Being a first-time home buyer can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially in a hot market like Seattle. As our local market shifts to a more buyer-friendly market, home buyers are able to take a little more time when choosing their first home. But, as the old saying goes “if you have to sleep on it, you may not sleep in it” still stands true. Fairly priced homes are still selling quickly and it’s important to do your homework so you don’t miss out. Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make! What if you make a mistake? Don’t worry…the following list will help you stay on track and find your perfect home.
1. Get Your Finances in Order
Before beginning a serious home search, you need to have the necessary cash for a down payment, inspections and closing costs. You should have investigated and addressed any potential credit issues, spoken to several mortgage companies and obtained a pre-approval letter. This process helps determine the maximum price you can afford, which helps you to focus your search, and to be prepared to make an offer when you find your dream home.
Make sure to check and compare interest rates when talking to lenders. Supply as much information as you can and get pre-approved, so that when you find a house, you are ready to move on it. The local market is not waiting for people who are not prepared. Determine if your mortgage lender would allow you to remove any contingencies when you place an offer. Chances are there may be multiple offers and you will need to make your offer as strong as possible.
It’s also important to have cash in reserves after closing. Repairs may be needed, new furniture purchased and unforeseen costs are part of becoming a home owner. Make sure to ask yourself how stretched you want to be in your new home. Just because you qualify for a $500,000 home doesn’t mean you have to spend that. Review your core values and make sure they align with purchasing a new home. If you love to travel then you will want that in your budget and maybe you don’t want a huge yard that you have to work in every weekend. Be realistic in your expectations of home ownership.
2. Be Prepared to Act Quickly
Inventory is still on the low end and although bidding wars are few and far between, you need to be to be prepared to write an offer quickly if you fall in love with a home.
Be methodical as you tour houses. Take photos on your tour so you can capture the features and nuances of each home that you view. Begin each series of photos with a close-up of the house number to identify where each group of home photos start and end. Pay attention to the home’s surroundings. What is nearby? Do you like the location? Drive around the neighborhood and check-out nearby businesses. Immediately after leaving, rate each home on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. View the top choices a second time before you consider making and offer.
3. Buyer’s Representation is Free
Make sure you have someone looking out for your best interests. Choose an agent that you connect with on a personal level . The most important thing that you are going to need in a real estate agent is trust, communication, and responsiveness. The seller negotiates the commission they pay to both the selling agent and buyer’s agent long before you see the house advertised and if the buyer doesn’t have an agent the listing agent keeps the full amount.
Sit down with your agent and let them walk you through the process. As a first-time home buyer, you’ll have a lot of questions, and our jobs are to help you navigate through this and prepare you, as best as possible, for what exactly you’ll be experiencing. We will set realistic time frame goals and expectations on what your money can buy.
4. Communicate Clearly with Your Agent
Tell your agent exactly what you are looking for so they can best help you find your dream home. The more specific you can be, the more your Realtor can be helpful. Remember, when they’re working for you in the market talking to other Realtors, they need to filter their search and refine requests to narrow what is available. Simply telling your agent, “I want a three bedroom house with a yard” isn’t going to be helpful. Pick your top 3 must-haves and top 3 dealbreakers before you start. These may change or rotate in order throughout the process but in the end they help you stay focused so you can find your perfect home.
Making a list in the beginning is very helpful. It’s doubly important if you are purchasing with a partner. Each person should make a list of what is truly important in your new home. Then set the lists side by side and rate your features onto a single list. Now, when you start touring homes, you’ll be able to step back from the emotions and remember your most important features.
5. Do Your Homework
Life is busy! Despite this it’s important to do a little research on your own. Research neighborhoods before you start looking at houses in new areas. Make sure the stores and businesses you love are available before you waste anytime looking. Maybe you love libraries or bubble tea or need a nearby vet for your fur-baby…is it available in your new neighborhood? This could be a dealbreaker if you have to drive 20 miles to get to your favorite grocery store. Go for a walk in the neighborhood and make sure you feel at home.
Consider new commute times. Do you need to be on a bus route? Do you love to drive and don’t mind sitting in traffic? If you want to buy a bigger house further out a longer commute may be the trade off. Make sure to commute to your new favorite neighborhood before you put an offer in.
6. Get a Second Opinion
Even after you think you’ve found the home of your dreams, get someone else’s opinion. Bring a friend or family member you trust along, they may notice something you didn’t. And if they love it too, you can rest easy knowing that you’re making the right decision.
7. Don’t Skip the Home Inspection
The home inspection is an opportunity for you to learn about your home. It educates you about your home and allow you to prepare for scenarios in years 1-5. If the home inspection does uncover significant, serious problems, your agent will be your best advocate and help determine the best path forward.
8. Shop around for home insurance
Don’t just use the company that has your auto insurance. Prices can vary dramatically between companies for the same coverage so check with 3-5 different companies to get the best deal. This can make a big difference in your mortgage payment and closing costs since you set up an escrow account at closing.
There aren’t many things as nerve wrecking as buying your first home. Be prepared, do your homework and stay realistic. Trust your agent and be honest with them. Finally, celebrate the milestone every year and always remember the diligence and hard work it took to get there. Happy house hunting!
Steve & Tracy