House-buying: Inform your gut instinct

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Jax
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Abstraction Lived In
Photo by Arne Halvorsen used by Creative Commons license
My gut makes the big decisions.

I was living with my future in-laws and pretty much having a huge case of the bridal blues when I decided that enough was enough. I had to convince my future spouse that we could afford a house NOW. We'd been living with my in-laws for eight months when one day at work I found an online listing for a three bedroom house. It had all of our requirements: two bathrooms, gas heat, three bedroom, less than a mile from the commuter rail, and a backyard. I called the realtor and made an appointment to see it the next evening after work. It was early December and we were the first to wade through the unmarked snow to get inside and see it. It was perfect, but to make sure, we discussed it over dinner down the street before calling our realtor after his band practice.

BAD NEWS: An offer has already been accepted on the house. "It wasn't meant to be," my partner said. Maybe it wasn't, so after getting hopes up and down, we went back to normal life.

A few days later I talked to my realtor about setting up appointments to see a few other houses that we liked (but didn't immediately love like the first).

"OH SHIT," our realtor exclaimed. He told me THE HOUSE was listed as available again and he would call me after talking to the selling agent. THE HOUSE was available and we immediately emailed and scanned the paperwork to put in our offer late on a Friday night.

After some heavy back-and-forth about loans, on Martin Luther King Day 2010 my dream came true, and my partner and I closed on our very first home. But wait… we only saw one house during our search.

We may have only seen one house in person, but we saw many houses online, and went through them with a fine tooth comb. If it didn't look good on the internet then we weren't going to waste our time. We knew when the right house would come along — and it did.

What did we learn from this experience?

  • Knowing what you want before you start looking is the key to our success. It saves time and emotional stress.
  • Write a list of MUSTS, and don't look at places that don't fit the bill.
  • Know how much money you have and how much you are willing to spend.
  • Get pre-approved and find a broker who will watch the rates and lock you in when it's the lowest possible rate. Locking in doesn't last forever but if you know you are going to buy soon, it doesn't hurt.
  • Don't be bullied and let someone else tell you where you have to get your loan. They can't force you to use their bank but they can refuse to sell to you, and those probably aren't the best people to be doing business with.
  • Last but not least, go with your gut. If you heart is telling you this is it, believe it.

I bought the first wedding dress I tried on, I bought the first house I saw, and I bought the first used car I test drove. It's not really because of my gut instinct, but because I did days and days of online research on the subjects beforehand. I prepared myself for anything and if I had a question or didn't understand what something meant, I looked it up. Being a well-informed consumer is probably the best way you can save yourself from buyer's remorse.

  1. I totally agree with you. It's a matter of doing research ahead of time, knowing what you want and trusting your intuition.

    I have lived in 4 different rentals over the last 10 years that were the first ones I actually looked at and I've loved them all.

    I only tried on 4 wedding dresses, but bought the first one I tried on. I don't like having too many options. I just try to manifest the right thing, right away.

    • I completely agree! Although I haven't rented tons of apartments over the past few years, I have come up with a very, very detailed checklist of things to consider, meaning that I'm less likely to fall for a sketchy place. It's so important to know what you want before you go in–and do a lot of research online.

  2. I totally agree with you on all of these. Research is key on any major purchase. We only test drove two cars before we bought to one we have and that was only because the Internet can't give a scope of how exactly the car will make you feel when you get inside. That was more a gut instinct thing (okay, actually, it was more of a "ooo, shiny!" instinct, but dang it, it's an awesome car!).

  3. We looked at 2 doozies before buying our place, which was the 3rd actual house we looked at but I had looked for one whole year, constantly, online before finding it. I knew as soon as I set foot in it that it was our house. And now it is! The gut instinct should always be listened to 🙂 The funny part was, this house wasn't even on our radar because it was listed above my budget. We took a chance when we saw an open house sign. Fate and instinct working together!!

  4. YES! We did the online searches, we made a list of the ones we liked and then drove by them first. Only one of them we liked. Our realtor showed us that one first and then some others that he thought we might be interested in. We ended up buying that very first one. 2 1/2 years later I'm still very happy with our choice.

  5. "Write a list of MUSTS, and don't look at places that don't fit the bill."

    Absolutely agree here. And make sure they are realistic MUSTS, because if that list gets too long, you're more likely to have a hard time finding a place or making a decision between close rivals. We saw many houses while looking, and have lived in many rentals together, and this place had all of our biggest wishes while falling short on a lot of our dreamiest wishes.

    It took me a while to give up the idea of renovating a place with a lot of property and realize that our relatively boring house was the one we really needed: with two kids under 5, me in grad school, and my husband working a job, starting a business and making a documentary… whew, we did not need to be renovating a home on three acres. Maybe someday that will be the house we need or can have, but it was hard for me to tease apart our absolute needs from my biggest wants.

  6. We only looked at one house before we bought, as well. It was a PITA to get, as it was under short sale with several leins against it, but it worked out just fine in the end. Plus, it's the only house in the neighborhood with a 400 sq. ft. woodshop built off the back of the garage! I found it in an online listing, and nothing else our realtor could come up with was even close to what we wanted.

  7. Although we did look at many houses before buying, the one we ended up buying (the perfect one) we decided on before we even went in the house and only went inside to confirm our gut instinct was right.

  8. This is quite apt. My husband-to-be (the wedding is on Saturday) and I just placed an offer on a house last night. It's the first house we really looked at with an eye to buying, but we house-stalked extensively online. We'll find out by tonight if our offer is accepted. SQUEEEE!!!

  9. I absolutely agree with this advice! However, one thing worth noting: Depending on the location you are considering buying in, you may have to be VERY patient. The "MUST" list was, and is still, a very tough thing to meet is Sydney, Aus.

    My personal MUST list includes, affordability, value growth potential, proximity to public transport for work commuting, low ongoing costs (ie Strata, Rates, Water) which pretty much excludes any complex with lifts or a pool, and size.

    There isnt much left in Sydney that is affordable but meets those requirements, but they do come up occasionally – you just have to be prepared to wait months in between these listings. I say this, because it was especially tough for me 😉

  10. So glad I could help people. I just started a new job so didn't see this was posted until today. Happy surprises! Thanks Cat and Ariel! <3 Jax

  11. I totally hear you there, we bought the first car we test drove, and brough the first house we looked at. We were fortunate to have been the first people to look at it which made it much easier.. though there were some tense moments with another couple put in an offer as well.

  12. My husband and I are one week away from the closing date on our new home. We did it all wrong. But it worked.

    I got up one Sat. morning, looked at new listings on realtor.ca and fell in love with a house. Showed the entry to my husband who also fell in love with the house. The listing said that there was an open house the next day. We went to the open house. Along the way, we spoke to a real estate agent who had been recommended to us by a family friend, and set up a meeting with him for the next Thursday.

    Then we went to the house, and it was even more awesome in person. Then the real estate agent who was showing the place told us an offer was coming in at 6 that night, so if we wanted to bid we had 4 hours to pull something together.

    We left the house, went to the coffee shop across the street, freaked out, and then called our real estate agent and asked him to set things up. We won the bid, and then had to scramble to get approved for a mortgage within three business days.

  13. Follow your gut is the advice I give everyone I know that is buying a home. We did see a handful of houses before we found the one but when we found the one, we knew. That gut feeling kept us going through a 10 month home buying process! It was a nightmare but we knew it was our house so we stuck with it. A year and a half after closing and there are definitely no regrets 🙂 When you find your house, you just know!

  14. We found a few homes we loved and made several offers over the five odd years we searched for a home, but regardless of our gut feel at the time, nothing could have prepared us for the place we finally found and are in the process of buying.

    I say this because 'gut feel' is such an inconsistent, nebulous entity that I find it hard to agree on the concept the writer suggests.

    The list idea is also not a bad place to start but would have kept us from looking outside the little box these lists put us in. Of course things like safety, traffic etc were crucial but we ket our lists to a bare minimum.

    I would recommend research, persistence and willingness to compromise as the biggest factors that play a role in house hunting. All that and a little luck make all the difference.

  15. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is an awesome book about how "gut feelings" are really our brains having synthesized our experiences and knowledge without us consciously knowing it yet. It was a great, interesting read with really cool stories.

  16. I'm keen to upgrade from my current property – an older style flat in a terrific location (5 minute or less walk to shops/cafes/public transport etc.) I've found a great apartment at a reasonable price…but it's a 15 to 20 minute walk from these amenities, and its suburb isn't isn't quite as nice as my current one. I'm really torn as to what to do. I know I'd love to live in the new apartment but have concerns about being so far from everthing,

  17. My mother is notorious for buying houses on her lunch break. The house that I grew up in (and they they still own) she didn't even tour first. She knew her budget, the neighborhood they wanted, and how big of a house they needed. As soon as our realtor called to say she had a house that fit the bill me mom drove over on her lunch break to walk around and look in the windows and then went to the realtors office, looked at the pictures and then wrote an offer. This actually turned out to be problematic because the sellers decided that this meant their asking price wasn't high enough and wanted to wait for a better offer. It took a few weeks and some work for the realtor to convince them that it really was an unusual situation.

  18. Yes! We looked at a few places when we decided to buy, none of them 'spoke' to us, if you know what I mean. The one we ended up buying we almost didn't view because I thought the area will suck too much. My (then) fiancee, now husband said let's take a chance, it won't hurt to just go look at the place, and as soon as we arrived we knew this was our home. That was almost 2 years ago now, so glad we trusted our guts on this! Best decision ever.

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