It's a scary step going from renter to first-time homeowner. Where does one start on the search for the perfect home? How much home can you really afford? Are you ready to sign on that dotted line?
Homeownership is a good long-term investment. The keyword, though, is long-term. There are many extra costs associated with owning a home, including such things as repairs, maintenance, insurance, and cosmetic upgrades. This means you'll need to stay in a home at least two or three years before you build equity.
The most logical place to start then is with how much you can really afford.
1) What can you afford? This is a tricky question. Of course, there is the number your lender gives you. "You qualify for X amount." It's up to you, however, to decide if that amount is reasonable for your lifestyle. Just because you qualify for X amount doesn't mean you should buy a home priced at that. You may find a cheaper home services all of your needs, while leaving you plenty of extra monthly cash for traveling, entertainment, and other of life's pleasures.
2) Long-term use: Think long-term in terms of the size of the home and its location. You may be a single person or a young couple now, but kids can be a game changer. A once perfectly sized home can seem cramped. With homeowners needing to stay put longer in order not to sell at a loss, it's even more important for first-time buyers to think long-term.
3) Fixer or move-in ready? Some buyers love to buy a fixer-upper home in a prestigious neighborhood. It's a foot in the door, literally. With a few upgrades and cosmetic fixes you can bring an outdated home into the new decade. Other buyers abhor projects. They want a home that needs nothing. They love the kitchen, baths, and even paint colors. Which type of buyer are you?
4) Attached or Detached living? A condo can be maintenance free, but it will also come with Condo Fees. A semi-detached or “attached row townhouse” may give you more outdoor space, but you'll still be sharing walls with a neighbor. Are you wanting lots of privacy? Are you looking forward to the autonomy that a detached home affords you? Be sure to discuss all of your options with your real estate agent.
5) Hiring an agent: If you are like most first-time buyers you'll start your search online. That's a great place to start, but to traverse the roads of real estate competently and safety, you should enlist the help of a real estate agent. They will not only show you the newest listings and the best fitting homes, but will also guide you through all the carefully worded contracts coming your way.
6) Be ready to pull the trigger: You need to be ready to buy when a good deal presents itself. Some first-time buyers can become trigger shy when the time finally comes to make an offer. It's no wonder. Seeing your name next to all those zeros can be quite a pill to swallow. So, mentally prepare ahead of time for the act of signing on the dotted line. Remember that properties (particularly houses) are unique. You won’t want to miss THE house you were looking for, right?
7) Lender Pre-qualification: Before jumping in the car to visit properties, get a pre-approval. Sellers want pre-qualified buyers viewing their homes. This shows that you are serious about buying. It will also show you how much you can spend and even if you can qualify for a mortgage. Lending is tight and if you have blighted credit you may have a hard time procuring a loan.
8) Downpayment: How much of a downpayment do you have saved? Are there family members who might be willing to help out? Most lenders are now requiring 5% down on any home purchase (although there are plans named “Cash Back” where you could buy with a smaller downpayment)
9) Resale: If you are planning on staying put for the long haul, resale might not be a real concern, but if this is going to be a starter house, you should be sure to consider how easy a home will be to resell later down the road.
10) Finally, be sure to consider the "what ifs" of life. What if you or your spouse lose your job? Will you still be able to afford your mortgage payments? What if you become ill? Will you still want to climb those three flights of stairs? What if you have children? Will you quickly outgrow your home? All of these scenarios should be given careful consideration.
Homeownership can be a genuine joy. It can bring stability and a sense of pride to any household. Take the time to think over these ten tips and you'll be sure to make a great decision for your first purchase!