always pay a premium for properties near a city center, which means it sometimes pays to go a little off the beaten path.


Tell your real estate agent the general area in which you’d like to live – but don’t completely dismiss the idea of going to a different neighborhood 5 or 10 minutes beyond it. You may be able to find larger properties, better prices, and more options. It’s a small compromise if it means getting the best property possible, even if you have to take the train to work or have a longer commute – just remember to account for additional transportation costs in your housing budget.


5. Make an Offer

It’s a buyer’s market, which means you have the opportunity to get great deals on real estate. My husband and I both groan when a home buyer offers exactly the asking price on “House Hunters.” It never hurts to propose a lower price or add in some perks for yourself, like requesting that the seller pay for closing costs or leave some appliances or furnishings behind. Unless a home is highly desirable and has several offers on the table, you’re in a position to do some bargain hunting.


Before making an offer, it pays to educate yourself. You can do so by taking the following steps:

  1. Competitive Market Analysis. Ask your agent to draw up a list of other homes and their selling (not list) prices to see how your desired home compares.

  2. Time on Market. The longer a home has been on the market, the more motivated the seller might be to get rid of it.

  3. Area Competition. If you’re looking in a neighborhood with plenty of homes for sale, you might be able to use that to your advantage and submit a lower offer. If the area has a housing shortage, there’s more competition for buyers, and therefore less room for bargaining.

  4. Appraisal. All homes should have an appraisal value that you can get from the seller’s real estate agent. Never offer above appraisal, even if the competition for a home is high. If you’re taking out a mortgage, it would mean owing more than the home is worth – if the bank even allows you to do it. If you’re absolutely in love with a house and think it’s worth paying above appraisal value, you need to pay the difference in cash.

  5. Discuss With Your Agent. Talk to your agent about factors such as competition, the CMA, and the seller’s motivation, and ask what a realistic offer might be based on that information. In the end, it rarely hurts to put in an offer 10% to 15% lower than the list price. The seller can counter and you can begin a negotiation, hopefully leading to a deal lower than the ask.

6. Ignore Decor and See the Potential

I remember one episode of “House Hunters” where a wealthy bachelor was searching for some lakefront property in Michigan. One home was completely gorgeous on the outside, but was covered in tacky wallpaper on the inside. The initial reaction was less than positive, especially when the hunter considered the work required to change the decor. However, the home’s floor plan, exterior, and features were exactly what he wanted. In the end, he chose another house – thanks to the wallpaper.


While it’s sometimes hard to look past a previous owner’s choice in paint, decor, or wallpaper, don’t miss out on a prime piece of real estate just because you can’t. Seeing past minor cosmetic issues could also put you at an advantage over other buyers who passed on a house because they were blind to its potential. What’s more, you can negotiate a renovation allowance with the seller as a way to reduce the home’s purchase price based upon some of the fixes you plan to do.

7. See More Than Three

There are only so many houses you can see in a 30-minute show. Yet “House Hunters” always ends with people finding their perfect match. In real life, however, it takes seeing a lot more than just three houses to make a decision. Don’t be discouraged if your search for a new home isn’t picture perfect, and remember much of the process on TV ends up on the cutting room floor.


Your dream house may be number 7, 10, or even 15 on your list. Buying a home is a huge investment and you deserve to take the time to get it right.


Don’t feel like you have to wait to hear from your real estate agent to find your perfect home. With so many websites dedicated to listing homes for sale (such as Trulia and Zillow), you should feel comfortable perusing on your own and bringing properties to your agent’s attention when you spot them. It might take a little teamwork, but the more homes you consider, the better chance you have at finding your perfect property.

8. House Hunting Is Not That Easy

When I first started watching the show, I wondered how the hunters were able to put an offer in, be accepted, and move into their new house in the space of a few weeks. I know from my own experience that buying real estate involves a lot of back-and-forth, deals that fall through, and even some heartbreak when you’re outbid by another buyer.


HGTV came under fire in 2012 when it was revealed that many of the house hunters featured on the show were already under contract with their chosen homes before even shooting the episode. They would then see two more houses and offer their critique, feigning the decision process for better TV.


Understanding that the “House Hunters” experience is an expedited, cleaned-up account of the process can help you adjust your own expectations. Your hunt should take longer and have more ups and downs than the neat, tidy package of a 30-minute TV show.


Final Word

“House Hunters” is essentially designed to let viewers play along at home. While you watch, you can critique the properties and eventually guess the winner. It’s important to remember, though, that the show is highly altered for its TV audience. Instead of expecting your experience to be quite as predictable, learn from some of the mistakes you see buyers make and apply those lessons to your own hunt for the perfect home.


Do you watch “House Hunters?” What lessons have you learned from the show?

Buying Tips, First Time Buyer, Renting vs. Buying, Researching to Buy, Uncategorized

Big Signs You Should Buy Instead of Rent

When deciding if this year is the right time for you to purchase a home there are four personal signs that signal now’s the time to buy.


1. You want to save at tax time

Mortgage interest and property tax payments are typically deductible.If you itemize deductions at the 25% tax bracket) regardless of whether you own or rent, buying is 44% cheaper.Without itemizing, meaning you’re just taking the standard deduction, buying is still 35% cheaper than renting.


2. You’re planning to stay local for a while

Staying put longer lowers the relative cost of owning.The combined cost of buying and then selling a home can easily total more than 10% of the home’s value.Staying put longer means, in effect, spreading those costs over more years.Buying is 44% cheaper than renting if you stay put for 7 years, 37% for 5 years and 20% for 3 years.


3. You want a low mortgage rate

Higher mortgage rates mean a higher cost of owning, but prices today are low enough relative to rents that buying would beat renting even if mortgage rates rose two full points.While today, buying is 44% cheaper than renting with a 3.5% mortgage, buying would be 39% cheaper than renting at 4.5% and still 33% cheaper with a rate of 5.5%.


4. You can’t let your dream home slip away

March 2016 data from the National Association of Realtors showed housing inventory dropped almost 20% in the past year.  That means the likelihood of finding your dream home is quickly on the decline and the best buying opportunities might be slipping away.  Buying now is a great move for those who want to make sure they get a serious say in which home they’ll spend the next 30 years in and don’t end up ch



Brought to you buy Melissa Christopher, owner of The Best NJ Realtor Blog, bringing you New Jersey Real Estate tips and advice for buying and selling an NJ home.  Working as an Ocean County NJ Realtor providing service throughout the state.  Located in Lacey NJ & Manahawkin NJ