10 Tips to Buy and Keep Your Home a Long Time

Tim Lucas
Military VA Loan editor

Sergey Novikov/photos.com

by Ed Kunkel, U.S military veteran and Realtor©

How do you buy a home and live in it for a long time? 

1. Hire a great agent

You know that you’re in the market to buy a home, so why not have an agent help you find what you’re looking for?  Like I’ve mentioned in other posts, you’re paying for the service anyway in your purchase price.   Not sure who to hire?  Look for feedback from family, friends, and co-workers.  Find three different agents, and make separate appointments with each of them them to see a home. From those meetings, figure out which one inspires you the most.

Do you want the agent with the most experience?  If so, it may be a tradeoff – his or her available time with you will be very limited, and you may end up being assigned to a member of their team.  What about a new agent?  The time devotion factor would likely be more in your favor, but the new agent may not necessarily possess the advanced negotiating skills you will want them to have when it comes to getting a deal.  Would the new agent have the help of a mentor?  They probably will.  That could amount to a win-win for you.  But to summarize, be smart about how you proceed, and take advantage of what the market offers for consumers.

Once you find an agent that you feel comfortable with, commit to that agent.  There is nothing more powerful that sets a precedent of expectation and dedication for an agent than committing to working with that agent in writing.  If you do your homework, and find a ‘good egg’ of an agent and commit to them in writing, you will see that agent become your strongest advocate for your interests.  What more could you ask for?

2. Your new home should be part of a minimum 5-year plan.

Do you have a 5-year plan?  What does it look like?  Does it include building a family?  Is your employer or business going to allow for you to stay where you are if you buy a home?  There are lots of questions you should consider when making such a big decision about buying a home, and I encourage you to take the time to literally spell out a 5-year plan, AND make sure that the plan is one that both you and your spouse agree to.

Location, size, room for growth, commute time, and maybe even the potential rental value are all very important factors to consider when you buy your home.  One other thing that I coach my new homebuyers on is that ‘resale’ should be one of the top 5 in your list of important items to consider.  The main reason for this is simple: as much as you may try to plan ahead for the future, often times plans change.  Having a home with great resale appeal will help you move forward with your needs, instead of holding you back from them.  You may also decide that you just want to move up to something better, or smaller, or in another neighborhood, etc.  As long as you plan ahead, your options and goals will be more attainable.

3. Live within your means. 

This mindset dovetails your 5-year plan.  You may enjoy macaroni and cheese, but do you want to live on it?  You may be approved for $150,000 to purchase a home, but is that your cap?  Is that purchase price assuming zero down and seller paid concessions?  If yes is your answer to these questions, maybe you should consider putting more money down on a home, or at least borrowing less money.  Your current salary may justify your payment, but what if your salary is reduced?

Fortune favors the prepared, so plan ahead.  Owing less on a home is a safer way to go. It helps you stay in control of your budget.  If you can do a bigger down payment on a home, that could prove to benefit you in the future if your plans change and you have to sell your home.

4. Get a home warranty, and keep it renewed

This is one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ things that we tend to overlook.  First of all, make sure you get a home warranty – even if it’s not being offered in the sale and you have to pay for it yourself.  Double-check what the policy covers, and keep it handy to refer back to when or if you run into a problem.  A common Home Warranty policy will cover such things as plumbing problems, electrical problems, appliances, heating sources, and structural issues.

When it’s time to renew the policy –do it!  Most policies that I have encountered are valid for 12 months after the sale, and are totally renewable – so don’t let it expire!  To compare costs of having the warranty vs. not having it, take a trip through one of those warehouse home improvement stores, and write down the replacement costs of comparable appliances to what you have in your home.  That figure alone should encourage you to get a warranty.

5. Examine your new home surroundings

Your home surroundings are important now, as well as for resale value should you decide to sell in the future.  Is the home close to town, shopping, or other amenities (grocery store, gas station, post office, etc.)?  What about the neighborhood?  Are most of the homes well kept, or is the condition and appearance of the surrounding homes average or less than desirable?

What about the school district?  Is there a school within walking distance to the home?  School districts and their known performance is a very important factor to consider when buying a home, regardless of whether or not you have or plan to have children.  The school district will be important for potential buyers if you ever decide to sell.

What about an active Homeowners Association (HOA)?  You should acquire a copy of the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs – the rules and regs of the HOA) for a home that interests you, and take time to read it thoroughly.  HOA’s can be a good thing – they are intended to help protect your investment from unwanted activity or behavior in the neighborhood.

If you have at least a general idea that the potential new home you’re looking at will suffice for your interests – get your offer in on the home first before you miss out!  If it’s a nice home that you’re looking at, rest assured, someone else is also looking at that same nice home.  Your offer can be subject to many contingencies – including a structural inspection, CC&R’s & neighborhood review.  If your potential new home doesn’t meet your needs, you can cancel your bid and retrieve your earnest money deposit if your contingency is in effect. So, there is low risk in submitting the offer while doing research. And you don’t miss out on purchasing a wonderful home to someone else.

6. Keep Receipts, Certificates and Permits

Oftentimes, a resale home (a home that is not brand new) will have improvements made to it to enhance value or desirability.   Some typical improvements include new appliances, new windows, roofing, siding, flooring, and additions.  It’s a good idea to inquire about how and when these improvements were made – put your agent to work to ask some probing questions for the seller.

Here are some things to consider when you’re looking at a resale home that has been improved (remodeled, etc.). Manufacturers of the products, like flooring, windows, roofing material, etc., will commonly offer a warranty – a warranty that could be transferable to a new owner.  Make sure you find out who the manufacturer of the product is, and find out if it the project was completed according to specifications.  You can usually find product information concerning any company online and contact the manufacturer directly to get the clear answer on how to go about transferring warranties.  Did the owner hire a licensed contractor to complete the work for the improvements?  If so, does the contractor guarantee their work, and will they be following up on the completed project at a later time to address any concerns?

With repairs and improvements, come receipts, certificates, and permits.  It’s pretty darn important that you have those in your possession when you take ownership of the home.  To help you and the seller make sure that happens, simply provide the seller with an empty binder or notebook.  In the binder, leave a cordial letter asking the seller to place all transferable warranties, manuals, certificates, remotes and anything else that is pertinent to your soon to be new home in the binder.

Stock the binder with empty pocket protectors and other collection sleeves to make it convenient for them.  You don’t need to be in direct contact with the seller to do this, simply prepare the binder and give it to your agent to pass on to the seller.  Or even better, make this a condition of your offer.

7. Make an Educated Offer

Simply put, you (and more so your agent) should know what the market trends are doing in your area of interest.  Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market in your area?  Ask your agent to elaborate on this, and explain why he/she thinks one way or the other. (This is a great probing question to ask an agent in an interview by the way.)

The process of submitting an offer is much, much easier than it was when I first started in this business.   Putting all the forms together that are needed, and getting signatures can all be done online now, so it doesn’t take very long to put an offer together, and to have it ready to submit.

Use the extra time available to have your agent ‘comp out’ the home, meaning finding comparable homes in the area for price comparison.  Look for trends, price points, and dollar per square foot averages.

Your agent should be able to explain to you what a reasonable offer would be, based upon comparable homes that have sold recently in the area around the subject home.  This can all be accomplished (comps, and offer) in one sitting with your agent, without stalling to get your offer secured in time.  Does this sound like a better plan than just offering full price?

8. Keep your home inspection handy

A good inspector will help find and note deficiencies in a home, so you can make an informed decision about repairs and improvements.  Most inspection reports that I have read are very thorough about the home’s condition, and also offer tips on how to improve and maintain the home. Keep this report handy to help you keep your home in good standing order.

One piece of advice that I offer my seller clients is to have the home inspected prior to putting the home on the market.  Why would I recommend this?  Simply put – so they know what a potential buyer is going to ‘gig’ them on, i.e. request repaired, in an inspection.

So, with this idea in mind, you know that in the future you may be selling your home that you just purchased.  Make notes in your inspection report about the improvements or repairs that were completed, and keep a maintenance log that compliments the recommendations in the report, it will help prepare you for the future for when the home will be inspected again.

9. Do your desired home improvements before you sell

You just bought a home, make it yours!  Take the time to change the paint, flooring, pull knobs, whatever.  Enjoy the home now, and turn those ‘someday’ ideas you have into goals to make it happen.

All too often, when I talk to a potential seller about listing their home, they suddenly take an interest in home improvements.  Why?  To me, it makes more sense to have had the time to enjoy those improvements that you invest in. They will still be there when it’s time to sell, and will likely be one less thing to stress about when prepping your home for the market.

10. Make peace with your neighbors.

Your neighbors make a huge difference in your quality of life – and that can be a good thing, or a bad thing.  All of us can think of examples of “this is where I would love to live, because it’s a great neighborhood.” What makes a neighborhood great?  It’s you and your neighbors sharing a common desire of a quality life.  So get to know who your neighbors are, and do simple acts of kindness to encourage a great neighbor relationship.

Here are some ideas to break the ice and build relationships with your neighbors:  1) Be part of the HOA; 2) Help keep up maintenance with neighborhood common areas; 3) Offer to keep watch on your neighbor’s home when they’re away for extended periods; 4) See an opportunity to make a positive difference with your neighbor and act on it without being asked.

Ed Kunkel, Jr. is a Managing Broker/Realtor® at Keller Williams Realty in Olympia, Washington. Visit Ed here. Ed’s Military History: Veteran – U.S. Army and Air Force Reserve; Highest rank, E5; 11 years combined military service.

Dollar and Contract photos: Comstock/photos.com 
Neighbor photo:Thinkstock/photos.com