Sometimes, going out into the world can seem like such an arduous task that we want to stay at home and put everything in the “outside world” on hold. The good news is that if you're feeling that way, your home shopping journey doesn't have to stop. In fact, many people are finding that spending more time at home motivates them to take concrete steps towards their next home.
Most home searches start online anyway. This means that you have many tools at hand to support a virtual home search, from initial preparation to choosing the neighborhood, community, builder, floor plan and lot. Since it takes six to nine months for a new construction house to be built, depending on the size, materials and local market, you can also start the process sooner or later.
1. Do your financial preparation first
While you are probably eager to start looking for homes, you need to know your purchasing power before you fall in love with a house that is out of your reach or underestimate what you can afford. First, write down your financial information - gross monthly income and other assets, monthly expenses, etc. You will need to know where to access your financial statements and prove all sources of income when applying for a loan, so it makes sense to gather that information now.
To estimate your purchasing power, you will need to know the value of your down payment and then use a mortgage calculator to get a general idea of your potential payment, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance. Don't forget that you may also have to pay a homeowner association fee.
Contact your broker for sure he will refer you to one or more mortgage lenders you apply for online or over the phone to obtain a mortgage pre-approval letter. You will need to provide documentation about your financial life and authorize a credit check, but this is the best way to be sure about what you can buy. Mortgage applications and approvals can be done entirely online with secure and encrypted portals to provide information. Pre-approving a mortgage from a lender does not commit you to that financial institution or loan. You can always apply for a loan with the lender recommended by a builder or another lender when you are ready to finalize your purchase.
Once you've established your price range, you're ready for the fun part: buying your newly built home.
2. Search for a neighborhood
You may already have a general idea of where you want to buy a new home, but if you don't, you can start collecting information, ask your broker for help. Tools like Google Maps can help you navigate places within a radius of where you’re looking to identify potential communities.
Google Maps also allows you to switch to street view to explore the neighborhood virtually. Zoom out to search for nearby parks, cafes, libraries and restaurants and zoom in to see a specific street. When you are looking at a community in its early stages, however, you may need to rely more on renderings and images from the developer or community builder to see what the neighborhood looks like.
If you have children, schools are often a priority. You can use GreatSchools.org to read school reviews and ratings. Another good resource for obtaining information about the school may be the school system itself. For example, if you want your child to have a bilingual education or attend a school with a strong focus on math and science, the school system website will have this information.
Other options for information about a neighborhood include the Homefacts app, which provides comprehensive statistics on schools and crimes, demographic information and environmental reports. The AroundMe application simplifies the location of restaurants, cinemas, post the process. Ask the builder to send you a link to a virtual tour or video of the model home. Virtual tours provide a much more detailed view of what you are buying than just the photos, and you can easily start imagining yourself on the floor plan.
Want to be more interactive? Use FaceTime, Google Duo or Skype to video chat with your broker. If you want to include others in the conversation, a Zoom meeting or another conference line works well. With a video chat, the agent can share more information directly with you about the house of interest or take a virtual tour in real time.
You can also schedule a private individual tour or simply request information about updates or request an online consultation with a designer.
3. Find your community
After narrowing your preferences by neighborhood and style of home, it's time to evaluate communities. Most new planned communities have a website that provides comprehensive information about existing and planned amenities, as well as the area's resources. You will usually find videos of what the community looks like now and what it might look like in the future. Some sites may include a virtual walking tour of the neighborhood. Don't forget to check out the amenities you are prioritizing. For example, if you want to swim all year round, check for indoor and outdoor pools. If you love hiking, see if there is access to trails.
But, always count on the help of a properly licensed realtor