Before we bought the home in which we now live, my husband and I looked at more than 100 homes over three years. Of those, we liked about 35. Once we narrowed down the three-suburb area in which we wanted to live, we saw about a dozen that had, well, "possibilities."
Even at just a dozen, it was difficult to keep all those houses straight in our minds. Plus, there were things we liked about some of the houses we rejected that we kept trying to remember to apply to other houses we saw.
While 100 houses may seem like a lot, some people view more than that before they make a decision. That, of course, is balanced by the large number of folks who choose from perhaps five or 10 homes.
The truth is, after you've seen more than 10 houses, you'll have trouble keeping them straight. And if you're looking at new construction, where you might tour eight model homes in a single subdivision and visit three subdivisions in a day, keeping 24 homes straight might make your head spin.
This is why, of course, brokers suggest you limit your favorite homes to two or three at any given time.
But you can beat this memory fog. Here are some tips to help keep each home organized in your mind:
Keep a written log.
Include the date you saw the house, time of the showing and who was there (your broker, seller's broker, owner, relatives, friends, etc.).
Buy a detailed map of your preferred communities.
As you go through an area, use a highlighter to mark the streets you've looked at. Use a different-colored highlighter (red, blue or green) to mark the various homes you've seen. You can also go online and print out a map, which may show you other points of interest in an area, including schools, shopping and transportation. Various Web sites have mapping capabilities, including Geocities (http://www.geocities.com).
Put the listing sheet given to you at each house to good use.
Choose a few specific memorable things (lime-green kitchen, beautiful greenhouse, attached three-car garage, sauna, pine floors, plastic paneling in the basement) about the house and write them down on the back of the listing sheet. Turn over the listing sheet and sketch the floor plan.
Use your wish list.
Staple a completed wish list (everything you want in a home) and reality checklist (everything you can't live without) to the listing sheet. Compare how the house matches up to your wants and needs.
If you're considering a newly built home, make sure you take the developer's package and mark down which models you saw and which one was your favorite. You should also mark down any memory features, such as a room decorated for twins or a master bedroom with a jungle theme.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Invest in, or borrow, a Polaroid camera and a few packs of film. An interior and exterior photo of each house will surely jog your memory after you see a house.
Be sure to mark the photo with the address of each house. Better yet, staple it to the listing sheet.
A video camera is another excellent tool, as you'll get an even more accurate representation.
As prices fall, digital cameras will be another option (and you can send photos of homes you love online to family and friends).
Be sure to ask the listing agent for permission to take an interior photo or use a video camera. Sellers are sometimes nervous about people recording their possessions.
You do not need anyone's permission to take an exterior photo.
A second opinion.
If you are buying the home with another person (spouse, significant other, business partner, child, parent or friend), be sure the other person has a chance to express what he or she thinks about the house.
If you have children over the age of 8, they will have definite likes and dislikes about a house. They should be included in the process, perhaps at the second or third showing.
Invest in two three-ring binders or one large one with a divider in the middle. In the first binder, keep the listing sheets of all the homes you've seen. In the second binder, put the listing sheets, photos, notes, etc., of the homes you like the best.
As these homes sell, ask your broker to give you the selling prices of these homes. Throughout your home search, you'll create your own database of listing and sale information of properties you've seen that will help you when it comes time to make an offer.
* * *
Ilyce R. Glink is a syndicated columnist and author of "10 Steps to Homeownership: A Workbook for First-Time Buyers." If you have questions, write Real Estate Matters Syndicate, P.O. Box 366, Glencoe, IL 60022 or send e-mail to IlyceGlink@aol.com. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.