Keep Your Money Where It Is - It’s not wise to make any huge purchases or move your money around three to six months before buying a new home. You don’t want to take any big chances with your credit profile. Lenders need to see that you’re reliable and they want a complete paper trail so that they can get you the best loan possible. If you open new credit cards, amass too much debt or buy a lot of big-ticket items, you’re going to have a hard time getting a loan.
Get Pre-Approved for Your Home Loan - There’s a big difference between a buyer being pre-qualified and a buyer who has a pre-approved mortgage. Anybody can get pre-qualified for a loan. Getting pre-approved means a lender has looked at all of your financial information and they’ve let you know how much you can afford and how much they will lend you. Being pre-approved will save you a lot of time and energy so you are not running around looking at houses you can't afford. It also gives you the opportunity to shop around for the best deal and the best interest rates. Do your research: Learn about junk fees, processing fees or points and make sure there aren’t any hidden costs in the loan.
Don’t Try to Time the Market - Don’t obsess with trying to time the market and figure out when is the best time to buy. Trying to anticipate the housing market is impossible. The best time to buy is when you find your perfect house and you can afford it. Real estate is cyclical, it goes up and it goes down and it goes back up again. So, if you try to wait for the perfect time, you’re probably going to miss out.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better - Everyone’s drawn to the biggest, most beautiful house on the block. But bigger is usually not better when it comes to houses. There’s an old adage in real estate that says don’t buy the biggest, best house on the block. The largest house only appeals to a very small audience and you never want to limit potential buyers when you go to re-sell. Your home is only going to go up in value as much as the other houses around you. If you pay $500,000 for a home and your neighbors pay $250,000 to $300,000, your appreciation is going to be limited. Sometimes it is best to is buy the worst house on the block, because the worst house per square foot always trades for more than the biggest house.
Avoid Sleeper Costs - The difference between renting and homeownership is the sleeper costs. Most people just focus on their mortgage payment, but they also need to be aware of the other expenses such as property taxes, utilities and homeowner-association dues. New homeowners also need to be prepared to pay for repairs, maintenance and potential property-tax increases. Make sure you budget for sleeper costs so you’ll be covered and won’t risk losing your house.
You’re Buying a House – Not Dating It - Buying a house based on emotions is just going to break your heart. If you fall in love with something, you might end up making some pretty bad financial decisions. There’s a big difference between your emotions and your instincts. Going with your instincts means that you recognize that you’re getting a great house for a good value. Going with your emotions is being obsessed with the paint color or the backyard. It’s an investment, so stay calm and be wise.
Give Your House a Physical - Would you buy a car without checking under the hood? Of course you wouldn’t. Hire a home inspector. It’ll cost about $200 but could end up saving you thousands. A home inspector’s sole responsibility is to provide you with information so that you can make a decision as to whether or not to buy. It’s really the only way to get an unbiased third-party opinion. If the inspector does find any issues with the home, you can use it as a bargaining tool for lowering the price of the home. It’s better to spend the money up front on an inspector than to find out later you have to spend a fortune.
The Secret Science of Bidding - Your opening bid should be based on two things: what you can afford (because you don’t want to outbid yourself), and what you really believe the property is worth. Make your opening bid something that’s fair and reasonable and isn’t going to totally offend the seller. A lot of people think they should go lower the first time they make a bid. It all depends on what the market is doing at the time. You need to look at what other homes have gone for in that neighborhood and you want to get an average price per square foot. Sizing up a house on a price-per-square-foot basis is a great equalizer. Also, see if the neighbors have plans to put up a new addition or a basketball court or tennis court, something that might detract from the property’s value down the road.
Stalk the Neighborhood - Before you buy, get the lay of the land – drop by morning noon and night. Many homebuyers have become completely distraught because they thought they found the perfect home, only to find out the neighborhood wasn’t for them. Drive by the house at all hours of the day to see what’s happening in the neighborhood. Do your regular commute from the house to make sure it is something you can deal with on a daily basis. Find out how far it is to the nearest grocery store and other services. Even if you don’t have kids, research the schools because it affects the value of your home in a very big way. If you buy a house in a good school district versus bad school district even in the same town, the value can be affected as much as 20 percent.
Listening to Bad Advise from Friends and Family - This one is common with first-timers Buyers. After they go see 10 homes after eliminating them one by one, they invite the parents or friends to see the home. Because your parents or friends care about you, they will point out any small detail and make you question your decision. And while that's admirable that they're looking out for you, they didn't look at the other homes that you did and don't realize this is the best home. They're looking at the based on their current perspective of their living situation. If you're going to rely on advice, then make the person go through as much of the process as you did. Don't let others talk you out of buying your home.
Hire an Agent - Because I am an agent, I believe in hiring a buyer's agent first. But you don't have to if you prefer to go to open houses and look through a mumbo jumbo of homes online. Mostly, an agent will save you time and more importantly guide you though the process. An agent can send you listings directly from MLS that fit your parameters, and you won't waste time looking at active short contingent listings that are under contract. Agents often know of new listings coming up that are not yet on the market. You can waste the agent's gas and not your own when you tour homes. Some agents will preview homes for you. An agent can generally spot overpriced listings and advise you accordingly. Once you find your home an Agent can step by step take you through the different time frames and close on time.
Think long-term and think re-sale - Are you planning to have kids? Will you be taking care of elderly relatives? You might be planning to live in your first home for only a few years. In that case, who is your target audience when it comes time to sell the house? If you buy a house in a very bad school district or a house on a very busy street, when you are ready to sell the house, most families with children will be out of your list of potential buyers.
Make a list of items to check - Home-buying is an emotional process. Ideally, you should set aside all your emotions when evaluating a house. Practically, that is impossible. Instead, make a checklist of your must-haves, nice-to-haves and other essentials. Then print copies of this checklist. Every time you visit a house, take the checklist along with you; take photographs so you can cross each item off your list. If you fall in love with the house and your checklist shows that the house has none of your must-haves, it will at least make you pause and think.
Research the HOA contract before you make a decision - Our long term plan is to rent out the house, if and when we move away. With this in mind, once we identified the neighborhood we found most desirable, I asked for a copy of the HOA contract after going to an open house in the area. It turned out that none of the houses in that neighborhood could be rented out. If you are buying a house that is part of an HOA, it is absolutely essential to read the HOA contract before you do anything else.