I just got an accepted offer on my first home, so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned thus far. If you have any of your own wisdom to share, please write it in the comments.
1.) Find that unicorn of a real estate agent.
You need to find someone you like, not just someone who’s well-respected or was a friend’s/colleague’s/family member’s recommendation. Trust your gut. If you don’t get a good feeling about an agent, don’t work with her.
Take the following example. When I lived in New York, I needed to find an apartment and contacted a real estate agent who posted an ad on Craigslist. He came to pick me up at the train station and had absolutely no memory of what type of apartment I was looking for or what my price range was. The moment I got in the car with him, he started bragging about how he was the best real estate agent east of the Mississippi. Pretty obvious since he had to advertise on Craigslist, right? He proceeded to take me to apartments beyond my price change and not near a train station, though I kept telling him I didn’t have a car. His response? “There’s a bus stop right over there.” And we all know how good public transportation is in America.
Lesson learned? Real estates agents make money from real estate deals. The more money your house or apartment costs, the more he/she will make. If your agent is pushing you beyond your budget that’s probably a bad sign.
2.) Get ready to have your finances scrutinized with a capital “S.”
You’ll be asked for every financial document under the sun. In addition, you’ll have to account for every transaction/charge/etc. on each document. For example, for the last year I’ve worked more than one job, and all of my jobs have mailed me physical paychecks. Since I don’t live near my bank, I collect the checks and make one large deposit every two months. This looks suspicious to banks, and I had to verify that the lump sums being deposited were all from various payrolls I was on, not money being laundered from my side gig as a drug trafficker.
3.) Some states require that you have your home inspected.
Others states don’t. If your state doesn’t, do it anyway. Unless you have so much money that you can afford to live in a hotel while repairing things the average person doesn’t notice–broken floor joists, leaky boilers, roofs in need of rubberizing, leaning retaining walls, etc.–you need a professional to come and take a look.
And, since you have to pay for the service, make sure to be there. A good home inspector will point out all kinds of useful tips and things that will may need attention in your potential home.
A word to the wise: a coworker recently told me that the home inspector she hired was an old family friend of the sellers. Needless to say, it turned out there were quite a few things wrong with the house that her inspector, conveniently, didn’t find. If possible, ensure your home inspector and sellers aren’t bedfellows.
4.) Sometimes you just fall in love.
That’s what happened with my boyfriend and me. The second house we saw, we knew it was it right for us. Sure, I’d been looking at houses on and off for a year–mostly out of curiosity–but my boyfriend’s eyes lit up when he saw the photos of our house on the MLS. Though it needed some fixing up, the location was great, and it was adorable. Sure, there were a couple things about it–like the fixing up–that were less than ideal, but the sizable yard, nearby lake, and number of bathrooms made up for it. Infatuation is infatuation, and as far as we were concerned the house was flawless.
5.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Or get second opinions. As a first-time home buyer, you’re not going to know what the hell you’re doing. Ask friends, family, and coworkers who own homes to give you recommendations. Can’t remember what your interest rate is? Call up your loan officer. Don’t know what repairs you should negotiate after the home inspection? An experienced real estate agent will know what’s realistic and what’s not.
6.) Be prepared to walk away.
Sure, infatuation makes it hard to notice the flaws, but sometimes that house might be more than you can handle. Maybe it will stretch your finances, or it needs some major renovations, or the location makes your commute a tad too long. Whatever the case, it’s better to walk away than let your dream home become your nightmare home.
Case in point. My boyfriend and I fell in love with that mild fixer-upper, put an offer on it, and were headed to the closing when we got some bad news: the mortgage lender’s appraiser didn’t think the downstairs bathroom was up to his standards. In order to get a regular 30-year mortgage, we’d have to tear it down and build it back up again. Now we had a major–and majorly expensive–renovation waiting for us in addition to our only available financing being a shorter term loan with a variable rate. After some agonizing, we walked away. Sure, the sellers could come back with an offer we can’t refuse–not in The Godfather sense, mind you–but, unless they do, we’ll keep looking.