So you’re thinking you might be ready to be a first time homebuyer? That’s so exciting – and totally overwhelming. Where do you start? How much is it going to cost you? How do you make sure you can get the home you want?
Take a deep breath, I’ve got you covered. These 5 tips will help you to be ready to roll once you get serious about finding your first home.
Long before you start actively looking for a house, you should start going to open houses. It can be your weekend thing – a hike, brunch, open houses. So why would I tell you to go to open houses if you’re not remotely close to being ready to buy a place? Think of it as similar to an SAT prep class – you’re not ready for the final exam, but you are ready to learn how to take the test.
The great thing about open houses for a first time homebuyer is that they’re all about learning. You can explore neighborhoods and see which you like and which you don’t. Check out different styles of homes and figure out what style suits you and what just won’t work. Listen to more active home buyers and the questions they ask. Talk to agents to learn more about the area, the market and more (that’s what we’re there for).
Going to open houses is fun, especially if you have nothing on the line. When you’re going just to learn, you don’t have to worry about the act of actually buying it. You can meander through, take the information you need and leave the rest. The next house you go into, you’ll be all the more knowledgeable.
When you’re a first time homebuyer going to buy a house, you need to think beyond just today. It’s easy to say “I’m single and work in Menlo Park so this little place will be great.” But what happens when you have a partner or spouse move in? And then what if you have kids? Yes, I’m going way down the line here, but you do want to give some thought to what the future might bring, at least the next 5-7 years.
Beyond just your personal life, when thinking about the future keep in mind the elements of resale. A time will likely come when you will look to sell your house (the average American moves 11.7 times in their life). So even though you may look at it as your forever home, also think of it as your investment. Take a quick look at the state of the schools, the neighborhood and the economic factors around the property. If they seem to be on the upswing, that’s great. If not, you may want to keep looking.
By this point, we’ve all watched enough Fixer Upper to know you have to look beyond the facade to see the potential. When you walk into that home with chartreuse shag carpet, try to block that out of your mind’s eye and look at what that room could become and how you could adapt it to be just what you want.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a fresh coat of paint and taking out the carpet. Other times, there may be wall removal involved. But open up your mind and get creative. There is no such thing as the “perfect” house.
That Santa is a wise man with his list making, so we should all take a lesson from that. This is especially true as you gear up to begin your home search. It’s crucial that you understand what your “must haves” and “can’t haves” are. For some people, a pool is the be all, end all while for others, they want nothing to do with a property that has one.
A great way to start this list is during your open house tours. You’ll see all sorts of things you’d never even thought about, so just keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. But another way to work on this list is to think about the way you use a house. Do you love entertaining? Gardening? Having friends over for Westworld viewing parties? The way you live your life is the road map for your “must have” list.
Don’t freak out, money has a way of doing that to people – especially for a first time homebuyer. In this pre-search stage, it’s the perfect time to start getting your ducks in a row. Pull your credit report and see where your credit score falls. If needed, you can actively start to work to clean up your report and improve your score. This can actually be quicker than you might think.
Remember, your credit score is only a reflection of your financial life so if you need to, pay off whatever debts you can (at least get individual credit cards down below 75% of credit limit,) figure out how to save money, and start working on creative planning for down payment sources (gifts, 401k borrowing, life insurance, etc.).
Bottom line, with a little pre-planning, you can make the search for your home that much more enjoyable. And it should be enjoyable – you’ve worked hard to get to a place of home ownership!
by Sally Slate Lee
IMPORTANT NOTE: I have not and will not verify or investigate the information supplied by third parties.