The search for your first home can be a daunting, overwhelming, exhilarating, and truly terrifying process. With so much potential for a roller coaster of emotions, arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to avoid the inevitable dips in the experience so you’re able to truly enjoy the highs. Now ten years after the purchase of our first home, I can identify five simple tips that I wish I had known at the time, and would have greatly eased the purchase process.
1. Agree on a realistic budget. The single most important item I can share is to establish a clearly defined and realistic budget for your home search. Make sure you, and if applicable, your partner are on the same page before beginning your search. The worst thing you can do is to sell yourself on a house that you simply can’t afford. Try to strike a balance between stretching so far you don’t have funds to make repairs or furnish your new home, and being so conservative that you won’t find what you want in the neighborhood you desire. Make sure your finances are in good shape in order to move quickly if you find the right home. In addition, conduct research in and around your target market, and have a solid understanding of how your budget stacks up in the area you’re looking.
2. Create a list of must haves, and nice to haves. Nothing gets on my nerves more than people on the house hunting shows that want a seven car garage, an olympic lap pool, a gourmet kitchen, and a live in butler…all on a shoestring budget. Be realistic when deciding what you need, and what youwant. Determine what attributes are simply non-negotiable, i.e. neighborhood, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms that’s the right fit for you and your family, or parking (if you’re looking in an urban area). Once you’ve defined your list of necessities, make a list of additional features and amenities that would be nice to have, but their absence isn’t a deal breaker. (Perhaps this is where the olympic lap pool fits in.) With this list in hand you’ll be able to make a more effective assessment of each property you tour and will be able to compare one to the next more of an apples to apples approach.
3. Find the right Realtor. Your Realtor will be your partner throughout this important process, from finding homes that meet your criteria to handling much of the often confusing and cumbersome paperwork. Ask friends and family about their experiences and recommendations, and meet with realtors that come highly recommended. The process of finding a home can be challenging, and you’ll want a partner with whom you communicate well, and who you respect and trust.
4. Be ready to make compromises. Aside from a lucky few first time home buyers, most of us don’t have the budget to purchase the home of our dreams, situated in our desired neighborhood, complete with an ideal floor plan, and designed to our taste. Likely you’ll have to strike a balance of what you can afford, and what it is you’re looking for. Location isn’t something you can change, but an ugly bathroom, bad paint color, or outdated kitchen is. If you know the areas where you can compromise on some of your desires, you can focus on your specific needs without being distracted by an ugly room. But that brings me to my next point.
5. Expect to roll up your sleeves. When you buy your first home you’re buying a canvas that’s begging to be turned into your own personal haven. Be prepared to make some initial changes before moving in, like painting rooms or making minor upgrades, but remember the work you do in the house won’t be limited to the items needed in the days immediately following your purchase. With home ownership comes responsibility. Things break, maintenance issues arise, and occassionally, hidden problems are discovered. If you’re coming from a rental situation, it can be a rude awakening that the burden of repair and maintenance is now on your shoulders. Ensure you have money set aside to address unforseen repairs, and keep an open mind. For many people, learning a few basic DIY skills can be the most rewarding part of the process, whether it be repairing items or transforming your new house into the home of your dreams.