Buying your first home | part 4
So far, in my previous posts relevant to this series, I’ve talked about the process that happens before starting to look at houses.
What comes next are;
- Property viewing and assessment
- Making an offer and finalising
In this post, I will focus on the former, property viewing and assessment.
In my previous post I listed some sources for finding the property listings. It helps to setup alerts on these sites to let you know when a property that matches your basic search criteria (e.g. general locality, no of bedrooms, etc.) come into market. A buyer’s agent helps at this point to get alerted to properties that are already in the market or will be coming soon.
Our basic search criteria;
- 3+ bedrooms with 2 bathrooms
- Double garage
- Two to three specifically chosen localities/ suburbs
- A minimum land size depending on the suburb
- Under NZD 600,00
To recap our experience, we spent a considerable time looking to build a house since 2016 because it was the economical option at the time (Low deposit percentage in NZ). However, due to various reasons we at one point decided building is not for us. Once when our financial situation changed, we did the preliminary financial assessments and decided we could buy our first home rather than build. The motivation to buy was that we could own a reasonably new house that meets our requirements within a couple of months rather than wait for a year to move into a newly built one that may still not be the perfect home.
The main problem when looking to buy is deciding if how well a house meets your requirement. Due to the extensive time we spent looking to build we had a basic idea of what we need in a house, e.g. 3 to 4 bedrooms, double garage, larger living area, reasonable garden/lawn, etc. We already had our ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ lined up.
At first we weighed the features of houses we saw against this. But soon we realised, we were still dependent on our emotional side, when deciding to buy. The best example to prove this is when we made an offer to the first house we viewed!!! (at the time we thought we found our perfect home, LOL!!). We gave an offer that is way above what we could afford (and this is even when we knew exactly what we could afford) because we both loved the style, the layout, colour scheme and location, and it matched about 50% to our requirements list at the time. If by any chance that offer got through, we may or may not have regretted it, but we’d definitely would be buried neck deep in mortgage and rates and survive on instant noodles in a house that didn’t even meet 50% of our requirements (In this scenario I believe the ‘glass-half-empty’ perspective works best because you are making a commitment for a long time to come).
Once we lost the offer and took some time to grieve our ‘loss’ we realised it was a badly made decision. So we decided a we need a more robust tool than a list of features to guide us through and make an informed decision.
Then came the ‘House Assessment Guide’ – our version of a near-objective assessment tool for house purchasing. I call it ‘near-objective’ because the decision to buy your ‘home’ cannot be completely devoid of subjectivity. There is always emotional attachments and preferences influencing your decision. But we attempted to remove some of the subjectivity by quantifying the requirement-property fit, with this tool.
When I say a tool, it is an Excel sheet (hope you didn’t expect a sophisticated software or AI machine). It looks something like figure 1.
The sheet is organised in the following structure.
- Column 1: General parts and specific rooms of the house.
- Column 2: The breakdown of the room or specific attribute relevant to the preceding section in column 2
- Column 3: Score we give for the attribute/feature listed in column 2 (a value from 1 – 5). 5 would be assigned our most favourite choice for a requirement. 1 is the least favourite or in most cases the absence of the requirement. The scoring legend is defined in column 6.
- Column 4: The level of importance we give for each attribute/feature (col 2). This a further developed version of the ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ categorisation. Here we assigned a value from 5 – 1 (a Likert scale) depending on the importance for us; 5 being the most important and 1 being not important at all.
- Column 5: The final score for the attribute based on values in column 4 and 5. This has to be more than 14 to satisfy our requirement (15 is the minimum satisfying score for any requirement). The box turns green when the requirement is satisfied.
- Column 6 This is the legend to score (column 3) the attributes.
This tool has evolved since our very first visit to an open home. Since then we visited more than 45 houses within a 6 month period before finding our forever home. Even though we had a pretty saturated list of features in column 1 & 2 by the first few open homes, we refined how they are presented and the scored, as we go. We kept amending the legend depending on the options that were available. We did this until the scoring legend got saturated which meant it stopped evolving or changing with new open home visits.
An example for how this got refined: At the beginning, a requirement in the kitchen (Col 2) was to have a walk-in pantry. That was pretty much a yes/no result. Once we saw some other options for kitchen pantry styles, we realised that the requirement should be the ‘kitchen pantry’ (col 2). I needed pantry space in the kitchen that is ‘out-of-sight’. It didn’t have to be a walk-in pantry. It was just an option; in our case the most preferred, hence 5 points. We added in other options to the legend (col 6) such as; 5 – walk-in with door; 4 – reasonable sized separate pantry but no door; 3 – two or more large cupboards with doors; 2 – one large cupboard, 1 – not enough space for pantry
We visited some open homes at the beginning ‘just to have a look’ even when they were either below or beyond our basic criteria. These were either houses with upgraded features, or houses with higher prices tags, or were just randomly spotted on the way (these are not included in the 45+ visits I mentioned unless they met our basic search criteria). It helped us to gain perspective on the options available and either narrow down or broaden our requirements, refine our legend and scoring system – sometimes they even helped to validate this tool.
This tool gives two values: One, how many of your requirements are satisfied by a house (an ordinary number) and second, how well that particular house meets the requirements of your perfect home (as a percentage value). Higher percentage indicates that you are buying a home that is closer to your perfect home. For reference, the house we lost at the beginning (the one we thought our dream home) was 65% (calculated after the fact) and the house we ended up buying was 87%.
Since this tool helped us so much, we thought this is something worth sharing with you. It took some effort to make it self-explanatory to some extent. However, we are here to help in anyway if you need it. You can get a copy of this tool by clicking the below button. This tool is licensed under a creative commons license, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) which means, it is completely free for personal use; and you can build on it, and share it citing us as original creators, for non-commercial purposes.
This is only meant as a tool to assist you in making an informed purchase decision.
An example where we effectively used the tool to make a purchase decision: We made an offer to a house that had 65% because the house presented future investment value, was in a favourable neighbourhood and there was capacity to add the features that were missing later within budget e.g. adding a second heat-pump; But we skipped making an offer to another house that was about 80% because we couldn’t easily add the features that were missing from the house e.g. absence of a door to a patio or the garden from master-bed which was a deal-breaker.
This tool can be customised to evaluate the requirement-property fit for anyone. The first thing to do when you get the sheet is fill columns 4 & 6. We believe we have captured almost all basic requirements (col 1 & 2) relevant to any house purchase. However, this may need some adjustment or additions when applying to buying investment property, lifestyle blocks, or other specific property purchases. This also can help to pick builders or fixed house & land packages when building a house.
A key information to remember when amending this tool is that you should be able to build the house that scores 100% and that will be your perfect home. This means there cannot be any contradicting elements in the feature list or the scoring list. E.g. You cannot build a 4 bed room house on a 200sqm land. Therefore, your land size preference and the attributes relevant to house size (no. of bedrooms) cannot contradict each other. We have tried our best to eliminate those in order to do an accurate calculation.
This tool is a living document, which means it might change depending on the improvements either on our own volition or based on the feedback we get. Therefore, your comments and feedback on this will be highly valued. If you are someone who opted to use this tool, you will automatically receive any information on changes, improvements or bug fixes.
Please comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have concerns, spotted errors, suggestions for improvements or any other feedback.
Just because you found the house that is the best fit, doesn’t mean you’d own it. You have to make an appealing offer, especially in a multi-offer deadline sale. I will talk about how to effectively calculate the value of the house in my next post of this series.