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First time home buyer diary: 3 Tips for your first home search

Avoid common pitfalls in first-time home buying! Learn crucial mistakes to sidestep for a smooth and successful homeownership journey.

Amanda Woolley
January 30, 2024

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Buying a home is both one of the most fun and the most stressful things you can do in your lifetime. You spend hours perusing online listings, reading up on potential neighborhoods, judging staging choices, and daydreaming about what the home will look like once you’ve finally moved in. But it’s often a long and complicated journey from scanning Zillow to move-in day, and that leaves a lot of room for error. Here are three things I always tell people looking to buy their first home

Tip 1: Always talk to a mortgage expert before you talk to a real estate agent

It’s easy to fall in love with a home you can’t afford when on the home search. Figuring out your buying budget will save you so much heartache during the process. Home financing is a minefield of complications – there are a lot of different options when it comes to loan products. 

While a real estate agent can be helpful when it comes time for a showing, the most important person in this relationship will likely be your financing partner (unless you’re paying all cash - if so, good for you!). A great mortgage person will walk you through all your financing options, review your current finances, guide you on how to improve them or what not to do during the mortgage process (i.e., buy expensive furniture), and tell you what you can afford. Determining what you can afford will determine what homes you should spend time on. 

There is a mortgage product for nearly every type of buyer; don’t lock yourself into the adage that you need 20 percent down. I was able to buy my first home with 3.5 percent down and an FHA loan structured for first-time home buyers. Because of home price appreciation, I was able to refinance that loan in 18 months and remove the private mortgage insurance that added about $107 to the cost of my mortgage every month. I was also able to lock in a lower mortgage rate. 

For any home I was serious about, I immediately sent my mortgage company to run the numbers and give me the “all-in” cost every month, so I could plan accordingly. It’s easy to get overly excited during the home-buying process – but your mortgage professional can help you keep you in check with reality. 

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask your home inspector questions

If you’ve never bought a home before, you’ve likely never been involved with a home inspection. Home inspections are one of the most important components of purchasing a home. It’s the time to uncover any unseen issues about the home and decide if you want to move forward. Also, home inspections are not cheap - the average cost for a home inspection is $342, according to Home Advisor, but cost will vary depending on the home’s size - so make the most of that time. 

There’s no such thing as a bad question during a home inspection. If you’re feeling nervous, bring someone along who’s more familiar with homeownership or home repairs. 

Areas you should make your inspector pay close attention to:

  • The foundation (check for moisture - ask about drainage!)
  • The roof (Make your inspector get up and investigate the roof)
  • Sewer lines (make sure you have a sewer scope done) 
  • Crawl spaces/attics (make sure they crawl through these areas)
  • Age of the electrical system
  • Earthquake and/or storm readiness (for example: is your water heater strapped to the wall/floor? Are there hurricane shutters?)

Tip 3: Get documentation on repairs and updates 

Make sure you get clear documentation on any of the updates done to your home. Ensuring that the updates in the listing description were completed and done correctly will save you money and give you peace of mind. 

Not confirming an update was a costly mistake during my second home transaction. The listing agent said there was a footing drain (a drain that runs along a foundation and keeps ground water out) on my home with a finished basement. In writing, I had my agent confirm again there was a drain. However, I didn’t get a map or see where the line’s washout was located. A particularly rainy winter flooded the finished basement two years later. I went back to the selling agent only to find out there was no footing drain; the seller buried the rain spouts and called it a drain. That was a $20,000 mistake I’ll never make again. Don’t believe anything agents tell you - always ask for documentation. 

Final thoughts

Buying a home can be challenging, but don’t be overwhelmed by the process. Hopefully, you’ve assembled a great team of professionals between your agent and mortgage lender who can help you navigate the road ahead. Make sure you ask a lot of questions and talk to your friends and family who have been through the process before. Their experiences can potentially save you time and money during your home-buying process.

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