This last Friday my wife and I bought our very first house. The process happened a lot quicker than what we had originally anticipated but was overall very very smooth. Seriously, we're lucky that we had extremely easy sellers to work with and that we were able to find a house we loved in a location we liked for a price we could deal with. In all of that, we learned a lot being first-time buyers. Several of the readers here are most-likely experienced home buyers and may have mastered this craft with excellence. Others may have been in the same boat Megan and I were in before last week - renters with anticipations of buying at some point. Here are a few areas we learned a lot.
Do a lot of window shopping to set expectations
We physically shopped for houses for one week. We virtually shopped for a little over a year. Apps like Trulia and Zillow became our best friends. Over the course of the year, we would shop, eat and visit different areas of town to see what we liked, what traffic patterns looked like and the general "feel" of everything. That way, when we saw an area of town on a real estate app, we could visualize the area a bit better.
Window shopping online also helps set expectations. You learn the general price range for different areas of your city. Megan and I watched a lot of Property Virgins and would get frustrated with the dilusional couples on the show who want the world for very little money. Since they've built up all this internal hype with very little research, the start of their buying process is almost always bumpy on the show. But hey - that's what makes great TV.
If you do your shopping and learn realistic expectations of what your budget can buy, the physical shopping process is a lot easier. You won't be disappointed nearly as easily and you'll have a much more productive working relationship with your realtor. Which leads me to my next point.
Get a realtor. Seriously.
Especially if you are a first-time buyer. A good realtor is free counsel for the buyer. The seller pays part of their commission. There was way more in the home buying and shopping process that I wouldn't have been aware of without our realtor. In addition, they're invaluable in the negotiation process. They help set expectations with offers and serve as a great mediator with any other issues that come up between contract and closing. Our realtor was amazing and helped make our process as smooth as possible.
Take time to shop for mortgages
A year ago, I would've just told you that I'd get a mortgage from my personal bank to make it easier. Turns out, that's not necessarily true. Independent brokers are not a bad way to go and can often get you a cheaper rate. Lenders will give you itemized sheets for rates, monthly payment estimates and closing costs. Take the time to actually read these lines. It'll help you save thousands if you obsess the details. A few bucks savings here and there adds up fast.
Have a cash reserve outside of what you've saved for a down-payment
Don't throw everything you have at a down-payment. You'll want extra cash reserves for moving expenses, additional closing costs and all the other odds and ends furnishings you need for a house that you didn't need for apartment living. Also, there's not a maintenance guy on call anymore that fixes everything. No matter how diligent you are, something will come up that you didn't think of.
Don't get in a hurry
Making the final wire transfers and signing my name on a lot of documents with numbers bigger than have ever been shown next to my name is a big deal. You're locked in. House shopping isn't something to get in a hurry to do. There are a ton of perks to apartment living that I know I'll miss over time. Wait, save up as much as you can so you can have more options and get a house you actually like. You want to avoid "settling" on a house as much as you can.
With all of the stress, hassles and mountains of paperwork, it's easy to be distracted from the joy that comes with having a house. I know Megan and I are taking time the next few weekends to enjoy having more space and a more functional kitchen to cook in. I know our dog will enjoy having a yard to stretch his legs in.
We can't wait to finally move in :)