Daydreaming about owning your own home is one of the most intoxicating practices known to modern man, especially with how easy all the home improvement and house flipping shows make it look. But when the time comes to actually put your money where your daydream is, it is very easy to become overwhelmed.
The following are some pointers to help first-time home buyers navigate the home purchasing journey…
First and foremost, you need a home that you can afford. There’s no sense in deciding that you must have four bedrooms when the most you could afford in your market is two.
In today’s hot market, you should absolutely get pre-approved for a home loan so you know exactly how much house you can purchase. Then, do a little bit of research around what your current housing market looks like, and think about the down payment size and your own current finances. There are mortgage calculators and other tools online that can be useful, and you should consult with a full-time Realtor so you can get a realistic idea of what you might need to spend on your new home.
Beds, baths, and size
You know what size your household is and whether it’s likely to grow in the future. You also know how much space you’re likely to need based on your own current household’s configuration — if you work from home, then your desire for a little more space (and a room for a home office) might be non-negotiable, whereas if you’re used to commuting to an office every day, you may not need a home office at all.
So get a handle on the minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms you’ll need in any home you buy. If you can, try to come up with some parameters for square footage, too. And you may want to think about your overall lot size if, for example, you’re an avid gardener or you have large dogs who’ll need some space to romp in the yard.
Once you understand your basic requirements for a home, you can start thinking about additional features that you’d like it to have. Perhaps you want a garage to store your tools, or a fenced in yard for the aforementioned dogs — or a deck where you can lay out and soak up some sun on weekends.
You should also think about the ideal heating and cooling setup in any home you buy, and it’s also wise to consider the school district (because even if you don’t have kids, it’s smart to keep in mind any buyers who could purchase your home from you in the future — they might have kids).
Some of these special features might be “nice-to-haves,” and you might decide that some are absolute necessities. Spend some time talking with a full-time Realtor before you make any final decisions about necessities, though — it’s quite possible that some of the things on your “must-have” list can be easily added once you move in.
Location matters — a lot
Smart first-time buyers will want to think beyond a school district when choosing a home. How close is your home to major highways in the area (and is that a good thing or a bad thing)? How close are you to work, and are there other job opportunities or thriving industries nearby? What’s the shopping like? Are there parks or recreation centers, and where are the best grocery stores?
You’re buying a neighborhood just as much as you’re buying a home, and unlike your home, there isn’t usually a lot you can do to change the neighborhood. So make sure you’re fully aware of what the area where you’re hoping to buy is like, both positive and negative, and understand how that’s going to affect your life while you’re in the home and any buyers who may come after you.
Focus on what you can’t change
It’s really easy to fall in love with one part of a home and allow it to cloud a truer vision of your future. Maybe that kitchen is perfect for re-imagining yourself in a scene from Julie & Julia, but if there aren’t enough bedrooms or bathrooms in the home, then you’ll regret the purchase soon after you move in.
Try to look beyond trims and finishes to focus on the aspects of the home that are fixed and unchanging, like the lot size or the location of the property. If you’re touring a potential home with your full-time Realtor, give her or him your list of must-haves and ask her if the house could fit that list with a little bit of work.
A real estate professional can help you figure out if a house that you think is just OK today might actually be your dream home in disguise. You can change out carpeting for hardwood floors and redo a kitchen over time, but if your heart is set on waterfront property … that might take a few thousand years to manifest, and you don’t have that long.
Is that really a “bargain”?
If you’re faced with a choice between a home that seems like a bargain but requires some fixing-up and a home that’s more expensive but requires little or no work, which should you choose?
In general, you probably want to opt for paying more out-of-pocket today for a home that’s still standing solidly tomorrow. There might be a good reason why that home is listed at a “bargain” price — it might be too expensive and time-consuming for anyone to reasonably fix.
This is another area where your Realtor can help you understand whether a home’s condition is really worth the savings. Full-time Realtors have seen homes in the area of all ages and in many different conditions, and they can let you know what issues typically arise in homes and whether the place you’re considering might be at risk for exhibiting one or more of those issues.
When you know how to choose the perfect property, you’re in a good place to start your home search — even if you’ve never bought a home before. Once you’ve got your short list of what you’re seeking, talk with a full-time Realtor so you can take the next step toward your homeownership dream.