1. Make your list and check it twice.
The first thing you need to do before even leaving the house is make a list of things that are important to you. Since some of us may not be blessed with an unlimited budget, chances are we will not find a perfect match to EVERY item on your list that is the length of a CVS receipt. This is why it is important prioritize and find what items are deal breakers for you. Get on the same page with your spouse too. Share the top three demands each of you want in your first house. Communicate this list with your agent as well, so they are not driving you house to house blindly.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Know your budget. You don’t want to be “house poor". Life is way too precious to sit idly in an oversized living room spending half your income on your mortgage payment. Work closely with your lender, and know how much each home will cost you on a monthly basis. Owning a home is, on paper at least, a thirty year commitment. Once you buy, you are responsible for all the repairs you normally call your landlord to fix. Now, that hot water heater replacement will cost you an extra $800-$1,000 on top of your mortgage payment. You can plan for and protect yourself from some of these major repairs with a home warranty at closing (Feel free to ask me for more details about home warranties).
3. Think beyond tomorrow.
Yes, you are buying a home now, but try to plan past today’s needs. “Well, we are getting married next month, but we love each other so much, we probably wouldn’t mind sharing one bathroom for the rest of our lives.” “We don’t plan on having any children in the next year or two, so I’m not concerned that the school has a rating of a 3.” “We’re not concerned about that one lane driveway because we work different schedules, so it will never be a problem." Not only is it likely that your circumstances will change while you are living in the house, but all of these will limit your potential buyer pool when you realize you can no longer put up with these inconveniences.
4. Remove the goggles and get an inspection.
Even the savviest buyer may not realize when they are wearing their rose-covered homebuyer goggles. When we think we found “the home”, we sometimes overlook obvious warning signs such as cracks in foundation, missing insulation, or mold spores in the basement ceiling tiles. You also want to be sure repairs were done by a professional, and not a monkey with a wrench. My all-time favorite example of this occurred while driving around with a first time home buying couple. The wife decided from the driveway she had to have the house. She was so in love with the neighborhood and house that she didn’t even notice the “stainless steel” refrigerator was really a coat of spray paint on a standard white fridge. Be sure to hire an inspector the moment you go under contract to catch home hazards overlooked during the showing. Use the inspection report as a negotiating tool as well to ensure repairs are addressed before you purchase.
5. Work closely with your agent.
Open, honest and constant communication is a must to ensure you have a great experience in your purchase. The home buying process is fluid, and it is much easier for your agent to help guide you if they know new information as it comes available. As you tour homes, and reprioritize your list of wants in a home, tell your agent. If you decide you rushed the process, and may want to terminate your home search, let them know early. If the mortgage underwriting process isn’t going as planned, inform your agent so they may take steps to protect your earnest money.