You may already have an idea of what would make the perfect home for you, taking into account any financial constraints. To make your vision a reality, though, you will need to research various areas where you may want to live and get familiar with the houses that are for sale there. You may also want to look at houses that are under construction or in developments that are still being planned. Getting a sense of the price range for the type of house that you want will let you know what to expect and guide you in negotiations with a seller.
You should get a sense of the character of the neighborhood to which you might be moving. Some useful sources include the Wikipedia entry on the city and its official website, as well as consumer resources websites such as streetadvisor.com, bestplaces.net, neighborhoodscout.com, and city-data.com. Social media also can be your ally, such as Facebook and Twitter, which can give you a sense of events and issues that are important to the community. You can find reviews of neighborhoods on Yelp and Foursquare as well.
Safety and Convenience
Safety is probably an important factor in your search. You can find crime statistics for a city at city-data.com, while bestplaces.net breaks down cities into neighborhoods (by zip codes). The local police department likely will provide a breakdown of crime statistics, and you can check online for registered sex offenders in the area if this is an issue that matters to you.
Most people also want to make sure that their home makes their routines more manageable rather than less. If you have a pet, you may want to live near parks where you can walk them. If you have children, you may want to live near good schools. If you work at an office and travel during rush hour, you may want to make sure that your commute is reasonable.
Zoning Issues and Applicable Restrictions
If you have certain plans for your new home, you will want to make sure that they are compatible with the zoning ordinances in the area. This can be especially relevant if you are planning to operate a business in your home. If you plan to remodel your house or add to it, you may want to find out whether you need a permit to do this and how challenging getting a permit may be. Even if you are planning to change just the landscaping, you may need to look into any restrictions that apply. Property that has historic landmark status or is in an area with historic landmarks may present some especially tricky issues.
Subdivisions and other planned communities have their own rules beyond zoning regulations, and these rules may control a wide range of details that you may not expect. If you want a substantial amount of freedom as a homeowner, you should think twice before moving into one of these communities.
Ways to Search for a Home
Getting suggestions from people whom you already know, such as friends, coworkers, and family members, can be a good way to start your search. If certain activities are important to you, you may be able to locate places with other people who share your interests. Going online to explore the websites of real estate agents can make your search more concrete and specific once you have gained a general sense of what matters most to you.
You can also gain a good sense of a neighborhood by driving through it and paying attention to who lives there, how well they maintain their homes, and the types of businesses that thrive there. Eventually, you will want to walk around an area that especially interests you at different times of day, possibly talking to residents about their experiences. Finally, you can narrow your search to specific houses with the help of resources like Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com, real estate advertisements in the local newspaper, and the websites of local real estate brokers.
Understanding the Market
You should try to get a sense of how much you should expect to pay for the type of house that you want in a certain area. This involves looking at final sale prices of houses similar to your target type that have sold within the last six months and are located within a few blocks of where you want to live. Zillow and Trulia can be trusted to provide this information, which also can prove useful later when you are negotiating with a seller.
Determining whether the market is more favorable to buyers or sellers (or balanced) also can help you assess whether a price is fair. Some factors that affect market trends include mortgage interest rates, the relationship between supply and demand for homes, and the availability of alternatives like rentals. (Eventually, a real estate agent can provide you with a more thorough assessment.)