This is a little article I had published in the Alexandria Times a while back… the information is still as relevant today as it was when the paper featured the story.
If you are considering purchasing your own home, your timing is great. Interest rates are still at historic lows and the market has shifted to favor the buyer. Now is a great time to buy a home! While purchasing a home and making one of the largest investments of your life can easily be a daunting and overwhelming undertaking, if you go into the process well prepared and with the right support, your first home purchase can be a great experience. Here are some tips from a seasoned professional that should get you off one the right footing.
Get Educated – Before starting out, educate yourself a little bit on the process. Believe me, it is a whole lot less daunting when you at least have an idea of what to expect. Check your local bookstore, or go online, to find one or more many good “how to” instruction guides on buying a home. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has an entire section on its website (www.hud.gov) devoted to homebuyers. It has a list of common questions from first-time homebuyers, information on mortgage and home-buying programs, access to housing counselors, downloadable tools such as a wish list and home-shopping checklist, tips on selecting a real estate professional, etc. Other informative sites to check out are http://www.Realtor.com and one of my personal favorites, iAlexandriaHomes.com. In addition to printed resources, you should also consider some face-to-face education, which you could find by checking your local newspaper for homebuyer seminars that you can attend. And, of course, you should expect to receive no end of information and education from your real estate agent.
Your real estate professional is also a great resource. Your agent’s job is not only to help you find the right house but to educate you on the home buying process. Do not hesitate to let him or her know that you are new to the process. Your agent will walk you through the steps of the home buying process and help you navigate what would otherwise be a very confusing maze. Your agent expects you to have questions at each step-from house hunting, to making an offer to the closing.
Money Matters – The finances involved in the purchase of a home can be overwhelming to first-time homebuyers and seasoned purchasers alike. Buying a home is often the largest purchase someone will ever make… until he or she goes through the whole process again and buys his or her second, or third, or even forth home. There are questions of affordability, mortgage costs, down payment, closing costs, and making offers to think about.
Affordability – There are mortgage costs, the down payment, and closing costs to think about. By looking at your income and debt ratio, your sales professional can help you calculate how much you can afford each month in mortgage payments. But before determining your price range, you should also take into consideration other factors that will affect your monthly budget once you are a homeowner, such as property taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance.
Pre-Approval – Fear of being rejected for a home loan is one of the main concerns for first-time homebuyers and not something you want to be worrying about when looking at homes. To lessen the stress and to make you a more effective negotiator, you will want to get pre-approved for your loan before looking at prospective homes. This pre-approval process is quick and painless and usually only takes a few minutes of your time. Being pre-approved by a lender will not only help you feel more confident, it will also give you an advantage during negotiations. In addition, the fact that your loan has already been approved is of great value to the seller because it shortens the purchase process, and there is less of a chance that the buyer will back out of the sale. If you don’t have a specific mortgage lender in mind, ask your sales professional for a recommendation or two.
Down payment – The down payment amount varies depending on the value of the home you choose and your mortgage lender. The traditional 20% down payment rule is not so much the norm anymore for homebuyers. Often times it is closer to 10% down, and in some a home can be purchased with no money down. Your real estate agent and mortgage lender will be able to explain the different options available to you and help you figure out what makes the most sense for your situation.
Take Your Time – Do not feel pressured into making an offer on the first home you see but do not pressure yourself into looking at every single house for sale. These two extremes are common mistakes of many first-time homebuyers. You want to make sure you view enough homes that you are able to get a feel for the marketplace but you do not want to view so many that you skip over the perfect home. Your agent knows and appreciates the fact the process takes time and should encourage you to move at a pace with which you are comfortable. With the right support and professional resources, and a little invested time and energy on your part, the American dream will come true for you too.
Above all, remember there are no silly questions. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with every aspect of the transaction. Your real estate professional can be an invaluable asset in helping you make educated decisions so that your first home purchase is a rewarding experience.
Questions? Please feel free to ask.