Love at First Site?

Experts explain the process for picking the perfect new home.

Some house hunters hope to be struck by lightning so they know the perfect home when it appears. Will it be love at first sight? Will they live happily ever after, without a shred of buyer’s remorse? Maybe on TV, but pros know the search can take many twists, turns, and compromises before the selection and sale. 

“They make it look easy on TV and like everybody goes out for cocktails afterward,” says Ruth Jones, a Realtor based in Virginia Beach. “But in real life, clients wish they could play Mr. Potato Head—this back yard with this kitchen and that garage. Usually I live by the philosophy, ask 500 questions and show five houses to start. Some find the right one quickly, while others might look at 44 or more.” 

Three things sell a house, Jones says: location, condition, and price. Defining what’s most important to a client—commute, school district, a view, a first-floor bedroom—helps ideals match budget. Plus, she says, “People usually want something updated. They don’t want to do construction work as soon as they get in, and they want to make sure it’s not a money pit.” 

An initial buyer’s consultation is key, agrees Adam Hancock, a Richmond-based Realtor. “After we go over some of the basic parameters, then we talk about what would be on their wish list—a pool, a detached garage, a screened-in porch. Those help narrow the search. Online pictures only tell so much about a house, so we’ll go look at it. Usually buyers have been looking online for six months or more before they get to me.

“First-time home buyers tend to look at a lot more inventory, because they’re afraid of making the wrong decision,” Hancock adds. “When we’re looking at properties, I ask them to rate each one on a scale of one, meaning ‘Get me the heck out of here,’ to 10—‘Let’s write an offer right now.’”

For her clients, Brenda Canning, a Realtor based in Staunton, finds that quality materials and craftsmanship are desirable, layout is key, and location is typically foremost. She also suggests buyers think about resale, no matter how long they expect to be in a home. Then, she says, “If someone’s really serious [about a house], I tell them to see it two or three times, because you miss so much on that first visit.” 

No matter how set a buyer is on a property, the home inspection is a crucial aspect of the hunt. Hancock says some buyers mistakenly think they can terminate the purchase agreement if the inspector finds something wrong with the house. “You have to give sellers a chance to remediate the issue or give a credit toward closing costs or sales price,” he explains. If both parties can’t come to an agreement, they can walk away, but the purchase agreement is a legally binding contract with certain contingencies. “In a lot of ways buyers are protected, but not necessarily to the level they think they are. …. You give them rights, but also responsibilities.”

“The buyer’s biggest concern is home inspections,” agrees Canning. “Those close-up photos of problem areas can be pretty scary, but that’s a part of the inspector’s job. We reassure the client that the home inspection is a good way to understand the history of the house and is something they can refer back to.” Usually a solution can be reached. 

And in the end, Canning says, “You know the heart usually comes first. If there are issues, you try to get the head to take over, but it doesn’t always work.” One of her recent clients pulled into the driveway of an historic farmhouse and knew it was the right house before even opening the front door. In that case, the heart and head won together—sometimes the lightning does happen.


This article originally appeared in our June 2019 issue.

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