First homes are like boyfriends, you walk away knowing what you don’t want. When we bought our first house, we were newlyweds with a baby on the way and bouncing with excitement about buying a home of our own. We calculated a price range and jumped head first into house hunting. Seven years later, I can tell you that we forgot a lot of things and got lucky in a lot of ways.
Let my hindsight be your guidebook. Here are five things to think about when you begin your real estate search.
Don’t Trust Your Realtor Without Doing Your Homework
There are a hundred different ways a real estate agent can help you navigate the home buying world, and working with an agent can be very helpful. But if you are a first-time homebuyer, don’t let their sparkling smile convince you to let down your guard and trust everything at face value. As a consumer, it is your responsibility to check prices, review inspections and find out all the information.
I’m not saying that realtors are swindlers or that yours will be out to get you…sometimes problems can be as simple as inexperience or oversight. With my first home, I let my realtor tell me how much to offer and asked his advice at every turn, never once checking prices of similar properties for myself. It worked out okay, but looking back, I can’t believe I did that!
Don’t Let Emotions Cloud Your Judgement
All too often, the home buying experience gets mistaken for a very superficial venture, especially for us ladies (sorry, but it’s true). It’s easy to get caught up in the visual details of a home. We like pretty things and we are drawn to homes that fulfill these requirements, but don’t let yourself get worked up about a house. There are lots of homes out there and a lot of factors that can contribute to the longevity of your happiness in a given one.
If You Have Kids (or Plan To), Check The School Districts
This was a factor that I COMPLETELY overlooked and I was pregnant when we bought our first home! If you have an infant or haven’t yet started a family, it’s easy to forget that schools will, sooner than you can imagine, be a big part of your lives. It’s difficult in many places to hit the school trifecta (highly rated elementary, middle and high school) but it’s certainly important to learn about the schools in your area. Here is a great website that you can use to look up school ratings and reviews.
Know Your Loan Inside and Out (and Your Creditors)
When applying for a mortgage, you consider details like payments and interest rates, but don’t forget to look into who you’ll be paying every month, because trust me, they are looking into you. We had our loan for five years before finding out that the company didn’t report to the credit bureau (meaning that all our timely payments wouldn’t do anything for our credit score). Investigate the companies you’re considering. What are their payments options? Do they have an online system? Or will you have to write a check and mail it each month? How’s their customer service? Can you reach a live person easily? What is their grace period? These are the kinds of questions you should ask before you sign on to pay someone for thirty years. Refinancing is a headache and a hassle, so avoid it by finding a creditor you can stick with.
It’s The Long Haul Or Don’t Bother
Buying a home is a serious commitment. The concept of mortgages can sometimes make it feel a lot like renting since you’re paying a fee monthly to stay in the home. But just because you haven’t paid a large sum of money up front, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fully understand the commitment you’ve made. You may not be ready to be a property owner. Consider all the responsibilities that go along with maintaining and paying toward a chunk of land for essentially a third of your life.
Additionally, it is important to think about your long term needs in the home. What you want and need in a home now may not be the same as what you’ll need in five years or ten, but do you want to pack up and move? If not, you may want to think about your long-term goals and what your life will look like down the road or you’ll risk needing to move before you want to move.
Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance
As a kid you ask your parents questions and they seem to always know the answer. When I became a homeowner, I learned why. It’s because they screwed stuff up and had to figure out how to fix it. Deterioration of your home can sneak up on you and it’s often the most important aspects that are overlooked. The list of things you should pay attention to and/or take care of is long, but here’s a couple for starters:
- Periodically clean out your dryer vent (the one that vents to the outside of the house). At worst it can become a fire hazard, at best it will burn out your dryer.
- Power wash your siding, sidewalks, driveway and decks once a year. If you have a wooden fence or decking, reseal and restain it afterward. If you wait too long to do this, things will get dirtier and crumblier than you’d like.
- Have carpets steamed every six months (I know it’s money you don’t have, but trust me, new carpet is WAY more expensive)
- Here’s a list of some more things to remember.
Whether you’re buying for the first time or having a mulligan on home number two, try to keep in mind the things that really matter and be certain that you’re doing your homework and meeting you’re needs before making a decision. Because you will literally have to live with the choices you make.