Ever wonder what you’re missing as a first-time buyer? What home-buying tips do homeowners wish they knew before buying their first home?
The many homeowners I’ve talked to about their first buyer experience all have lots of different home-buying tips. But I’ve seen the same ten mentioned over and over.
So today we’re going to look at those top 10 home-buying tips buyers wish they knew back when they were looking at their first homes.
1. You can change almost everything except the location. Look past that paint color.
The first of our home-buying tips is one of the most common. You’ve probably heard it before. Cosmetic issues, like paint color, don’t matter! You can so easily change them once you move in. Instead, pay attention to the things you won’t be able to change: the location, the condition of the structure, and maybe the layout (if you don’t want to take on a large renovation).
But it’s surprisingly difficult to look past ugly furniture, stained carpet, and outdated fixtures when you’re house hunting because those things all contribute to the overall feel of the home from the moment you walk in the door. Remember that when you become a seller!
So take a deep breath before you walk inside and commit to focusing on the more permanent features of the home.
2. Closing costs add up fast.
Many first-time buyers are surprised by the closing costs, which average 3-6% of the purchase price. These costs cover things like:
- Loan application.
- The appraisal.
- Attorney fees.
- Rate-Lock Fees or Points.
- Credit reports.
- Upfront insurance premiums.
- Title policies and searches.
- Loan origination fees.
- Prorated property taxes.
- Recording fees.
The fact is it takes a lot of work by a lot of people to confirm your funding and complete the transfer of the property. And all these fees add up rather quickly.
But once you’re aware of them, you can plan for them. So take a little time to research these fees. And if you have questions about them, just give me a call or shoot me an email.
And something else to keep in mind: one huge benefit to the buyer is that you don’t have to pay your real estate agent. In the vast majority of real estate transactions, the seller actually pays the agent fees for both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. So don’t try to go through the buying process alone. Especially as a first-timer!
3. There’s just so much paperwork.
Transferring real estate from one party to another is a big deal. There are hundreds of details to confirm before the transfer can happen. And to make sure we’re all on the same page, we’ll all agree to everything by signing a stack of paperwork.
First, we’ll go through the offer (and possible counteroffer) paperwork. The purpose of this mini-stack of paperwork is to list the terms of the proposed purchase (price, closing date, fixtures to be included in the sale, etc). The seller may not agree with all terms proposed in the original offer, in which case they will draft a counteroffer. Consider this the first round of negotiations.
Then there will be several government-required disclosures to sign: lead-based paint warnings and property condition disclosures are the most common.
After the home inspection, there may be a second round of negotiations if material defects are present.
Then there’s the big one: the loan paperwork. No one will loan you hundreds of thousands of dollars without some serious paperwork. You’ll complete a loan application with a credit check, and provide all financial statements, proof of income, and residential history. And toward the end of the process, you’ll have a very official loan-signing session with a notary.
Luckily, as your real estate agent, I can help you navigate all the transaction paperwork. And I can refer you to highly-qualified, service-oriented lenders who can walk you through those loan documents.
4. The home inspection is worth every penny.
Get the home inspection. I know it will cost a few hundred dollars, but it is worth every penny!
Best-case scenario: you pay a few hundred dollars to confirm that there’s nothing terribly wrong with the property. Now you can sleep at night knowing your home is as safe as can be.
Worst-case scenario: there is something terribly wrong with the property. So wrong that you just can’t move forward with the purchase. In that case, the few hundred dollars spent on the inspection potentially saved you tens of thousands of dollars in structural repairs.
5. Inspections list everything, and it’s terrifying.
Understanding home inspections is another of our most common home buyer tips. First-time buyers will inevitably panic (at least a little) when they first receive the home inspection.
The home inspector’s job is to list every possible problem he or she finds on the property. So you will receive dozens of pages of “problems” with the home. This is a safety hazard; that isn’t up to code. Mold, asbestos, lead paint, etc. It’s honestly frightening the first time you see one.
From a liability standpoint, your inspector has to recommend that you fix every little problem right away. But in the real world, you get to decide how you handle these potential problems. You may decide that many (probably even most) of them simply aren’t worth fixing immediately.
So don’t panic when you see the long list of recommended repairs. The best thing you can do is provide a copy of the inspection to your real estate agent to review together. We’ll determine together the big-ticket items to address and the best way to handle the negotiations.
6. It could take months to find the right home. Or you could find it tomorrow.
Most buyers are prepared to look for about a month to find the right home. Many buyers are prepared to look for a few months. Few buyers are prepared to find the right home tomorrow. But it could happen!
When you start your home search, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of finding your new home right away. The amazing thing about real estate is that every property is a snowflake; they’re all unique. So when you find a home that suits you, you may want to jump on it. Even if you haven’t had a chance to compare it to dozens of others. The right fit may not come around again for a while.
But there’s a fine line here. You also don’t want to buy a property because you feel pressured to make the leap. Don’t let your Agent, your parents, your peers, or anyone else pressure you into buying. Just ask yourself, “Will I be okay if another buyer swoops this property up while I’m taking my time to think it over?”
7. Good agents are priceless.
When property listings became available online, most people figured real estate agents would soon be replaced by the Internet. But here we still are! Why?
Experience: Most people only handle a few real estate transactions in their lives. Real estate agents (like me) have handled hundreds, so we’ve seen it all!
Paperwork: Do you remember that mountain of paperwork we referenced earlier? I deal with that paperwork every day of the week. I can help you with it (even the parts that hardly make any logical sense!).
Local Expertise: I know these neighborhoods. I can often tell at a glance if a home is overpriced for its neighborhood in the current market conditions. Comprehensive market reports are available upon request. You want that insight!
Professional Networks: Do you need a lender? I know the best! How about an inspector? Or an experienced attorney? Great service professionals can be hard to find, and I’m your connection to an entire network of them.
I’m a Buffer: Emotions run high in real estate transactions. The seller is trying to part with the property they called home for years of their lives. You’re trying to make the property a blank slate for the next several years of your life. A little distance between these two parties is a good thing.
Negotiation Skills: When you distill my occupation to the single most important task, I negotiate for a living. I have the market knowledge to back up my terms, and I’m happy to put those skills to work as your advocate!
You’ll forgive me for being a little biased here, but I’ve poured my time and my soul into understanding this market, helping buyers find homes, and helping sellers move forward. The human element to these often-emotional transactions can’t be quantified or qualified by algorithms.
Even if you don’t choose me as your agent, please work with an agent! Take advantage of their knowledge, experience, and skill. Especially if this is your first time buying. You have nothing to lose and tons to gain from leveraging a qualified agent.
8. There’s always a trade-off.
When you’re looking at homes, remember: your “right fit” may not be a “perfect fit".
Sure, if we all had unlimited resources, we’d all be living in our dream homes. Although we’d probably find something wrong even then because of human nature.
One of our hottest home-buying tips is to abandon perfection and expect a trade-off. Do you splurge for the closet space and settle for smaller bathrooms? Or trade an open floor plan for a smaller backyard?
Smart buyers know the difference between “compromising” and “settling”.
Settling is buying a property you don’t really even like because all your peers are buying property and you don’t want to be left behind in the Game of Life.
Compromising is taking a smaller-than-ideal house in a great neighborhood because you know you’ll benefit from the better-than-average school district and high resale values of the desirable zip code.
Don’t be afraid to compromise in your home search.
9. There are organizations and programs to assist first-time homebuyers.
Did you know HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) offers programs to assist first-time homebuyers? Homeownership is so advantageous that the government wants to make it more accessible. Take advantage of these programs!
There are several different programs available depending on your income level and the type of property you’re looking to buy. I’m happy to help you navigate these programs. Just contact me if you’re interested in learning more about your options!
One word of caution: don’t allow these programs to over-extend your finances. You might qualify for a 3.5% down-payment FHA loan, but if that will make your monthly mortgage payments difficult to meet, it’s probably not worth it. Owning a home won’t improve your life if the monthly expense leaves you with too little money to enjoy your life.
10. Your finances need to be in order before you even start looking.
This is probably the single most important item on our list of home-buying tips. Your finances must be ready for the purchase before you even start looking.
The state of your finances will determine your buying power in the real estate market. Before you even start looking you want to make sure your finances are in order:
Do you have good (better yet, great) credit?
This will dramatically impact your interest rate and the amount you pay for your loan over the long term.
Do you have an emergency fund?
Homes require maintenance. Will you have money available to fix the A/C or replace the water heater?
Can you comfortably afford the monthly payments?
The monthly payment is more than just the principal and interest of your loan. You’ll also need to cover insurance and taxes. Don’t forget your utilities and non-housing expenses!
Have you been pre-approved?
Before you even start your house hunt, get pre-approved for a home loan! Pre-approval means running your financials by a lender to see how much of a home loan you can get approval for. It helps you search for properties within your price range, and it strengthens your offer (when that time comes!) by proving to the seller that you’re a serious buyer who will most likely be able to secure funding to close the deal. You can contact a local lender to get your pre-approval started today. Feel free to reach out if you need any help choosing a lender.
When you’re ready to start your search, please contact me. I love helping buyers find their new homes and would be honored to work with you!