Homes come in two flavors — new and used. Each one has its pros and cons, but I have a bias toward one and not the other.
How to shop for a used home
Cards on the table: I am a huge fan of used homes. I know that a lot of people love buying a new home that’s never been lived in before. But the difference in cost per square foot between new and used is maybe the largest it’s ever been today.
Why the huge spread?
It’s because builders of new homes are facing more difficulty in acquiring land to put new homes on. Add to that local governments imposing more fees like permit costs and impact fees, plus a variety of expenses from utilities, and you have a recipe for new homes being much more expensive than used ones.
There are other reasons I like used home, too. With used homes, you get a home in an established neighborhood with the warts already showing. With a new home, the warts may not be apparent for several years. So I have a massive bias towards used home to get the most bang for your buck.
When you hear me tell you to buy used cars, you can expect the average lifespan of a gently used car to be around 11 years. That’s not long.
But the average lifespan of a home that’s built right could be hundreds of years — with the proper maintenance and continual updating. Homes are just a better deal in the market when you buy used.
How should you approach buying a used home?
The process of buying a used home is different today because of the unprecedented online access to information about homes, neighborhoods, areas and more.
But note this well: All that info doesn’t replace the value a real estate agent provides when you’re a buyer. It just allows you to be more efficient with your time and to virtually tour more homes than ever before. Apps like Redfin and Zillow are great for this purpose.
Both apps let you look as you’re riding around a neighborhood and explore a home for sale that you may see right there on your phone.
You can get so much info — about square footage, the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms, the age of the home, the price per square foot and so on.
The more you “windshield shop” like this, the more you can target your home-buying efforts.
By the time you get to a real estate agent, you will have culled the herd of houses for sale. So that buyer’s agent you hire to work for you will be able to do something even more important than chauffeur you around to houses: They’ll be able to help you with keeping emotion out of the buying process.
Fall in love with a home after you buy it, not before
One of my key rules of buying is that you have plenty of time to fall in love with a home after you buy it. But during the buying process, you need to have ice water in your veins and not get lured into seeing yourself in your “dream home.”
It’s a very hard thing for homebuyers to do. Because buyers will obsess about a home they’re trying to buy to the exclusion of everything else.
When you do that, you may overpay for a home or you may ignore valuable signals about why that’s not the right house for you.
Follow the ‘hundred house rule’
For years, I’ve talked about my ‘hundred house rule.’ The idea was that you should look at a minimum of 100 homes either in person or online to get a sense of what the real estate market and the inventory is at that moment.
Today that’s so easy to do online. You can look at well more than that in a couple of days.
Once you get a sense of what you want and what the market is offering, it’s all about being thorough and not focusing on just one house.
It’s more about identifying zones — streets, neighborhoods and areas you’d be comfortable living in — and then having target houses.
Last time I bought a house, after all the searching online, we came up with 18 target homes. And we ended up buying one of those 18.
Hire the right home inspector
Don’t buy a home without having it inspected first!
I’m a big believer in finding a “deal-killer inspector” who won’t gloss over things just to get more agent referrals. You want somebody who tells you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.
Inspectors with engineering backgrounds are great. You can find one through the American Society of Home Inspectors. ASHI requires its members to adhere to a code of ethics and a standard of practice.