Buying a home is an exciting endeavor, but it’s also one that requires a great amount of analysis and practicality. Even if you’ve made big purchases in the past, purchasing a home is an entirely different level.
Sure, you may have driven your dream car off into the sunset the first day you set foot in the dealership, but home ownership is a different animal. For most, it is a lengthy process that involves months of research, work, and waiting before you’re given the keys to your new castle.
Even the most hardcore HGTV aficionado may be a little fuzzy on the actual home-buying timeline and behind the scenes work that goes into securing your new place.
While individual circumstances vary, here are 10 tips to help you find the perfect new home for your family.
Build your nest egg
It is never too early to begin saving for a house. The earlier you get started, the better because potential mortgage lenders will review your savings and finances with a fine-toothed comb.
They will want to see that you are a trustworthy with a clean credit history and reputable income.
Sudden, inexplicable acquisitions of cash throw up red flags—so, try to have an established income and savings before you start your home search.
Familiarize yourself with the market
Even if you are not actively looking, you should familiarize yourself with the real estate market. You’ll hear terms like “buyer’s market” and “seller’s market,” and it will be important to understand what these terms will mean for you as a potential buyer.
Further, market trends will vary to some degree between states, cities, and even neighborhoods. You don’t want to rely on outdated or inapplicable information, so be sure to know what type of market exists within the boundaries of your home search.
Also, understand there will be a difference in your buying experience depending on when you are house hunting. In many areas, seasons have a major impact on the real estate market with action from buyers being hot in the summer and cool in the winter.
Seasonal impact also varies by region, so be sure to do your homework so you understand the current temperature of your market.
Get a sense of what you can afford
Before you start looking, you should know what you can afford—and what a bank will actually lend you—if you are going the traditional route and taking out a mortgage.
There are many online calculators that can help get you started, but if you are serious about entering the home buying process, getting a pre-approval letter from a bank will give you the most certain idea of what you will be approved for later.
Having a pre-approval letter also gives you greater credibility as a buyer and can work to your advantage if you end up competing for a home with another buyer who does not have one.
Select a realtor
Having a realtor to help you through the house hunting and buying process can be very helpful. It costs the buyer nothing to have a realtor as buying agents earn commission from the seller’s side of the deal.
A good realtor will be able to recommend home inspectors, real estate attorneys, and other important players in the home buying process.
They can also help expedite house showings and point out potential areas of concern that might not immediately leap out to you.
They also, of course, handle communications and negotiations with the selling agent, which takes some of the pressure off of you as the buyer.
Research your desired neighborhoods
Frequently, potential home buyers will know exactly where they want to live or will at least have an idea of a few desired locations.
Whether you have your dream neighborhood nailed down or not, be sure to research all potential neighborhoods where you will be looking.
You will want to know information about crime rates, property taxes, school ratings, commute times, and proximity to amenities—to name a few important statistics.
You may not really care about these things now, but you’ll definitely care when you’re a homeowner—not just for your own edification but for resale value as well—and it is better to learn these things now rather than later.
Download all the apps
Thanks to real estate apps, there is a ton of real estate information readily available to buyers in real time.
In addition to getting a sense of what homes hit the market almost immediately after they are listed, you’ll be able to see pictures, home details, and price.
During our home search, I was especially partial to the Realtor.com app, Estately, and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) app for my state—GONYSMLS.
Most realty apps offer many of the same features, but there are some differences between them, so download several, at least initially, to get a sense of which style you like best and then use the one(s) you prefer.
Don’t make any big purchases while house hunting
Once you’re “under contract” for a house, don’t make any big changes to your bank or credit card accounts. This means don’t make any large purchases or attempts to establish new lines of credit.
It might be tempting to start shopping for the perfect décor and furniture for your new abode, but the bank will be watching your accounts like a hawk during the roughly two-month period you’re under contract and any unusual variation in your expenses can delay the closing process or even halt it all together.
So, browse all you want while under contract, but wait until you close before making any major purchases.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
When searching for your dream home, don’t be afraid of the prospect of getting your hands dirty. By that I mean don’t let the paint color in the dining room or carpet in the upstairs bedrooms be a deal killer for you.
Many cosmetic changes are easy fixes. You can hire someone to do the work for you, but if using a professional isn’t in the budget, have faith that you can tackle these projects on your own (within reason, of course).
Don’t underestimate the importance of the basics
When engaging in your home search, don’t underestimate the importance of the basics. Closet and storage space, room size, efficiency of the layout—these things will all make a difference in your daily life.
Don’t ignore your gut and common sense. Don’t fantasize that you’ll be able to easily live “around” a potential home’s problem areas. Unless you are planning a Property Brothers’ style demolition and rebuild, those little annoyances will become big ones over time.
You will only have so much home to work with—make sure you go for the one that has good bones.
Understand that finding and buying the right home takes time. Even when you do all your homework, there is a certain amount of luck, and dare I say it, fate, involved in the home-buying process.
If you get involved in a bidding war and you lose, or if a seller refuses to compromise during a negotiation, it will be OK. You will eventually land the home you were meant to have and will likely be relieved that the failed deals didn’t work out.
Whatever you do, don’t lose hope. You will eventually find your way home.