First-Time Home Buyer Tips
If you are planning on buying a home for the first time and are feeling a little overwhelmed, you are not alone. Buying a home is the most significant financial decision many people have ever made.
It makes sense to approach the process cautiously and to strive to learn as much as you can before you finally step up to the plate. Fortunately, there is a lot of good advice available to help you navigate the buying process. Do your research, find tips that apply to your situation, and strive to make decisions based on what is best for your specific needs.
Below I’ll provide you with some general first-time home buyer tips that will put you on the right track to having a successful purchase. Arm yourself with as much financial and real estate knowledge as possible before you finally jump into homeownership. A significant percentage of first-time homebuyers make mistakes because they put too much focus on looking at houses and not enough effort on other vital details.
Avoiding mistakes is easy when you know what you shouldn’t do!
1. Start saving for your down payment as soon as possible.
Putting a down payment on a home is a big undertaking. Considering the price of most homes today, it will probably take you some time to save enough money for a down payment of any significance.
Of course, you may not necessarily need a big down payment—some mortgage programs let you pay as little as 3% down. But keep in mind, the more you pay down, the better your financial situation will likely be. You need to hit 20% down to eliminate private mortgage insurance, for example, which can be challenging to do. The sooner you start saving for the down payment, the better.
2. Research mortgage programs that might be available to you.
There are a lot of programs out there that help first-time buyers get a home. You could very likely be eligible for one or more of them. There are the standard conventional mortgages available to anyone with decent credit, but there are also programs that cater to specific groups like veterans (VA Loan) and those buying in rural areas (USDA Loan). These programs can make it much easier to buy your first home by giving you more favorable interest rates, lower down payment options, and more.
A reputable real estate agent will be able to help you find loan programs that you are eligible for. More than likely, they will put you in touch with a mortgage broker they have been doing business with for quite a while.
You can also do some research online to find programs that might match your financial needs. Just make sure you start looking sooner rather than later. The kind of mortgage program you choose can influence your home buying process, like determining how much house you can afford.
3. Decide how much you want to spend.
There are plenty of home buyers out there who got approved for big mortgages and maxed them out—then regretted their decisions for years to come. Just because a lender is willing to give you the money does not mean you can actually afford to carry a big mortgage.
There are a lot of costs to owning a home that you need to consider. You also want to be sure that you can take care of other financial needs, like savings and retirement, while still paying your house payment. Use a home affordability calculator to get an idea of how much home you actually can afford and go from there.
4. Check your credit.
Your credit score can greatly affect the financing options and the interest rate you have when buying a home. It is important to note that the interest rate you receive can impact you financially for many years to come.
If your credit score is not high right now, you might be better off taking some time to improve it before you get a loan. There may be errors on your report that need to be corrected, which can take months. You can also make a plan for improving your credit and execute that plan—but only once you know where your credit actually stands.
5. Find a Top Shelf Mortgage Broker.
One of the more essential first-time homebuyer tips is finding people to work with that are trustworthy. Picking a lender to work with when buying a home is critical. You want someone who knows their stuff and will be able to provide you with sound financial counseling.
It is not always about getting the absolute best rate, which, of course, is essential. Getting exceptional service is a critical factor when buying a home, including meeting deadlines and responding quickly to requests.
It will be vital to ask the lender lots of mortgage-related questions. Make sure you are comfortable with all the answers as this will be a substantial financial undertaking.
6. Get pre-approval.
Many buyers get confused by the difference between pre-qualification and pre-approval. Getting pre-qualified for a mortgage is a quick, relatively painless process that only requires giving a few basic points of information. Pre-qualification is easy to acquire but is practically useless when you really want to buy a home.
Sellers want pre-approval, not pre-qualification. Pre-approval requires going through most of the process of getting an actual mortgage. But going through all that effort gives you a letter that says you are very likely to get the mortgage as long as nothing significant changes with your credit or you lose your job. A pre-approval letter is a must when you are shopping in a competitive market.
Part of finding a lender you’re comfortable with will be asking for them to pre-approve you for a ballpark of the amount of money you plan on spending.
7. Put in the time to find an excellent real estate agent.
While finding an outstanding mortgage professional is essential, so is finding an exceptional buyer’s agent. There is no shortage of real estate agents out there ready to help you buy your first home. Unfortunately, not every agent is an ideal fit for your needs.
You want a buyer’s real estate agent who is skilled, knowledgeable, and motivated, and someone who knows your local market inside and out. It can be tempting to hire your aunt who got her license five years ago and has had two clients, but that would not be the best choice.
Buying a home is a big deal. You want someone you can depend on to deliver the best possible experience and ensure that you get what you want and need from the process. The article reference gives a detailed accounting of what a buyer’s agent does and why you should have one in your corner.
One of the more significant mistakes lots of buyers make is going directly to the listing agent when purchasing a home. Doing so is a big no-no. The listing agent represents the seller NOT you. Some sweet talking real estate agents will try to convince you that dual agency is acceptable, whereby they will serve both you and the seller. That is foolish. You are lining their pockets and putting yourself at a disadvantage.
A dual agent cannot offer you any of the services a buyer’s agent can. A dual agent becomes a neutral party, not able to counsel and advise. The last time I checked this is why you want an agent!
8. Do your due diligence.
One of the most critical significant first time home buyer tips is making sure you’ve done your due diligence. Looking at houses can be awesome. It is exciting and lots of fun to be touring incredible homes. Thinking about being a homeowner for the first time can be tantalizing.
On the flip side if you are not careful, buying a home can quickly turn into a nightmare. There can be problems waiting around every corner if you choose the wrong property.
9. Hire a professional home inspector.
Part of doing your home buying due diligence will be hiring a highly rated home inspector. The home inspector is going to be your second set of eyes. They are going to notice all of the problems that you don’t. It is possible the inspector might find something that gives you pause on buying the property. That is what they are there for.
Picking the right inspector will be necessary. Like any other industry, there are good and bad inspectors. You’ll want someone who is thorough and detail-oriented. An inspector who will take the time to go over what issues are something to worry about and what isn’t. Asking the inspector lots of questions to get a comfort level with your purchase is certainly prudent.
The best inspectors understand that their delivery is just as important as identifying a problem. As a layman, you’re more than likely not going to know what’s a big deal and what isn’t. A home inspector should not make you feel like a minor problem is the end of the world.
Inspectors are human beings and make mistakes just like you, and I do. Don’t think everything they say is gospel. Many a home sale has fallen apart because of a less than stellar inspector making mountains out of molehills. If a second opinion seems prudent, do it. Don’t lose out on the house because of a mistake
10. Stay as close to your budget as possible.
Buying a home is an emotional experience for everyone, whether it’s their first time or their fifth time. But as a first-time homebuyer, you are going to be prone to emotions that you might not be expecting. You will find a home that is PERFECT, and the feelings that come along can make it easy to make rash decisions—like going over budget to get the house. The thing is, you are almost always better off sticking to your budget and treating this as a business decision.
If someone outbids you and you don’t get the home, you will find another one that you like. The more willing you are to hold fast to your self-imposed rules and restrictions and keep pushing forward with your house hunting, the more likely you will find the right balance between your budget and available homes.
Remember, you are buying your first home. It usually takes buyers years and several homes before they can get their dream home. And that only happens when they are disciplined enough to protect their financial well-being over the long term—which means sticking to their budgets.
11. Budget for all the costs, not just getting the home.
You will need more money than that required for purchasing the home. You need to move, furnish the home, and possibly repair the house in the coming months. Many first-time buyers make the mistake of only having enough money to get a home and then having nothing left over when the dust settles. Here are some tips for creating a home buying budget.
Make sure you budget to take care of your expected expenses before you make your final purchase. Having enough money on hand will greatly reduce your stress as a first-time homebuyer. And make no mistake, there will be stress even after you finalize the purchase. It takes time to settle into the role of a homeowner.
12. Plan your move ahead of time.
One of the worst parts of buying and selling a home is moving. In fact, many people dread the move more than anything else in the whole process. It is easy to understand why – it is a ton of work coupled with a whole lot of stress.
Unless you are doing it all yourself moving can be very expensive as well. The prices you will get from movers can vary tremendously. Make sure you get multiple bids from a handful of moving companies.
13. Listen to your agent.
As long as you hire an agent you trust, you want to make sure to listen to his or her advice. Good agents can be invaluable in the home buying process.
Real Estate agents who have been in the business for a while are battle-tested. They have probably gone through numerous problems. With experience comes problem-solving skills.
When the going gets tough, lean on your buyer’s agent. That is one of their roles in the transaction.
Buying a home for the first time is a big deal. You will be joining the ranks of homeownership further cementing yourself as an adult. With owning a home comes great financial responsibility. Make sure you are ready both mentally and financially before jumping in with both feet first.
Follow the above tips for buying your first home, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful purchase. Best of luck!