3 Next-Gen House-Hunting Tips

Just because you are buying a house on your own doesn’t mean you have to face the process alone.

The American household has changed — big time. More people are marrying later in life, if at all. Some are going from coupled-up to solo and back again multiple times throughout their lives, while others prefer the freedom of single life. This means more and more people are choosing to buy on their own.

And as technology-assisted house hunting continues to evolve, there are so many new ways to navigate the process. Trulia’s recently launched boards (available on both Trulia.com and the Trulia mobile app) make it easy for you to team up with family, friends, and your real estate agent so they can participate in your search.

Ready to start house hunting? Now that you have your collaboration team in place, use these tips to guide your action plan.

1. Solo doesn’t necessarily mean condo

A decade or two ago, many single house hunters were automatically pushed toward low-maintenance condos and townhomes. And truthfully, many people (not just singles) enjoy the tax and financial advantages of ownership without the responsibilities of caring for lawns, roofs, and other so-called “single-family home” features they may not need.

That said, describing a detached, stand-alone property as a “single-family home” is woefully out of date. Many single people are electing to purchase detached homes for numerous reasons, including:

  • The square footage might allow their household to expand to include future partners, future children, adult children, or even elderly parents
  • Extra rooms (or even extra apartments) to rent out, for hobbies, or to run a home business
  • Enough outdoor space for dogs, cats, horses, or maybe even a vegetable garden

If you are dreaming of a white picket fence but your friends and family members don’t think you can handle it, don’t be discouraged. If you can afford your dream home, then go for it.

Reach out to other people in your circle who are single homeowners and own either single-family homes or condos and ask them about their experiences. Add these users to your Trulia board so that you can collaborate during the search with those who can offer their own experiences as a touch point.

However, if you decide to go with a condo, make sure you read the HOA disclosures thoroughly so you understand what you’re getting for your HOA dollars.These dues often cover expenses you would pay out of pocket otherwise, like waste management fees, landscaping, building insurance, and even roof and window maintenance.

But if you do decide to go the single-family-home route, make sure you ask your circle (and your agent) for referrals to the contractors, gardeners, and other handyfolk who can make home maintenance on your own more manageable. It takes a village to maintain a home over time. So find your village!

2. Pay extra-close attention to home inspections and home warranty provisions

The most common fear about solo homeownership is a valid one: What happens if something goes wrong with the house? With just one income, it can be frightening to think of how rapidly a lemon of a house could rock your entire financial world.

There are a couple of tactics you can build into your transaction that can massively mitigate just this risk. The first tool at your disposal is your home inspection. Most people think of the home inspection as almost pass/fail: if devastatingly expensive issues are revealed, they back out of the deal. But if they don’t surface any fatal flaws, the deal is on.

Single homebuyers should view their home inspections as the opportunity to spend more time in the home, discovering its warts and all, before they move forward with the deal.

Attend your inspection in person, and ask the inspector to show you the issues he finds while on-site. Read the reports and get any follow-up inspections scheduled or repair bids before your contingency period runs out. That way, you’ll have a concrete idea of the financial investment needed for immediate repairs while you can still either negotiate to get the seller to chip in or back out of the deal without penalty.

The second resource is a largely underrated one: your home warranty plan.

Most buyers get one, and often sellers pay for it. But what many buyers don’t realize is that they can pay to upgrade the plan so that the warranty company will cover a wide assortment of future home repairs, and they can and should renew their home warranty plan annually.

Having the ability to ring up the home warranty company and spend $50 for a service call when your water heater, furnace, or plumbing goes on the fritz can dramatically reduce the fear factor of solo home ownership.

3. Consult with legal and financial pros before you buy with a relative, friend, or partner

Buying a home with a friend, parent, sibling or life partner can seem like the cure for what ails a single person’s home-buying situation. You benefit from additional financial resources, might be able to buy a pricier (read: larger, nicer, better located) property than you could on your own, and you have help making hard house-hunt decisions and maintaining the place once you move in.

Co-buying has big benefits, but it also poses some serious questions — questions that a lawyer, tax adviser, or financial planner can help you anticipate and resolve in advance of buying to avoid conflicts later.

If you decide to go the co-buying route, invest the time and money upfront to get some professional advice about how to structure the transaction and the financial relationship. Make sure the agreement is a clear, professionally drafted written contract that is recognized by and filed on record with relevant state and local governments. This will help avoid miscommunication or damage to your relationship with your co-buyer down the road.

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