Buying a home is not like shopping for anything else. For some, a car, boat or other big investment might come in second. But, despite the significant importance of buying a home, many buyers still fail to have a strategy to go about determining which home they really want.
Today, there are many systems available to help buyers. There is plenty of information online from articles to sites that have calculators to determine how much home you can afford. There are even apps to store your notes, photos, and the links of your favorite home so that they're accessible on your mobile devices and smartphones.
However, in this column, we're going back to the basics. I discovered a sheet that's offered by HUD (http://hud.gov/buying/checklist.pdf). It's a good tool for buyers to use to make notes. Some buyers simply bring along a notepad and jot information down on sheets of paper. By doing this they often run the risk of not making good enough notes to decipher later when they're trying to review what they liked or didn't like. Also, without a standard form, the notes buyers take can vary drastically from home to home.
Printing out a form like the one mentioned above, or creating one based on this form, allows you to have a handy tool to put the information about the homes you view in one central place. It'll make it that much easier when you're ready to review the homes.
I suggest getting a three-ring binder and placing many copies of this form in the binder. Include blank notepaper as well. Make sure there are pockets to store loose pages, cards, etc...
As you make your way through the house-hunting process, you'll find a binder and a home buyer's checklist are invaluable. Just think about how they can help. For instance, when you're leaving work on a lunch break, you won't be searching for a notepad or the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sheet that your real estate agent sent you. Instead, have that information stored neatly inside your binder with your checklist ready to go. Grab the binder and you're on your way.
Because I am a huge fan of digital files. I would scan the information in, or, if you really want to be creative, you can create a PDF where you can type in the information you want to record using an iPad while you're at the homes you are viewing. Combine that with photo-sharing sites and you have a great way to record your facts and thoughts about the home all online or in your personal computer. You can then print them out and place them in the binder.
If you're going the digital route, then you should look at some of the apps that help you imagine what a home could look like. There are some good ones, and some that are more about what you create once you've taken a photo. I like Skitch. It's an app offered in the iTunes Store and allows users to take or use photos from their own photo library and then write and draw on the photos. This way you can snap a photo of a home you're looking at and, later, mark up that photo with changes you would make, such as tearing down a wall or removing the wallpaper. You can save the photos and your notes using another program called Evernote. This one will make sure all your digital devices have the same information including your Skitch designs.
At the very least, you owe it to yourself to have a home buyer's checklist printed and with you at all times during your house hunting. Having one will help you stay organized when it comes time to choose which home you like best. When the homes all seem to start blending together, it will help you recall the important characteristics of each one.