Home Buyer Homework!

List makers may love the thought of preparing questions to ask during an onsite visit. Even if you’re not fond of lists, it’s a good idea to bring some questions and expectations with you that you can ask the salesperson. After all, they will be “prying” into your personal life to get the information they need to try to sell you a home. There are a lot of pieces to the home buying puzzle and home buyers should make sure they do their homework so they can put the home buying puzzle pieces together before they look at homes. Here are some things to be prepared to ask and learn during your onsite visit.


  1. What is the basic home price of each floor plan and what does it include? Home builders set the price for their homes in a variety of ways. The most common pricing strategy involves assigning individual prices for the following items: Basic home (this is a price for each individual floorplan), standard items that are included with or in the home, homesite fee (sometimes this is included, and sometimes there is a premium cost associated with a homesite), there are structural upgrades that are not included in these prices, and there are other, design upgrades (carpet, wood floors, granite) or external elements such as a deck, outdoor kitchen, pool or façade features like stone accents, turrets, porches or a balcony, that are not included in the price. So, just because a particular floorplan is listed at $200,000, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is what you’ll eventually pay for the home. By the time you add some brick to the front, pick a nice home site, a covered patio in the rear, wood floors and granite your actual price for the home could be $250,000.  The only reason this is important is that a home that initially looks like it may fit perfectly into your budget may actually be well out of it by the time you get it where you really love it.


  1. Ask about everything you see in the model home. Everything. To avoid any disappointment and to increase your understanding of buying a new home, you should ask about everything you see in the model home (which are usually decked out with the very best and most a builder has to offer.) If you like a particular faucet, wood floor treatment, granite design, sink, tub, fireplace, window seat, lighting fixture, closet, media room, French door or banister, ask the salesperson if it is included in the price. These additional items, which make a model home so attractive, can add up to a pretty significant number very quickly. In all fairness to the builder, a model home is meant to represent all the options a homeowner has when they put together their new home. It is very easy to see why some home shoppers feel frustrated when they walk through a beautifully decorated model home only to realize that there is no way they could afford a home with all the items they’ve seen in the model. It is not unusual for a model home to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades in a community where the average home may be built with only a third of that amount.


  1. Insist on visiting the speculative inventory. A good way to estimate what you’d get for a particular price is to look at some of the speculative or inventory homes that are available in the community. These are either houses that the builder built without a particular buyer in mind or one that was built by a prospective buyer that couldn’t close on the final home for some reason. Rarely are these homes designed with all the upgrades in the model and. Builders want to sell them quickly, so they outfit them with the most common upgrades that buyers are adding to their homes. These homes will give you a good idea of what most of the people in that area are putting in their home and how much a house with similar appointments would cost.


  1. Ask about special “packages” the builder is selling on top of basic home prices. You’ll also want to know what is included in the base price of the home. Some builders will have great packages with their homes that include appliances, wood floors, tile, a covered patio, a pool or wood floors. For others, the items that are included are pretty scant. You’ll want to know what is included in your price and what you’ll have to add to the price. This will differ with every builder, so you’ll want to know. When you look at a model, keep in mind that it’s what the builder “can” do with a home, but not necessarily what they usually do. These model homes are usually the very last home sold in a neighborhood. They’re often sold fully furnished and designed and more than not, the builder will have to significantly discount the price on them to sell them.


  1. Keep your buying timeline to yourself but ask about the builder’s. While the builder will want to try and get you to start committing to homes, it’s okay at this point to tell them that you’re still early in your search and won’t be making a decision for a few months. The salesperson will then tell you how long it will take to build your home and that you’re probably not as far from deciding as you think you are! For instance, if you’re looking to get into a home before your children begin school in August, and you’d like to build a home, if the build time is 6 months, you’ll need to make your decision sometime in February. Make sure you’re aware of this as you’re shopping and don’t be alarmed at the timeline that the builder may present. Let them know you’re aware of that and are considering all options at this point, even pre-owned homes. This is an important step in your process because you’ll want to know the real differences between buying a new home and purchasing one that is pre-owned. Most builders have an excellent presentation about the differences between new and used homes, and you should listen to a few of them to familiarize yourself with the differences between the two.


Once you’d had a nice look around and feel like you’ve got a good idea about the builder, the community and the homes and floor plans, it’s time to move on to the next community on your list. (You work your list from the bottom up, visiting your least favorite builders first.) As you move “up” your list of homes and communities, your comfort level will increase. By the time you’re hitting the communities that you feel will best meet your needs, you will have had some practice talking with sales representative and you will have had a time to warm up!

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