You’ve finally done it. You’ve saved up, you’ve sacrificed, and now you’re ready to buy your first home. Congratulations!
This is a huge accomplishment. But before you start packing boxes and planning housewarming parties, there are a few things you need to do first.
Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
The first thing you need to do before you even start looking at homes is to get pre-approved for a mortgage. A mortgage pre-approval tells you how much money the lender is willing to loan you, which will give you a clear budget to work with when it comes time to start looking at properties.
Keep in mind that just because you are pre-approved for a certain amount doesn’t mean you have to spend that entire amount—you can (and should) always stay within your budget. But being pre-approved gives you peace of mind knowing that you can afford the payments on the home you eventually choose.
To get pre-approved, contact a few different lenders and ask about their mortgage products and interest rates. Once you find one you like, they will pull your credit report and verify your employment and income information. Be prepared to answer questions about your financial history, including any bankruptcies or foreclosures. Depending on the lender, getting pre-approved can take anywhere from a few days to a week or two, so start this process as early as possible.
Hire a Real Estate Agent
While technically you could try to buy a home without the help of an agent, we wouldn’t recommend it—especially if it’s your first time going through the process. A good real estate agent will help guide you through every step of the home buying process, from finding properties that fit your budget and needs to negotiating with sellers on your behalf.
They will also be able to answer any questions you have along the way (of which there will be many). When interviewing agents, pay attention to not only their knowledge of the market but also their personality—you want someone you will be comfortable working with closely over what is sure to be a stressful period of time.
Create a Wish List
Before starting your search in earnest, sit down with all the members of your household—including any future roommates—and create a comprehensive wish list of everything you want (and need) in a home. This should include both must-haves (like a number of bedrooms) and nice-to-haves (like a backyard), as well as more general things like location and school district. Once everyone has had their say, prioritize each item on the list in order of importance; this will help keep things focused when you start looking at homes and prevent anyone from getting too attached to properties that don’t have everything on your list.
Set Your Budget – And Stick To It!
Armed with your mortgage pre-approval amount as well as an estimate of your monthly expenses (don’t forget things like property taxes, insurance costs, and HOA fees!), set yourself a realistic budget for how much house you can afford—and then stick to it!
Just because the lender says you can afford payments on a $300,000 mortgage doesn’t mean that $300,000 is what you should spend; factor in things like repairs and renovations that may need to be made after closing as well as any unexpected costs that could pop up down the road (like an illness or job loss).
A good rule of thumb is to keep your monthly mortgage payment—including principal, interest, taxes, insurance costs, etc.—at or below 28% of your gross monthly income; this will help ensure that buying a home doesn’t put undue stress on your finances down the line.
A Home-Buying Checklist for First-Timers
By HomeLight Homes
The process of buying a home for the first time can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. By following this checklist, you can make sure that you’re prepared for every step of the home-buying journey—from getting pre-approved for a mortgage to closing on the property.
1. Get pre-approved for a mortgage. Before you start looking at homes, you need to know how much you can afford to spend. The best way to do this is to get pre-approved for a mortgage by a lender. This will give you an idea of what price range you should be looking in.
2. Figure out your must-haves. Every home buyer has different priorities, so it’s important to figure out what yours are before you start your search. Do you need a certain number of bedrooms or bathrooms? Are you looking for a home with a backyard? Knowing what you need in a home will help narrow down your options.
3. Find a real estate agent you trust. A good real estate agent will be able to help you find the right home and negotiate the best price possible. Make sure to interview multiple agents before making your decision.
4. Get a home inspection. Once you’ve found a home you’re interested in, it’s important to get a professional inspection to ensure that there are no major problems with the property.
5. Make an offer on the home. Once you’ve decided on a home, your real estate agent will help you craft an offer that takes into account the list price, recent comparable sales, and any repairs that may need to be made.
6. Close on the property and move in! Congratulations—you’re now a homeowner! Be sure to budget for things like movers, new furniture, and decorating costs as you settle into your new place.
The process of buying a home can be stressful, but by following this checklist, you can make sure that everything goes smoothly. From getting pre-approved for a mortgage to finding a real estate agent you trust, taking these steps will prepare you for every step of the journey—and help ensure that you end up in the perfect home for your needs and budget.