Advice for first time home buyers

9 October 2012

Southern Living

After months and months of scouring Trulia, FMRealty, and Zillow; debating endlessly about where, exactly, in the Triangle we might want to live; and going back and forth on our goals and how much money we want to spend, we have finally found a home that we both like. Like, really like. Maybe love. I am trying to not be under any illusions that this particular house might actually become ours (we haven’t even seen the inside!), but it’s enough to make the whole mortgage and home buying process much more real. We already have a realtor in mind; we’re knee-deep in wading through the sites of different mortgage lenders, and have reached out to a few options. It’s exciting, but also completely nerve-wracking!

Here’s what I would like to know: For those of you who have already gone through the home buying process, what is the ONE piece of advice you’d like to impart at this stage of the game? (If you have more than one piece of advice, I’d love to hear it, but I don’t want to tax you!) It can be super simple and easy, or something very specific and involved. What one thing do you wish you had known at this point in the process? We’re all ears!!

19 Responses to “Advice for first time home buyers”

  1. How exciting that you & John are beginning this process! Unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot of advice – we were very, very lucky and found our house after only visiting one other home. (We fell in love with the house’s quirks & charms, and the location instantly!) I’ll be sending you two lots of good house hunting vibes over the next few months! Again, I’m so excited for you both!

  2. Holly Long

    How exciting! It sounds like you’re all over it, but I do have one piece of advice. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a responsive realtor. My realtor was incredible and has even helped me with issues years after purchasing my home (like finding a good heating & air guy, or figuring out who fixes dishwashers – a plumber, apparently). When I was going through the process I was only 22 and very confused, but she was very responsive to my questions (even the dumb ones) and she really held my hand through the whole process. I’ve had friends who weren’t so lucky, and spent their days calling and emailing their realtors with my response. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be when you have so much at stake. Good luck with the hunt! :)

  3. We bought a house in Charlotte almost 2 years ago, and are still so in love with it! We took our time, researched every neighborhood (school districts, city crime report, etc), and it took us about 4 months from when we started to when we closed. We weren’t sure about getting a Realtor, so I just set up individual appointments with the Seller’s Realtors to show us the first few properties that interested us, and we ended up choosing (and loving) one of them.

    One random thing: Make sure you know what appliances & items convey. The sellers accidentally left off the fridge from the contract, and we got to keep it (thank goodness). Otherwise we’d have to find a fridge that perfectly matched the stove/dishwasher! They took the washer & dryer, so that was extra money we had to shell out the first month.

    Best of luck! It’s a fun, scary, intimidating, and very rewarding process!

  4. Katie

    Congratulations!! What an exciting first adventure as newlyweds!

    I purchased my first home almost four years ago and am going through the process of selling it right now (my husband and I both owned homes when we got married, are trying to sell both, and move across the country! eeek!)

    It’s so easy to say, but my best piece of advice…once you’ve found the house on which you want to place an offer, take the EMOTION out of the negotiating process. Know your floor and ceiling, pull your own comps from the neighborhood, have your realtor pull the records to know how much the current owner paid, and go into business mode.

    …and have a bottle of champagne handy!

  5. Janessa

    I haven’t had the pleasure of buying a home yet, but I’ve been reading about buyers buying homes at short sales or even more traditional routes, and then mysterious illnesses start occurring. Not to bring something negative to the table here, but you should get any house you are looking at inspected to see if it was ever used as a meth lab. The usual inspection that most owner’s have done before purchasing only check for things like foundation issues, bad wires, etc., and not the lingering chemicals from a house being a meth lab. Even awesome homes in great neighborhoods can surprise you with their dirty secrets. Sorry to be a downer here, but I think it’s something not spoken of often and it’s a big deal! Good luck with the house searching!!!

  6. We just bought our first house. My advice? Make a list of your must haves, and stick to it. Know what you’re flexible with. Realize this is your first home and it’s ok to get something that isn’t a “forever” house.

    We thought we needed 3 bedrooms or more, but we bought a 2 bedroom. It met every other requirement (including good schools, good commute) but it just had one less bedroom than I thought I wanted. It’s perfect though!

    And I like Katie’s advice. It’s a BUSINESS decision until you have the keys and you are standing in that house on the first day you own it. We bought a short sale, and the wife got all weepy about needing more time to move, but contractually, she had to leave. Both realtors would have gotten in huge trouble if I’d let them stay, and I could have lost the loan. I didn’t give in because it was all business. I’ve never had to look someone in the eye and tell them “no” like that before, and deep down, I hated doing it. All business.

  7. Katie

    I have to echo Janessa’s post, unfortunately. My husband and I bought our first home this past February and have been very happy with our choice, but we definitely know what to do the next time around. Hire an outstanding home inspector and have them inspect EVERYTHING. We have had to replace the entire septic field lines, the garage door, the patio awning, and our roof had hail damage that we weren’t aware of. With the exception of the patio, all of these things would have been pointed out to us had we hired a better inspector. We can’t complain too much because things like that come with the territory when you buy a house, but I do give that advice to everyone I see now. The realtor we used recommended our inspector, so just be smart/cautious if it sounds too good to be true. With all that said, I hope you have a great house hunting experience. Finding our home was such a fun experience!! Good luck!!

  8. Pamela

    My biggest piece of advice is much easier said than done: Try not to get emotionally attached until you’re signing those closing papers. I almost talked my husband into a much messier fixer-upper than either of us would have been prepared for, all because I’d already moved in in my mind.

  9. Meghan

    Hi Emily! Just wanted to give my two cents since Luke and I purchased our first home together earlier this year. This was Luke’s first home purchase and my second, but it’s something that I didn’t actually think of until after purchasing this second house. It’s something quite simple: drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day, both during the week and on the weekend. You’ll want to check out what type of people live in your neighborhood. Are there loud house parties or crazy people that mow their lawn at odd times? You’ll definitely want to get along with whomever lives around you. Your house can be lovely, but you won’t want to be a hermit just because you don’t want to deal with walking by some horrible person living next door. We’ve been blessed with awesome neighbors, so I’m very thankful that I don’t need to beat myself up for NOT driving through the neighborhood at all!

  10. 1. Don’t get emotionally attached. There are plenty of beautiful homes out there that will make you happy!
    2. Get a realtor. (We purchased our home – For Sale By Owner – without a Realtor and it dragged out the process quite a bit.)
    3. Don’t purchase a home unless you can afford it! Big Down Payment + 15 year fixed rate. This has been a HUGE blessing for us. (http://www.daveramsey.com/article/three-steps-for-stress-free-home-buying/lifeandmoney_realestate/)
    4. Have an extra home-buying emergency fund for things like closing costs, repairs, new appliances, and unpredictable expenses.

    Those are my first thoughts, but I’m going to send Will over here to weigh in as well :). So excited for you guys!

  11. I have no advice but I’m so excited for you!!:)

  12. Victoria

    Two months ago my fiance and I closed on our first house! I love being a homeowner. Good luck and congratulations!

    1) Find a realtor that you like and has worked with first time home-buyers before, this was our big issue!

    2) Get an inspection before you buy any house! Watch HGTV and you’ll see how important it is.

    3) Even if you think you will live in it forever, buy a house that has good resale value. Get the most common strengths/weaknesses in homes (e.g. wood frames in Florida) from your trusted realtor from item number 1 and use that alongside your list as well.

    4) The key aspect of any home is “location, location, location.” Cosmetic things are easy and can instantly take an okay house to a perfect house!

  13. Yay you two!!! How exciting:) Considering I’m living this out as well, I can definitely offer some friendly advice!

    1- Keep an open mind, but know what you want. You can never have a big enough kitchen and you can never have enough closet space!! Don’t get your heart tooo set on just one house, but know your ‘must haves.’ We had at least 2 that we wanted to put an offer on and we were also somewhat willing to keep looking. Weigh the options. Remember to not get emotionally tied up, but it happens! When/if you do fall in love with a house, have tons of faith that it might actually work out. Keep pinching yourself until you close though. Be willing to fight for it and be willing to be flexible so you don’t lose it. (IE-with closing dates, understanding other people could make an offer, etc). Have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out.

    2- A great realtor. We used Dave Ramsey’s ELP list and even though we’re on the other end in Raleigh/Cary as sellers, I could not recommend The Caul Group enough!! Tina is always responsive and has been sooo helpful through our entire process. Our realtor in Texas is wonderful as well. I think it’s a success when we are all even texting back and forth (in addition to calling/emailing) as much as we have needed to! I couldn’t imagine house hunting without one because they know more about the area, they know more about what’s right and not right about a home at first glance (or even a neighborhood), and they can point you in the right direction by cutting out some of the work for you. They’ll find matches for you based on your criteria.

    3- With that said, realize that it’s almost like a part time job (it definitely is when you’re on both ends of selling and buying!!). House hunting in itself can be a huge time commitment, but once you actually make an offer on a home, you need to allow time to go back and forth to sign and resign the contracts (because they change based on inspections). The inspection process takes time, the waiting and negotiating take time! It all can be stressful and unnerving, but just breathe and say a prayer!

    4- I definitely agree with having extra money for things, checking about the appliances, and even the roof/foundation/ac unit/water heater, etc etc! Inspections alone can cost quite a bit and you may even need to do some of the repairs yourself. I wouldn’t nickel and dime a homeowner on minor stuff. Be aware of the big issues and deal with the rest yourself. Be willing to walk (even after the money you’ve put into it so far) if the inspection is terrible.

    5- Make sure you love it and can grow into it! It’s expensive to move and move again just 2 or 3 years later! The housing market in Raleigh is OK, so luckily we are in a good situation rather than being upside down on our house, but it wasn’t a GREAT situation. Of course your first home doesn’t have to be your ‘forever home,’ but I’d plan on being in it for a good while!

    Enjoy the process!! Good luck :)

  14. MacKenzie

    Um, well I have lots of advice but I think your previous commenters have you well-prepared. All I can say is that I’m SUPER excited for you and John to find a house you will just LOVE! Also, I know I’m not reading more into this purchase: you’ll be staying in the area for awhile ;) YIPPEE!

  15. MacKenzie

    p.s. the advice about not being emotionally attached is really hard. We found a house we thought was PERFECT for us and were crushed when the sellers wouldn’t negotiate on the price to meet us closer to our offer. We’d really started to picture our life in this place! In the end we’re thankful every single time we drive by that house. We ended up where we’re supposed to be right now. That experience helped us keep our emotions in check as the hunt continued.

  16. Wanda

    Miss Emily – While I do not own a house, I have some insight from observing my boyfriend and his relatively new home (he’s owned it for 1 year.)

    1) His house had young owners previous to him, and they “fixed” things up but because their lack of experience many of their “fixes” caused more problems. I think it would be wise to check the history of what owners have done prior. Especially if the home is older. The biggest problem was with the plumbing, the owners prior had used the wrong size pipes which cause issues, and he had to replace the pipes (and destroy a wall).

    2) Things that you see that you’d like to fix up take a lot longer than you think to fix. Especially if you plan to do a nice job and are a perfectionist type of person.

    3) The pervious owners quickly painted over all the walls (which had some cracks) before they put the house on the market, now the cracks are re-surfacing and fixing those correctly it kind of tedious.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck, and congrats on your pre-approved mortgage!

  17. Em

    @Meredith: You are so lucky! I’m kind of obsessed with your house :)
    @Holly: Our realtor has been responding literally within minutes of us emailing her, so I have high hopes! Agreed that that is so important!
    @Katie: Totally agreed! I’ve heard lots of horrifying home inspection stories gone wrong, so we will make sure that’s buttoned up!
    @Meghan: I think that is SUPER important advice! It was also really important to me to drive my commute from door to door at the hour I would be doing it. Definitely put my mind at ease!
    @MacKenzie :)
    @Wanda: Great advice! Definitely agreed about the planned home improvement tip… it’s easy to say, oh yeah, we could fix that, but harder to actually find the time to do it!

    Thank you all!!

  18. We just bought our first house a month ago, and I couldn’t agree more with Wanda’s home improvement comment. We planned to make a few changes that I thought would be simple, but now that we’re a month into it, I know very well how time-intensive it all is. Everything is taking about 10 times as long as we expected. Our list of improvements includes replacing hardwood that was glued to the slab (husband has been working on ripping this up for weeks!), replacing the kitchen backsplash, ripping down wallpaper from a single wall, putting up crown molding in the living areas, painting kitchen cabinets white, and painting most of the rooms in the house. We’ve been working on these projects after work and every weekend, and I still feel like we’ve barely made a dent. It will all be worth the effort in the end, I’m sure, but man, it is a lot of work!