Take Note! This Is the One Thing You Must Master When House Hunting

Courtesy of Realtor.com

Average home buyers look at 10 houses before they find The One. And unless you’ve lucked out with a photographic memory, remembering the details of all those homes can prove challenging. Wait, which one had that weird bathroom? What was the address of that awesome house near the lakeshore?

If only you’d written it down.

It might not be the most exciting skill to learn, but good note-taking can keep you organized and dramatically simplify your home search. Yes, you already know how to write things down. But are you writing down the right things?

Here, we’ve got the pros’ best practices for what to keep track of during the house-hunting process—and how to keep everything straight so you don’t lose your mind.

Know what your agent is tracking

Before you start scribbling in your notebook (or typing away in your phone’s notes app), ask what your agent is looking for so you can keep track of the same things, too.

Why duplicate? Well, first, this can help you assess how well your agent is finding houses that really suit your needs. If you tell your agent you want a lush green yard but you’re seeing only a bunch of spaces with desert landscaping, then maybe it’s time for clearer communications with your agent—or a new agent entirely.

Plus, taking note of the nitty-gritty things your agent is tracking can make you a more savvy buyer.

For instance, at open houses, agent Ashlie Roberson will keep an eye on the sign-in sheet to see how many people came through. This is info that will help you get “a solid idea as to what our negotiation strategy should be,” she says.

Jot down your impressions of size

You might be wowed by the size of the place when you walk inside, but you’re omitting crucial information if you’re not comparing that impression with the actual dimensions. Most homes come with a spec sheet, and if you’re surprised to discover the cavernous living room is just 9 feet by 9 feet—smaller than your bedroom at home—then make a note. Clever staging might be tricking your eyes, and getting the space to feel that enormous with your own furniture might be a challenge.

“Looks can be deceiving, and many agents have the means to perfectly stage a property,” says Vincent Averaimo, who works in real estate law. “Sometimes that means it looks bigger than it really is.”

Record your gut feeling

When you step into the home, what do you feel? After a long day spent driving to a dozen different homes, you’re likely to forget that feeling.

So make sure to write it down. Did you feel relaxed and comfortable? Slightly ill at ease? Did an intangible thrill race along your spine?

“When you have found the home for you, there’s a special feeling that you get,” Roberson says.

While you’re at it, dig into the specifics of why you got that special “yes!” feeling. Was it the bay window in the master bedroom? The 500-bottle wine cellar you’re already dreaming of filling up?

“Note something you really love about the home or something that really bugs you,” says Maria Daou, a real estate broker in New York City. “If you don’t make these notes in the moment, when you are in the space, you forget what it is and all the houses start blending together.”

Give the home a numerical rating

Real estate agent Dale Schaechterle recommends establishing three “have to haves,” which must be included in your final home. Then, each time you visit a house, rate each of these must-haves from 1 to 10, with 10 being “exceptional” or even “better than desired.”

For instance, if you’re insistent on a three-bedroom home, then a home with more than three beds might get a 10, and a three-bedroom home gets an 8.

At the end, tally it all up to see which home has the highest score on the things that matter most to you.

“A perfect score is not the goal,” Schaechterle says. You’re looking for something with the best balance of everything you want that gives you “permission” to stop looking and write an offer.

Take pictures—of everything

Any good seller’s agent will stuff the listing chock-full of pictures—but that doesn’t mean you should put your camera away during the showing.

In fact, you should take photos of anything that jumps out at you—good or bad, recommends real estate broker Brenda Di Bari.

Did you absolutely adore the dual-faucet sink in the kitchen? Or were you uncertain about the strange laundry room setup? Flipping through your camera roll can help you recall the details that might not be pictured in the listing photos.

And there’s another darn good reason to take lots of pictures: Sometimes listing photos lie. A deck might look pristine on camera, but up close the boards are splitting and—oh, heavens—are those carpenter ants? Or perhaps a room that looked enormous feels more like a coffin in real life.

“Maybe there are areas of damage or concern that you want to consider before making an offer,” Di Bari says. A photo will help you remember.

Write down the renovations you’ll want (and look up their cost later)

Few houses are perfect. Jot down any obvious changes you’ll want to make—and anything that might impede a home improvement project. (Is that wall clearly structural?)

“Noting if [renovation] is even an option is really important,” Daou says.

Once you’ve figured out which renovations your potential home might need, suss out how much they’ll cost. Add that to any other must-change items, like a coat of paint, replacement gutters, or even furniture needed to outfit a bigger home.

“It almost always costs more than you think,” Di Bari says.

And what good is a dream home if you can’t afford to make it shine?