First Time Home Buyers
The Buying Process
Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge, let’s explore what you can expect from the home buying process itself. This can be a chaotic time, with offers and counteroffers flying furiously, but if you are prepared for the hassle (and the paperwork), then you can get through the process with your sanity intact. Here is the basic progression that you can expect:
Find a Home
Make sure to take advantage of all the available options for finding homes on the market, including using your real estate agent, searching for listings online, and driving around the neighborhoods that interest you in search of for sale signs. Put out some feelers with your friends, family, and business contacts. You never know where a good reference or lead on a home might come from.
Once you’re seriously shopping for a home, don’t walk into an open house without having an agent (or at least being prepared to throw out the name of someone with whom you’re supposedly working). You can see how it might not work in your best interest to start dealing with a seller’s agent before contacting one of your own.
Preapprovals and Choosing Lenders
Don’t be bound by loyalty to your current financial institution when seeking a pre-approval or searching for a mortgage: Shop around, even if you only qualify for one type of loan. Fees can be surprisingly varied. An FHA loan, for example, may have different fees depending on whether you’re applying for the loan through a local bank, credit union, mortgage banker, large bank, or mortgage broker. Mortgage interest rates—which, of course, have a major impact on the total price that you pay for your home—can also vary.
Once you’ve settled on a lender and applied, the lender will verify all of the financial information provided (checking credit scores, verifying employment information, calculating DTIs, etc.). The lender can pre-approve the borrower for a certain amount. Be aware that even if you have been pre-approved for a mortgage, your loan can fall through at the last minute if you do something to alter your credit score, such as finance a car purchase.
Make an Offer
Your real estate agent will help you decide how much money you want to offer for the house, along with any conditions you want to ask for. Your agent will then present the offer to the seller’s agent; the seller will either accept your offer or issue a counteroffer. You can then accept, or continue to go back and forth until you either reach a deal or decide to call it quits.
Before submitting your offer, take another look at your budget. This time, factor in estimated closing costs (which can total anywhere from 2% to 5% of the purchase price), commuting costs, and any immediate repairs and mandatory appliances that you may need before you can move in. Think ahead. It’s easy to be ambushed by higher or unexpected utilities and other costs if you are moving from a rental to a larger home. For example, you might request energy bills from the past 12 months to get an idea of average monthly costs.
If you reach an agreement, you’ll make a good faith deposit, and the process then transitions into escrow. Escrow is a short period of time (often about 30 days) during which the seller takes the house off the market with the contractual expectation that you will buy it—provided you don’t find any serious problems with it when you inspect it.
Have the Home Inspected
Even if the home that you plan to purchase appears to be flawless, there’s no substitute for having a trained professional do a home inspection of the property for the quality, safety, and overall condition of your potential new home. You don’t want to get stuck with a money pit or with the headache of performing a lot of unexpected repairs. If the home inspection reveals serious defects that the seller did not disclose, then you’ll generally be able to rescind your offer and get your deposit back. Alternatively, you can negotiate to have the seller make the repairs or discount the selling price.
Close—or Move on
If you’re able to work out a deal with the seller—or better yet, if the inspection didn’t reveal any significant problems—then you should be ready to close. Closing basically involves signing a ton of paperwork in a very short time period, while praying that nothing falls through at the last minute.
Things that you’ll be dealing with and paying for in the final stages of your purchase may include having the home appraised (mortgage companies require this to protect their interest in the house), doing a title search to make sure that no one other than the seller has a claim to the property, obtaining private mortgage insurance or a piggyback loan if your down payment is less than 20%, and completing mortgage paperwork. Other closing costs can include loan origination fees, title insurance, surveys, taxes, and credit report charges.
Congratulations, New Homeowner! Now What?
You’ve signed the papers and paid the movers, and the new place is starting to feel like home. Game over, right? Not quite. Homeownership costs extend beyond down payments and monthly mortgage payments. Let’s now go over some final tips to make life as a new homeowner more fun and secure.
With homeownership comes major unexpected expenses, such as replacing the roof or getting a new water heater. Start an emergency fund for your home so that you won’t be caught off guard when these costs inevitably arise.
Perform Regular Maintenance
With the large amount of money that you’re putting into your home, you’ll want to make sure to take excellent care of it. Regular maintenance can decrease your repair costs by allowing problems to be fixed when they are small and manageable.
Ignore the Housing Market
It doesn’t matter what your home is worth at any given moment except the moment when you sell it. Being able to choose when you sell your home, rather than being forced to sell it due to job relocation or financial distress, will be the biggest determinant of whether you will see a solid profit from your investment.