Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Step #2 in buying a house - Area Research

This is the fun part! I loved doing the research and could spend hours looking at homes.

Have you ever met someone who has lived in the same place all of their life? If you are one of these people, you will never need this advice so you can go back to watching T.V.
(I actually knew someone who not only lived in the same house all her life, it was her parent's house and she had bought it from them! )

For those who are willing to change their venue from where they are now, you have to know what you are looking for in a new area. What matters to you in terms of location? The reason you focus on the area first and then what you want in a house is simple.. houses are basically the same everywhere but everywhere that has houses is not the same.

I was looking for the following things:

1. Price - lthe lower the better in terms of real estate, looking for lots of foreclosures 
2. Open Space - not much development, buildings or freeways
3. Location near my current house, mom and sister without being "too near" (I came up with 2 hours as the distance I thought was easy to cover in a weekend trip.)
4. Small town feel with proximity to the larger town amenities I would need to survive (Lowes, Safeway, Starbucks and a hospital were on the top of the list.)

Where do you start looking? I used my parent's house as the starting point and like I said earlier, started looking in a foothill town called Coarsegold. It has a huge group of houses in Yosemite Lakes that offers lots of amenities and still has a feeling of seclusion. At first, Coarsegold looked like it would meet all of my criteria:
1. Price- the number of foreclosures in just Yosemite Lakes was staggering.. I would say nearly 20% of the development was for sale when I saw it. And very few were not foreclosures...
2. Open space- it is a planned community but they had all different lot sizes and house sizes. You could get a lot right up next to your neighbor or a house that you actually couldn't see from the road..
3. Location- It was only about 45 minutes from my parent's house but it would be 3 hours for me and my sister to get there. That is what tipped the scale away from Coarsegold. Why would I buy a house down the road from my parent's for a vacation place? It made no sense...
And so I moved on... to the gold country around Jackson, CA.

I got curious about the houses here from an internet auction site that I found.. and that is where I first saw that Wilseyville house. So I created an alert in Realtor.com and starting looking around the internet to see what was available.
It seemed to meet all of my criteria with tons of foreclosures, lots of space, 2 hours from everyone in almost a perfect triangle and location to big town stuff. They even had a brand new hospital in Jackson that was very pretty and modern.
I looked on the websites I use to track real estate and just kept watching what came up for sale to get an idea of what a good value would be when I saw it. (This is important for someone coming from out of the area. Think about all us bay area folks with out jacked up home prices going somewhere like Winnemucca and thinking that the house for sale at $150,000 is a steal! What if it isn't? What if you are paying too much because you don't know the market well enough. I live in fear of paying too much!)

 I keep looking at the internet houses for a couple of months until saw the house in Glencoe and called Kathy.. with Kathy driving I covered 100's of miles up there... I saw houses in wilseyville, pioneer, railroad flat, glencoe and mokelumne hill. Having a realtor who is familar with the area is another key thing to find. Kathy was able to tell me what the snow fall looked like at houses we would see. Where they are having to drill for more water... what happens when a powerful storm comes and how long it takes to get power back one..just invaluable information. 
All together I spent months on the area research and looked at 100's of houses on line and probably 25-30 in person... but I knew that was the area I wanted to buy in and since I had in mind my criteria for a house, when one came up that matched I made an offer.

A lot of people go with their "gut" or a "feeling" when buying a house and that works out well only if you know exactly what you want. When people think of buying a house and just start looking at open houses, that is the wrong way to go about it. Emotions can make you think you have to buy a house right away, but it is too far from work, or your neighbors have a yard full of junk, or it is out of your price range... so research is important.

You have to stick to the plan or you will not be happy in the long run with the house you bought.
Here is where I got my info and these are just a fraction of the sites out there that can be helpful:
This is the best site for just the sheer number of listings and from it you can link to the realtor's home pages and see what else is in the area.
Most people think of this as a valuation site for pricing but it has great research has well. You can see aerial views of lot sizes to see how close the neighbors are and of course, past sales data if it is not too old.
The real estate section is limited but once again gives you some more information. You can also find the weather in the location you are thinking about and local news...new thing is the snapshot feature. Right now it says that 42 homes are for sale in mokehill with 22 of them being foreclosures and the pricing believe it or not is actually going up... hmm..
This site is one you have to pay for but i get an alert without paying, it just doesn't give you the exact address. But it does give you the street name.. so you can usually figure it out.
This an online auction site that lets you see the properties without signing up. If you wanted to bid on a place you would have to register with them. Not a lot of properties but some interesting things.

Lesson here... identify your needs first, choose some possible candidate locations and do your research.

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