For the last 7 years or so I’ve been renting. Month after month of paying someone else’s mortgage. True, it’s not a great feeling, but it does have its advantages. When I moved to a different city for a new job a few years ago it was tough – trying to find a possible place, get to the inspection in time and then compare different houses at the end of the day.
For various reasons my wife and I ended up moving to a new house every year or two and we became quite efficient at the whole process. If you’re about to start looking for a new home to rent or buy, I hope this helps you as much as its has me.
While this process will work anywhere, using anything, I recommend using Evernote for reasons that should become obvious. Evernote is a very simple tool that will save your notes, photos, web pages and more. Just about anything you can think of can be capture and saved, forever, in Evernote.
Once you have Evernote up and running, create a new notebook called “House Hunting”. This will be where you store everything to do with you search for a new home. If you choose to not use Evernote, grab a folder and label it the same. Again, everything related to your search for a new home will go in here. I used to use some thing like a portfolio to hold everything and take notes.
In order to find a place you’ll like its important to know what you need. The first step is to create a list of the features that are important to you. For example:
- Acceptable locations
- 2 bedrooms
- Internal laundry
- Lock up garage
- Close to schools
Remember that the more requirements you have, the longer your search will take. It’s also important to know which of the requirements you can be flexible with.
There’s also the most important requirement: the budget. It is incredible important to know how much you’re able and willing to spend. It is even more important that you do not exceed this!
Put this list in your House Hunting notebook in Evernote. You can then reference it whenever you like, no matter where you are, using Evernote for iPhone/iPod/iPad, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry. Otherwise, write these down and make a few comments on each to describe what it is you’re looking for in more detail if you need it. This list should go into your folder.
It all starts with a search. Properties are listed in a lot of places. You can find them at your local real estate agent displayed in the window or in a catalog, they’re in the newspaper, you may wok or drive past them, and of course there’s the internet. Property listing sites often let you enter your requirements as search options, which is awesome. Once you get your search results you need to be very careful about going through the results. Many property agents will list places in your results that don’t necessarily match your requirements. There was many a search that returned properties well above my highest price range that I’d entered in the search options… sneaky.
Once you’ve found a place you’d like to inspect it’s time to capture it and store it somewhere. I used to print the page out, or tear out the advert from the newspaper and put them in a folder to carry around from place to place, but there is a much easier way to store and track everything now. You guessed it… Evernote!
If you’ve found a property on the internet use the Evernote Web Clipper to capture the entire property page straight into your House Hunting notebook. Add any addition comments you like before you clip.
If the property you like is in a newspaper or magazine, or if you happen to walk past it, use the camera in the Evernote app to take a snapshot of it and again store it in your House Hunting notebook.
For now, let the hunt continue. As you find places, capture them and store them for later.
Before you go about planning a day of inspections (which is always great fun, so I’m sure the anticipation must be killing you), you need to review what properties you’ve shortlisted and formulate a plan. Go through each property you’ve shortlisted and really consider it again. Compare it to the other places you’ve shortlisted. You’ll probably find that some of the earlier ones you found are nowhere near as good as the later ones. Anything that doesn’t make the shorter shortlist should be archived. Don’t throw them out just yet. If you’re using Evernote to manage your search for a new home, simply add a tag to each property that you really like. A tag is a way to categorise things inside a notebook. For example, any properties in the House Hunting notebook could be tagged with “Property” whereas the list of initial requirements wouldn’t have this tag. Add as many tags to a note as you like. So a shortlisted property could be tagged “Property, Shortlist” for example.
It’s good to keep the discarded properties around, just in case the ones you go to inspect turn out to be rubbish.
Now that you have a refined shortlist of properties you want to inspect it’s time to build a schedule. Have all the short listed properties in front of you and then write down the times they’re open for inspection. Rental properties will normally have a couple of set inspection times per week while properties for sale may need you to book an inspection with the real estate agent. You’ll want to try to schedule your inspections so that you’re looking within one area at a time – you don’t want to be going between different areas more than you have to, it takes up valuable inspection, and coffee time. When you have a schedule ready, write it down and keep it in a very safe place. You’ll want to have at least the following info:
- 10:30: Address, 3 beds, 1 bath
- 12:00: Address, 3 beds, 1.5 bath, 1 car
This allows you to quickly scan your agenda to see what area you need to be and when for each property you’re inspecting.
In your House Hunting notebook in Evernote create your agenda in a new note and tag it with something like “agenda”. Next, and this is very cool, you’ll want to link the property notes to the agenda note. From the list of notes, right click on each of the short listed properties and you’ll see an option to “Copy Note Link”. Click this then in the agenda note select the address of the matching property and go to Format > Link > Create link then paste (CTRL+V / CMD+V) into the box that appears. Click OK. Now the address of the property in the agenda note is linked. Click it to go straight to the full details of that property. This link will work from your mobile device or table too.
It’s also handy to plot out your inspection day on a map. Google Maps lets your create a journey and add in a number of locations and what order you need to be to each.
Once you have a journey planned out, print it out and take it with you. Or, save the journey to Evernote! Instead of printing the journey to your printer, you can print it straight to Evernote (Mac), or save it as a PDF and then drop the PDF into Evernote.
Evernote will show the complete PDF and make it available from your mobile device. You can then copy the journey PDF into the agenda note, or link the two together. Now you have a complete plan with links to each of the properties you’ll be inspecting and a mapped out path on how to get to each of them.
Looking to Rent?
If you’re looking for a rental property you’ll should prepare all the documents needed to be able to apply. If you’re using a folder or portfolio to keep your documents together, then have everything printed out and collated. Have at least 5 to 10 copies of each document and bundle them together in groups. These are your application bundles. If possible, head down to the real estate agent’s office ahead of any inspections and pickup the application form, in fact, pickup a few of them. Fill these in prior to inspecting any properties for that particular agent, just leave the address of the property blank. That means you can fill in one form and then be ready to fill in the last part and submit it when you find a place you like.
If you’re using Evernote to plan everything, you can store your identity information in here. For these kinds of documents it’s best to use a scanner if you have access to one rather than the built in page camera feature of the Evernote app – you’ll end up with a clearer result. Obviously there’s no need to collate application bundles when using Evernote, since it’s just as easy to copy documents when needed. Scan all your documents and store them in your House Hunting notebook. Tag each document with something like “ID” or “Documentation”.
Typically you should have the following documents available in your application bundle:
- Drivers licence or passport
- Health insurance card or certificate
- Recent bank statement – only need to show the balance, so a balance receipt from an ATM will be ok
- Recent phone bill
- Recent electricity, gas or water bill
Certain real estate agents may need different documentation than others, so the more you can bundle the better. There is a strong argument as to why a real estate agent needs so much extremely personally information for this, but I won’t go in to that discussion here.
OK, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on, you’re ready to roll!
The next step is to carefully evaluate each property you go to inspect. Not only should you be considering how well the property matches your requirements, also take note of the number of people at the property as this will impact your chances of getting the property.
If the place is a dud you’ll know it right away, as soon as you step inside. You should still have a look around, but if your gut is saying no, then listen to it. If you move into a dud place you’ll be miserable, trust me. I’ve moved in to a place I wasn’t completely comfortable with because I was running out of time and it was a very grumpy 12 months I spent there until the lease expired, at which time my wife and I found a much better place and got outta there!
If anything about the property stands out as a good feature, or something really bad, take out your phone and snap a quick photo of it. You can add these photos to Evernote later, but don’t worry about it while your inspecting, just take a quick photo and move on. These photos act as a great visual reminder and will help with the scoring and review processes.
If you’re inspecting a place to rent, before you walk out find a quiet space and quickly confer with your partner, or yourself, and decide if you want to submit an application for the property. If so, talk to the agent and have your application bundle ready. Hand it in on the spot. If all your documents are on Evernote, just grab the agent’s business card and let him/her know you’ll send in the application very shortly. Take out your phone and compile the needed documents into a single note. Then, send the note to the agent by using the “share by email” feature. It might seem odd to apply for a property without having seen the rest, but it’s definitely better to pull out of a race that you’re in than not be in the race at all.
When your done inspecting a property spend 5 minutes out the front, or in your car and score it. Here’s a list of some of the things my wife and I would score:
- Overall feel (could we see ourselves living there for some time and would we be happy)
- Storage space
- Kitchen space, benches, cupboards etc.
- Overall upkeep and cleanliness
- Bedroom storage
- Laundry comfort and size
- General room size
Talk over each of these points with your partner and for each of them write down a score between 1 and 5 that you’re both comfortable with. Don’t read too much into it right now. However, if you’ve already declared the property a dud you have the right to remove it from the shortlist completely.
You can score each property in Evernote too. Open up the note that has the property listing and write down the score for each criteria. You should also write down some other notes and feelings you had about the place. It’s best if you can do this straight after the inspection while it’s fresh in your mind.
At the end of your day of inspections you will have a couple of properties that you’ve scored. Now’s the time to sit down with your partner and go though each property. Compare them to each other and weigh up the good points and bad of each. Hopefully, at the end of this you will notice a clear winner arise. If so, get your rental application underway immediately (if you haven’t already submitted one). Or, if you’re looking to buy, get in contact with the agent in the next few days.
Renters need to be quick to apply. The rental price is normally non-negotiable, so it comes down to the first few applications and then the agent, and possibly the owner, will review. Buyers have a little more time up their sleeve and should use it. You don’t want to be contacting the agent and putting an offer in too early or else the agent will have you on a hook and can get you to do a lot of things you may not normally have done. The counter argument is that if you wait too long then someone else could put an offer in. There’s no perfect timing for this so I’ll leave it to your judgement.
If none of the places you’ve looked at fit your requirements and your liking, then let the cycle continue. Head back to the newspapers and real estate web sites and keep looking. Don’t lose faith, you will eventual find something you like. However, if it seems incredibly difficult to find a suitable new home, consider reevaluating what really matters to you. Is it location and distance to schools, shops and transport? Is it creature comforts or how modern the place needs to be? Is it storage space, could you sell, give away or trash anything you have to save space? Boil it right down to what would make you happy, forget everything else and then focus on finding a home that fits.
In wrapping up I hope that you have found some practical and creative tips and tools that you can use when you’re looking for your new home. Remember that everything described here can be done with minimal technology, or with a lot of technology. Use a method that suits you. The key concept in all this is to be consistent with your searching and tracking methods and certainly how you score. This will be crucial to finding a place you love.
Please do let me know if you found this helpful in the comments below, and share your experience and tips for other home seekers. Good luck on your journey finding a new home!