Finding the right home in Los Angeles can be a challenging and frustrating experience for prospective homebuyers. It requires quite a bit of energy, patience, and perseverance to accomplish the many tasks required to find and purchase the home of your dreams.
At GreatBuildz, a free service that matches homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened General Contractors, we talk to homebuyers every day about their challenges of finding, purchasing, and renovating a new home.
Every homebuyer has to embark on a journey with many aspects they usually don’t come across in their daily life like mortgages, insurance, real estate agents, legal contracts, inspections, repair costs, and on and on. Understandably, this can be ultra stressful. But, being armed with as much knowledge and information as possible might help relieve some of this stress, so below are some important tips to keep in mind when you’re house hunting.
1. Don’t expect to find the right house right away
It’s kind of like dating; most people don’t meet their spouse on the first date. It takes some time to shop around to get the feeling for different areas, floorplans, and features in order to really understand what’s most important to you. Additionally, if your shopping with a significant other, it will take some time before you truly understand what aspects each person is and isn’t willing to compromise.
Additionally, there are only a finite number of houses available for sale at any one time in any given area. It’s quite possible you won’t like anything currently available. Experienced homebuyers know that you may have to wait months or even years for a house to come up for sale that fits your criteria. So be patient.
2. Floorplan – Think about the future
When you’re looking at potential homes, it’s a good idea to think about what your life could be like in the next 5-10 years. You don’t need to find a home that will serve your needs for the rest of your life, but you also don’t want to find you’ve run out of space in a couple of years. The first thing to consider is the number of bedrooms (and their location in the house).
- If you plan to have kids (or more kids), you will probably want a house with more bedrooms than you currently need.
- If someone in your household might be working from home in the future, an extra bedroom or den would be helpful.
- If you have an elderly parent who may need to come live with you, again, you’ll need another bedroom.
One final note about bedroom locations. A bedroom suite that’s far from the other bedrooms might work well for a senior parent or teenager but isn’t ideal for small children who need to be near the parents.
Bathrooms are another major consideration. Ideally, you’d want a sufficient number of bathrooms for them not to be shared inappropriately. For example, the kids can certainly share one bathroom, but you don’t necessarily want that bathroom to also be the guest bathroom (as it will always be messy). Preferably, the parents wouldn’t have to share a bathroom with the kids. Of course, it’s always nice to have a dedicated bathroom or powder room just for guests.
3. Don’t compromise on your “must-haves”
Many realtors suggest that potential homebuyer make a list of ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ before they start their house hunt. That’s a great idea, especially if you’re searching with another person like a spouse. This list will get both parties on the same page about features they both agree are imperative in the ideal home. Once you know the ‘must-haves’, don’t compromise on those or you’ll regret it later. If you must have four bedrooms, do not buy a house with less. If you must have a garage, don’t buy a house without one.
Other examples might be a pool-sized yard, a specific school district, a quiet street, etc. Try to make this list include only the highest priority items and not ‘nice-to-haves’ which may include things like high ceilings, modern finishes, a patio cover, or new windows.
4. Location, Location, Location
In order to learn as much as possible about the neighborhood and surroundings of a potential home, you should carefully look at an aerial view of the area on Google maps. There is a wealth of information you can capture here. You can determine how close you are to schools, parks, houses of worship, stores, restaurants, etc. But more importantly, it can point out some of the negatives of the location.
Specifically, you’re looking for anything that could create negatives in terms of noise, smell, crime, crowds, traffic, parking issues, etc. For example, you may want to check to see how close the home is to airports, busy streets, fire stations, hospitals, gas stations, nightclubs, manufacturing facilities, busy retail establishments, or anything else that might impact your lifestyle.
5. Drive the neighborhood
You’ll obviously notice the quality of the surrounding homes when you go to look at a potential house. Probably without even knowing it, you’ll look around at the neighboring homes and get a sense of whether they are nicely maintained or not. You’ll certainly notice if one of the homes has waist-high weeds in their front yard.
It’s a good idea to also drive some of the surrounding streets in the immediate neighborhood and look for some of the same things that indicate pride of ownership or lack thereof (Note: drive by the house that is immediately behind the home you’re considering).
You’ll want to be on the lookout for both positives and negatives. You could witness graffiti, unkempt yards, peeling paint, fences/walls that are leaning or crumbling, abandoned cars, junk stockpiled in the yard, or trash cans left out. Alternatively, you may see kids playing in the streets, people taking walks, and well-maintained lawns and landscaping.
6. Look, Listen & Smell
When you’re touring a home, make sure to pay close attention while you’re in the backyard. Specifically, walk over to each of the property line walls/fences and see if you can peak over, listen for noise, and sniff the air. This may sound crazy, but you’d be amazed at what some people do in their home or yard.
You might hear loud music, power tools, or barking dogs. You could smell manure, pot plants, or pungent cooking. And of course, you could see almost anything. If anything you notice offends you, it’s good to know asap so you don’t have this surprise you while you’re in escrow or even worse after you’ve moved in.
7. The bones of the home are just as important as the finishes
We’re all guilty of this when we walk through a home: we’re concentrating on whether we like the finishes (and even the decorating) in the house. That’s why a staged house always looks better than an empty house. We get turned off if we dislike the kitchen cabinets, the flooring, or even the paint color. We figure if the home interior doesn’t match our style, it’s not a good fit for us. What we neglect to consider is the systems of the house…figuring that will all get worked out during the inspection.
We may want to reconsider this perspective because the cost of repairing/replacing one of the home’s systems may be considerably more expensive than changing that flooring or paint you hate. A new tile roof could cost $20-30k, while replacing wood floors throughout the entire home may well be cheaper. Repairing a fireplace can run $10-15k, probably more than painting the interior of the home. The point is, sometimes it’s worth looking past the cosmetics of the home and take a closer look at systems.
8. Don’t overlook the condition of the yard
Most homebuyers acknowledge they want a nice backyard, but while they’re touring a potential home, they will concentrate most of their attention on the inside of the house. Many homebuyers figure they can always ‘work on the yard’ at a later point in time to get it in the shape they really want. This is undoubtedly a reasonable point of view, but it misses one important factor, cost.
Improving a backyard with any of the following is an expensive undertaking: pool, patio, BBQ, patio cover, landscape & sprinklers, etc. A major yard project will often require a budget in the $50,000-$200,000 range. Compare that to a kitchen remodel which is likely to cost $50,000-$60,000. So just be aware, remodeling the outside of the house may be more costly than the inside.
9. The age of a home matters
Most homes in Los Angeles were built in the last 100 years or so, but the construction techniques have really changed over those decades. So, it’s important to be aware of the differences in the ‘systems’ of the house and potential pitfalls based on its original construction date. Not surprisingly, the older the home, the more careful you need to be with inspections to determine which systems are original and which systems have been upgraded.
Homes built in the 1930s and prior could have a very antiquated foundation, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, or sewer systems. Additionally, most of these homes were built with plaster walls and not drywall, which can present some challenges. On the other hand, it’s unlikely the roof hasn’t been replaced in 100 years. Be aware, replacing these major systems can get very costly.
Jumping ahead to homes built in the 1940-60s, you’re less likely to see obsolete systems that need replacing but there are a few potential areas that could be cause for concern. Be on the lookout for galvanized plumbing, aluminum electrical wiring, old clay sewer pipes, undersized electrical panels, any asbestos materials, and crumbling brick chimneys.
As you get into homes built in the 1970s and beyond, the systems are more likely to be adequate. Probably the most important things to look out for are sloping floors, major drywall cracks, and doors that don’t close, all indicating potential foundation issues. The homes of this era are largely on slab-style foundations, which are more costly to repair than the previous generation of ‘raised’ foundations.
10. There is no such thing as a perfect home
As mentioned above, you shouldn’t compromise on your must-haves. Conversely, if you have too many requirements for your perfect house, you will never find it. Real estate agents know that homebuyers will usually come in with a laundry list of desires and eventually realize they must compromise on some of them. Some agents even say that of the three main home criteria: Price, Size & Location, most homebuyers will only be able to find a home that fits two of the three.
So, it’s important for homebuyers to understand what parts of a house can and cannot be changed. For example, you can’t change the location of the home, the yard size, whether or not it has a view, its school district, etc. On the other hand, there are many things you can change: interior cosmetics & finishes (kitchen/bathroom/flooring/etc), creating a more open floorplan, adding a pool or patio, and even building additional living space.
You don’t want to regret losing a great house because you’re looking for ‘perfection.’ If you’re in escrow on a house that needs some renovation or construction in order to become an ideal property for your family, feel free to reach out to the friendly staff at GreatBuildz. We’ll connect you with reliable, pre-screened general contractors in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego who can look at your potential home and provide free estimates to make the improvements you desire.