How to Hunt for Your First Home
Finding a house you’ll call yours is exciting, but it’s hard to start searching. Learn what you can do to prepare before hunting for your first home.
Have you recently decided that you’re ready to purchase your first home? Congratulations! Finding a new place to call your own can be very exciting, and it gives you and those you are moving in with a whole new level of independence. However, as with every major decision you will make, it can be hard to get started. Here are some things you can do before hunting for and purchasing your first home to help you feel as prepared as possible.
Get preapproved for a mortgage.
Before you can look for a home, you need to know how much you are willing and able to spend on this hefty purchase. By getting preapproved for a home mortgage, you are determining how much money you will be able to borrow based on a few factors including your credit score and income. Getting preapproved is not necessary and does not always mean you will be approved when you purchase the home, but it makes the process of acquiring your dream home much easier and removes some unnecessary surprises. Do your research before you get a preapproval, as you’ll need to locate some important documents like W-2 statements and bank statements for the process to go seamlessly.
Create a wish list, a need list, and a deal-breaker list.
Before you start to browse through listings on Zillow or Realtor.com, determine what you’re really looking for. The most organized way to sort out your priorities is to create three separate lists: a wish list, a need list, and a deal-breaker list. By sitting down with any people you’ll be sharing the home with (partners, friends, siblings, etc.) and having these things clearly written out, you will all understand what is important to each other, and the process of finding a place that best suits the needs of everyone involved will be much easier.
Wishes: Things that would be nice to have in your new home, but you could live without.
So maybe your dream house always included a floor-to-ceiling library room or a gigantic home theater in the basement. Do you actually need these pieces to have a home that functions well for your everyday life? Probably not. But it is nice to picture it that way. Making a list of nice-to-haves is a way to get excited about your house hunt and see what your housemates would love to find.
Needs: Features of a house that are absolutely necessary to maintain your preferred living standards.
If you have a larger family, having a separate room for every child may be necessary to keep the peace. If you cook often, looking for a large and updated kitchen might be more important than finding a big, finished basement. The experience of buying a house is very individualized, and everyone has their own idea of what is necessary. Jot down what you feel you couldn’t live without so that your housemates know what you need to be happy with the purchase.
Deal-breakers: Factors that would ruin the house for you or you aren’t willing to compromise for other features of the house or property.
If a home is in an area that you do not like or the closest school district is not up to your standards, it can ruin the appeal of the house entirely. Sort out what you feel you cannot deal with in a new place. By sharing this information with the people who are helping you search, you can avoid even going to see a house that you feel just would not work out for one reason or another.
Consider your budgeting options.
Based on the amount you were preapproved for and how much you have saved up, you can begin to decide how much money you’re willing and able to spend on your new home. Newer homes will likely be more move-in ready than older homes, but their initial price tag will also be significantly higher. Are you considering a fixer-upper? An older, well-loved home can come with a lot of potential and character… and a lot of required updates and maintenance. You’ll have to lower your initial purchase price so that you have enough money left over to make any structural or aesthetic updates to the house. Make sure that you look into all of the changes you’d want to make (and their costs) before settling on a place. Additionally, renovating a house to be perfect for you and your family can take a lot of time. Be sure that you are ready to live in a construction zone for a while before you decide to take on this major project.
Find a general area that you are interested in.
Location is huge when looking for a place you’ll likely live in for a long time. Do you want to live in a fast-moving city, a calm suburb, or a private rural area? Do you have kids that will need to go to school somewhere nearby? Is it important to you to be close to family and friends? These are all important factors in making the decision of where to live. Different areas also have different real estate markets, so the price of a house in one place will be significantly different from the price of a similar property in another. Average prices in your preferred location is something else you must consider when creating your budget.
Make sure all home inspections are conducted and all safety concerns are addressed before you make your final decision.
According to Zillow, 36% of homeowners cited "unexpected maintenance and repairs" as their biggest regret. In this case, surprises are not a good thing - anything that needs to be repaired for safety reasons must be addressed ASAP. Sometimes, unexpected repairs can be costly; you’ll need to determine whether or not the house is worth the cost and maintenance of the issue. Seeking out any potential problems as early as possible will show you the true worth of the property. It’s just as they say: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
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