What are some tips to help narrow a home search?

The wealth of information available online allows a prospective homebuyer to create a tightly edited list of candidates and can spare the searcher a lot of legwork. On the downside, it can be overwhelming to face page after digital page of viable listings.

Search Smart

The trick lies in whittling down those possibilities — searching smart. First and foremost of the prospect-limiting factor is the real-estate classic everyone knows: location, location, location. Some crucial points affecting an area’s desirability are easily researched online, such as local property tax rates and school zones. (Even for a buyer without kids, well-regarded schools improve eventual resale value.) But in-depth research on a neighborhood is best done in the physical world. Online photos can fool you, and neighborhood descriptions sometimes paint pictures that are rosier than reality.

Read between the lines

“Centrally located” can mean alongside an interstate, and “convenient to shopping” might be better read as subject to constant loud traffic. (When it comes to individual houses, online photos sometimes offer no clue on just how close the neighbors are, and certainly won’t give any idea of what they sound like or where they park their cars.) The point here: A thorough neighborhood search is accomplished both off- and online. And getting acquainted with neighborhoods helps avoid wasting time on attractive listings in places that don’t “click” with you.

heavy traffic

Be careful of double meanings in property descriptions. “Convenient to shopping” could mean heavy traffic area

Lists are your friend

Beyond narrowing the locations you’ll consider, speed up a search by taking the time to write out a clearly defined wish list. Would you like a house or a condo? Older, newer, with acreage, urban neighborhood? As with any search, knowing what you want makes it much easier to find. To that end, it’s helpful to:

  1. Identify your must-haves. What absolutely must be part of your new home? A second list can include “nice to haves,” but make this one focus on items and features that you really wouldn’t want to do without, whether it be a fireplace or an oversized shower or an attached garage.
  2. Think about deal-breakers. Obviously, any house lacking a “must-have” is off the list to start, but what would make you walk away from an attractive house that meets your criteria? Would it take a major flaw, such as a structural failure or live termites? Or would you be put off by appliances near the end of their projected useful lives? Are you willing to buy a new stove but not ready to replace bathroom tile? How much time and money will you have for upkeep as the years roll on? How much do you think the place will take? Will it become a burden you’ll regret?

Use the Advanced Search

In online searches, put your preferences to good use, eliminating extraneous listings through an advanced search that specifies your desired number of bedrooms and bathrooms, plus features such as porches and pools. Within listings or on a local property appraiser’s website, dig down into details such as square footage and past property tax amounts. Some municipalities will even allow you to see all permits issued for a property.

couple looking at empty room

take a close look and picture possible floor plans when examining a home.

Make a second pass

As you take your search offline and into actual places, Houzz contributor Laura Gaskill suggests a smart approach for touring homes — look twice. Breeze through a house once to get the feel of the place, then go back to the front door and start over, critically and thoughtfully examining details and reassessing your overall impression. While there, jot down a few notes, snap photos, maybe even take measurements (for your furniture) and sketch a rough floor plan. As your search approaches that final narrowing down to the home you want to buy, you’ll need as many details on the top prospects as you can get your hands on.

At any point in the search process and throughout a sales negotiation and closing, a good real estate agent can be a helpful partner. He or she will know the local neighborhoods and may even be acquainted with a particular house you like.

Homes & Land has over a million home listings throughout the US and Canada. Begin your search by city, or use our advanced search features to find the home of your dreams!