You’re finally finished with the first phase of your online new home search! You’ve created a list of communities that meet your most important needs, such as price, location, some design elements, and neighborhood features and you’re ready to start walking through some model homes.

The excitement of driving through a new community or walking through a beautiful model home is exhilarating. It can be a very emotional experience. Let’s face it, you’ve got a lot of hopes and dreams tied up in this purchase, and you believe these are some of the homes that can make those dreams come true. Builders know how potential home shoppers approach this stage of their new home search and create model homes to be highly effective marketing and advertising environments. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a good thing to be aware that you’re walking into such a potentially highly charged atmosphere. It’s also important for you to know how you feel about a model home when you walk into and through it. Model homes represent the very best the builder has to offer.

If you do not feel an emotional connection between you, your dreams and the home, make a note of that. You should probably move on to the next model home on your list. Hundreds of hours of research and hundreds of thousands of dollars can go into these model homes. These showcase homes truly represent the very best that a builder has to offer. If you don’t love them, there’s a chance you won’t like their other homes either.

In most cases, you’ll pass signs and an attractive entrance monument as you near the community. The model homes are usually located within sight of the major community features such as a water park, a community center, or exercise areas such as tennis or basketball courts. If the model homes are deeper within the community, the builders should make sure that your route to the models takes you past the major community amenities. Take careful note of the amenities. How do they look? Are they neat, safe, and, if it is the appropriate time of year, are people enjoying them?

BEFORE YOU PARK THE CAR. . .

Once you see the model home, your first instinct will be to park the car and dash inside to have a look, but before you do, it’s best to take a little self-guided tour around the community. You’ve already experienced this community online, watched a video or two, probably printed some of the material, and made some notes about it. A little private tour is a low-pressure way to validate some of your early impressions. The first thing to discover is where you’ll actually be living in the community if you do buy a home here. The houses that the builder may be selling may be located well away from the models, parks, and pools. To find the area where the new homes are being built or sold, just drive around. It won’t be long before you see the signs of new construction. This is the only area where you’ll be able to buy a new home. If the community has several builders in it, there may be different areas for each builder, but they’ll all be in the same vicinity. In some larger communities, there may be different sub-neighborhoods that have homes at higher or lower price points.

Once you discover the areas where the builders are constructing the new homes, you’ll also see some of the homes that are currently available for sale. These are “spec homes,” an industry term meaning “speculative homes,” or homes built before the builder had a specific buyer for the home. Some builders call these homes “inventory homes” as they are part of the builder’s available inventory. Inventory homes are available for immediate purchase and are a good place to start looking, regardless of when you want to buy. The reason is that looking at an inventory home will give you a good idea of what most of the residents are putting into their homes. Many builders will leave inventory homes unlocked during business hours. These unlocked homes are a great place to start your “in-person” search. The unlocked specs present you with the opportunity to walk through an actual, unadorned, unfurnished home (as opposed to a showcase home) and see what your home may look like if you decide to buy a home in this neighborhood. You’ll also be able to look through the home without the onsite salesperson.

As you walk through the inventory home, look at the construction quality of the home. Does it look and feel well-built? Pay careful attention to the areas where walls meet, the window seals, the carpet, and the corners? Are there any cracks in the walls or tile? Are the fixtures sealed properly? Open a few windows to see if they operate smoothly. Do the stairs creak when you walk up them and are the railings and balusters secure sturdy? Open the closets, flush the toilets, and run the water in the sinks. You don’t need to conduct an exhaustive review, but it should be sufficient to give you a feeling the house is solidly constructed. Finally, you’ll want to assess the overall feel of the home. Do you like it? Would you be proud to entertain your friends and family in it? Can you see yourself living here is everything worked out with the finances? If you have any concerns, write them down. Take any issues you have with the quality of the home extremely seriously.

In some cases, builders do not leave their inventory homes open during business hours. If this is the case, you can call the onsite salesperson for that community before your visit and ask them to leave one or two open for you to view at a particular time. If you do this, the onsite will probably prefer to meet you at the inventory home and start to try and move you along a sales path. They may even try and get you to come into the model first. I recommend visiting the model after you’ve done some in person research, but if you want to meet the onsite salesperson, do it at the inventory homes if possible. Most will accommodate your request. At the inventory home, be prepared for the salesperson to try and sell you the home. One interesting note is that not all onsite salespeople work every day of the week. Most builders have sales assistants or hostesses working in model homes on Monday or Tuesday. If you don’t feel that you’re ready to talk to a salesperson, an early week visit may be the best way for you to proceed at this point.

Now, leave this community and go to the next one on your list.

WHAT! YOU SAY! LEAVE?

Yes! I realize that it’s going to be difficult, but I recommend that you keep moving! You’ve got several other communities to visit. At this point, you’re not shopping; you’re putting together your first shortlist, and you’re creating it from the “outsidein.” At this point in your search, you’re trying to eliminate communities and builders from your list, not include them. That onsite isn’t going anywhere, and if this builder or community makes the cut, they’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready.

The first day that you’re out driving through communities, you should be able to visit several. If you were able to walk through a few inventory homes and you’re curious about the price of any of them, you should be able to find out on the builder’s website. Once you’re home, review each of the communities you visited. Conduct this exercise for several days. You should be able to take in 20-30 different communities and many spec homes. Was there one community or floor plan that stood out from the others? What were the big differences? Did you have a clear favorite community or builder? Visit as many communities that you need to visit to understand as completely as possible your new home options. You’ll eventually get to a list of probably 10-15 communities that you like.

Now, it’s time to start contacting builders and their onsite salespeople.