Buying your first home is a special, adult moment in your life. But, it is not necessarily a simple, easy-going process. A lot goes into buying a house.
My husband and I lived in an apartment for a few years together and never spoke about purchasing a permanent home. We were engaged November 30, 2014. Right before Christmas time, I randomly asked Bobby if he would entertain the idea of buying before we were married.
It was strange…I was nervous to ask him. But, just like usual, I didn’t have a reason to be nervous because he thought it was a great idea.
It was as simple as that. We just said to each other, “ok… so I guess we are doing this!” We knew nothing about the process. While buying a house was INTENSELY exciting, it was exhausting, emotionally-taxing, and stressful.
Knowing what we know now makes us much more confident for our next purchase in the future.
Take a look at my list of tips to help you have a less stressful and more prepared experience while buying your first home!
1. Make sure you’re financially ready!
When you purchase a home for the first time, it is usually the largest investment you’ve made you’re life, so far. Make sure you realize exactly how much a house really costs. Me? I really did not understand how buying a house worked. But, I did know it took a lot of money up front.
You need to save thousands before buying your home. I don’t mean $2,000 or $12,000. More like $50+ thousand. Especially if you are buying in a pricey location like where I live. Bobby and I were luckily home-grown savers and always put away at least 50% of what we made.
Side note: everyone will tell you that you NEED to put down 20%. Lies. We did 10% and were fine. We pay an extra $100 a month for insurance since we did less than 20%. Really, it is not a big deal. I know gently of people who have bought while putting even less than us down.
You need to be sure how much money you actually have. If you have $7,000 in credit card debt, minus that from the total money you have saved. If you have medical bills due within the year, also minus that money.
Also, be sure you have enough money to put down on the house, while also having a small amount put aside. Someone once told me 3-6 months of what it would cost us to live monthly is what we should have put away.
Why? Because you can never bet on having your job. Life happens and you want to make sure you can still survive if you don’t have your regular income. Also, make sure you have extra if you know you will need to do renovations ASAP.
Don’t make the big mistake of throwing ALL of your money into buying a house. That is a rookie mistake and I’ve seen people do it and struggle just to pay their bills the first year of owning a home.
2. Realize that the process takes time. It isn’t like the movies.
I am all about manifesting your dreams; sending vibrations into the universe to pull all of your dreams and desires your way. But, be realistic, too. I was not.
Bobby and I threw ourselves into the buying process and figured we would find a house in a few weeks.There were so many for sale! Or, it seemed like there was. Until we began looking at things in our price range. Reality check: it took us looking at almost 80 houses to find our home and five long, brutal months.
Yes, there were a large share of horrible houses. Of course, the pictures fooled us online (don’t let that happen to you!!!). Clearly, realtors use photoshop, change the lighting, and take fisheye photos to make rooms look more grand than they really look.
But, there were some gems. Houses that, yes, needed work, but were clearly build with a great foundation. These houses were well maintained and were livable. We wouldn’t need to do any work immediately.
We looked for about 2.5-3 months for a house and put about 5 bids in to different houses before we finally found our home. It was a little annoying. We would think we found the house of our dreams and then someone would bid way nigher than us.
Finally finding the home we live in now wasn’t exactly cake and rainbows. The people we bought from wanted way more than the house was worth. So, it took a week or so for us to finally come to an agreement with the prices. The positive? No one else was bidding for the same house.
The final 2 months were merely going through the process of buying the house. Yep. It is not 1-2-3 like the movies make it look like. The people we dealt with dragged out the process and took forever to get paperwork in. We would send a document to them and they would sit on it for weeks. It was an estate sale and they were not in a rush.
Also, keep in mind other properties. If someone cannot move for X amount of months, be aware that might happen. Also, if you are renting, you might need to figure out the law with breaking your lease or find a place to live if your house won’t be available for a few months.
3. Decide what type of home you are looking to purchase.
You need to decide what type of house you are looking for. There are three types: a rental, a starter home, or a forever house.
I am going to guess that if you are purchasing your first home, it won’t be a rental. But, I don’t want to assume. Maybe you love the life of apartment living and want someone to rent your property and cover the mortgage for a while until you want to move in. That could work.
But, most people will be looking at a starter home or a forever house.
A starter home is what we decided on from the beginning. My husband and I have big dreams. We want that decent sized house on a large hunk of property. Ummm… we might have to leave Long Island to get that, but we will get it one day! For now, we wanted a house big enough for us and maybe one or two kids in the future. Something to get us through 5-10 years of living.
For others, like some of my friends, you might want to purchase the house you will plan on living in until you grow nice and wrinkly. I personally don’t mind moving, changing locations and getting to know a new town. But, for others that is a nightmare and they want to buy something they can grow within from the start. It really is all preference.
Why does it matter? Because it will drive where you narrow down your search and what specific type of home you will target when looking.
If you are getting a starter, the house doesn’t need to fulfill your dream home ideals. You will be more at terms with bending your rules of what you need and want within a house. But, if you are set on a forever home, your process might be longer. Why? Because you will be pickier about your choice, which is all fine and dandy.
Just know what you want before putting too much time into the house hunting process. You’ll thank me later.
4. Narrow down the area you want to live.
You might know the exact town you want to live in. Heck, you might even know the neighborhood. But, most people are not exactly sure and they have a range of options. That is OK. But, you need to do some research.
First thing you might want to look at is the distance from your job. Especially if you work somewhere where you don’t see yourself leaving.
For instance, I am a teacher and I have no plans, as of now, of ever leaving this district. I am very happy, make a decent salary, and enjoy the people I work with. My husband is married to the city. I cannot see him ever taking a job elsewhere. So, we knew at least what county would work best for us to live in.
We had a discussion and he wanted to live somewhere with multiple access points to train lines within 5 minutes. Personally, I did not want to live more than 25 minutes from my job. So, that narrowed it down for us a little more.
Also, think about what you want to have easy access to. What do you want to be far from? Personally, I wouldn’t want to live by a big shopping center or by the entrance to a highway. But, I wanted a food store, a CVS, and a handful of good restaurants within two miles of my house. And I got all of that!
A final recommendation I would make for research is the school district you want to live within. You might have kids or they might be in the cards for the future. So, you need to start considering that now if it is an option!
It is like anything else major… like planning a wedding or buying a brand new car. The more research you do the more you can narrow down what you truly want!
5. Drive around & daydream!
Once you have an idea about the area(s) you are considering, fill the gas tank up. Spend a few hours or all weekend driving around and looking at different houses. No, they don’t have to be for sale. You don’t need to worry about what the insides look like, yet.
Get an idea about which neighborhoods feel right to you. I am huge about going with your gut and moving towards something due to intuition. You will know if a neighborhood is not the place for you. I also guarantee you will drive into some and will plan a whole fantasyland dream in your head of what you would do if you lived there.
Allow your mind to wander. If you are buying with a special someone, chat it up throughout the whole trip. Have the person in the passenger seat take notes on what neighborhoods you liked. Also, if there are aspects about areas you liked, even one from each neighborhood, write them down.
Conversely, write down what turned you off. What parts of an area made you want to leave. Or, what aspects made you feel like you could not see yourself making a home there. Maybe the houses are too close or there are not enough trees. It might be important for you to have a long driveway or for there to be plenty of parking available for people visiting.
Really, it is so different for everyone. And there are an incredible amount of options out there. Begin to get your feet wet and figure out what your favorite flavors of a house are.
If this is your first time buying, you most likely will not know what you want the second you start looking. Especially if you are buying with someone you have never built a home with before. It is all about bending and compromising.
So, with that said, be open minded. Respect what your partner thinks. And be prepared for your mind to change a thousand times over as your continue to house hunt.
6. Categorize your wants & needs. Make those lists!
Ok… so you drove around and have your thoughts and ideas written down. Your likes and dislikes about neighborhoods and properties.
The next step is to figure out what your house needs to have. The keyword there is NEED.
I am sure many of us would like a five bedroom house with a built in, indoor pool. There would be a beautiful two acre backyard with cascading gardens and a view of the ocean or mountains. Your master bathroom would have a steam room and a his and hers sink with heated floors. Hey… a girl can dream.
But, when you are buying your first home, you’re a rarity if this is what you can get. What are things you absolutely cannot live without having? Usually, this has to do with space. How many bedrooms do you need? Bathrooms? Does your kitchen need to have an island or a lot of prep space? Is it necessary to have a guest bedroom, basement, patio, or driveway for three cars?
Everyone is different.
Next, make a list of aspects that you WANT. I am not talking extreme living here. Maybe you need two bedrooms, but WANT three. You might not need two bathrooms, but it is something that would catch your eye if a home you were looking at did have that available.
This chart will change, so allow it to be a fluid document. Especially if there is more than one person involved with this purchase. If you have not owned before, as you look at the inside of houses, you will get ideas.
You might not have realized homes could include a finished basement in your price range. Or, you might not have realized how important having a fence right away was for that dog you want to rescue as soon as you move in.
7. Find a QUALITY realtor. Uncle Bill might not cut it.
This one is really important. You don’t go to a hairdresser to get your hair highlighted by any Joe Shmo. So, don’t just say yes to a realtor just because…
- they are a family friend.
- your sister is dating them.
- you met them at an open house event.
- they used to be your teacher.
- their name is all over every bench in your area.
Do your freakin research. Read reviews online and chat it up with people you know who have actually gone through this entire process before.
I have to say, we had an amazing realtor. She was actually my 6th grade dance coach. Yes, she is someone my family personally knows. But, I spoke to many people that used her and they gave her insanely rave reviews. That matters.
It does not matter if a realtor has been doing their job for 30 years or that they have sold hundreds of properties this year alone. You want someone who is kind, hardworking, and (most importantly) is working for you.
Remember, you don’t pay them! They get commission from the sale that is already built into the price of the house. You want someone who will answer your calls within a reasonable time frame. Also, someone who steps up to the bat when you get to the point where you are ready to buy. The lawyer and realtor process between both parties can get messy.
You want a boss. Someone who knows their stuff and can answer your questions without having to constantly say to you, “I will get back to you.” Also, you want someone who will call you out on your crap.
For example, Bobby and I were desperate to find a house once we surpassed looking at over 40 and having no luck. We began to ask her to take us to houses we actually knew we probably would never want, just to look. She flat out sat us down and told us we were not staying focused anymore.
Funny thing is… when she said that to us, we were standing in the home we are living in now! Interesting how life works out.
8. Ask a lot of questions & take notes!!!
Buying a house is, in many ways, like buying a used car. You don’t just walk into a dealership and hand over your credit card to a salesman. Most likely, you have a bunch of questions. Has the car been in an accident? How many owners have there been? What extra features are included?
The same goes for a house. You need to have your questions prepared and ready to go when attending an open house or meeting the seller’s realtor for a private appointment.
Most times, they will not be up front about anything negative about the house. The seller will highlight all the great aspects you can get from buying the house. So, have questions that help you dig a little deeper than what the shiny surface is showing you.
Also, dedicate one notepad or folder for your house hunting experiences. We had a folder with all the homes printed that we were looking at. Bobby and I made a chart on paper where we kept all of our notes about each house. I highly recommend this.
Why? After about five houses they began to blend together. Especially if many homes were of the same style. We happen to have a lot of cape style houses on Long Island within our price range. Seriously, couldn’t tell the difference after three. Take those darn notes!
9. Keep a “top 3 list” the entire time you house hunt.
A fantastic piece of advice that our realtor gave us was to keep a running top 3. We probably spent 10-15 weekends driving around looking at homes. She had us rank the top three every time.
- weekend 1 we looked at houses A-F and decided we liked property A, D, and E
- weekend 2, we looked out houses G-K
- we decided we really liked K and bumped D from the list.
- So our new running list was A, K, and E.
The reason she had us keep the list of 3 houses was to not waste time. If it didn’t make the top 3, obviously we didn’t like them enough to want to live there. So, we threw those listings out and moved on.
10. Be prepared to bid & don’t get discouraged!
Buying a house is nerve racking…especially if you live in a well-populated area where real estate is in high demand. Like me. Most times, you won’t feel like the house you bid on is perfect. Really… is there even such a thing?
Be prepared to jump in and put in an offer if something seems reasonable. If it meets about 90% of your list, don’t be afraid to throw in some numbers. Remember, until you sign the papers, you are NOT legally bound anyways.
So, keep your head up and your heart in the process. We bid on 4-5 houses and lost within hours most times. Most of our bids were slightly above asking if we heard the house was hot on the market. We were constantly outbid by over $50,000.
We allowed this to affected us. I cried. My fiancé at the time expressed that he was stressed. We both felt defeated from the process and, because of this, we began to look at any house. Which, surprise surprise, welcomed more stress.
Don’t do this. You must keep your head up and manifest what you truly want. Do some vision creation exercises. Sit in a quiet room, close your eyes, and imagine what your home will look like. Imagine each aspect about your house. Start with walking up the front path and opening the front door. Take a mental tour around each room.
Do this practice daily. The universe is pretty darn cool. When you throw those good vibrations into the universe, you’d be surprised what comes zooming right towards you.
Do you have any tips for buying a home?