You’ve been squirreling away dollar after dollar and finally have a pile big enough to consider buying your first home. That’s the good news. The not-so-great news: First-time buyers are prone to making some pretty big mistakes.
“Home sales have gone up and many first-time homebuyers are coming down with a case of home-buying FOMO,” says Tanya Hobson-Williams, an attorney in Jamaica Estates, New York. In fact, 68 percent of millennial homeowners said they felt buyer’s remorse after purchasing their home, according to a Bank of the West study published in July. “They will put the deposit down, move in, and then feel that case of buyer’s remorse because they realize that it’s not the house they wanted,” says Hobson-Williams.
All the more reason you should take your time. Read on for the 10 things you should never do in your quest to find your first home sweet home.
Mistake #1: Prioritizing the house over the town
Selecting the right town is crucial, says Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle, a real estate relocation firm dedicated to helping young families leave urban areas for the suburbs. “The goal is to find you and your brood a place where the culture and values of the town match yours. You can always trade up or down for a new home, add a third bathroom, or renovate a basement.”
Mistake #2: Limiting your search by your commute
It’s never a good idea to buy a house just because it’s super close to your work. “Just 10 more minutes on the train or bus could perhaps score you a lot more for your money,” Bernstein says. “In addition, you want to be flexible about a train station. Though a town may not technically have ‘a train in town,’ you may be just five to 10 minutes in the car to one or many neighboring stations.”
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Mistake #3: Buying too much (or too little) house
Size very much matters when you’re shopping for your first house, and while the thought of finally having a space you will own for years is exciting, you can also very easily miscalculate and end up with too much (or too little) space. “Some homebuyers might purchase a house that has more rooms than they need, while others might try to pack in 10,000 square feet of stuff into an 8,000-square-foot house,” Hobson-Williams says. If you’re house hunting with a significant other, make sure you have a frank conversation about how large the house should be and how much space you truly need.
Mistake #4: Being disorganized about your paperwork
Like most things in life, preparation is key and it’s especially important when you’re buying a home for the first time. This means getting pre-approved for a mortgage, checking the title for liens on the property, conducting a home inspection, and looking at your own credit report. “Your pre-approved mortgage is an especially important gauge of how much you can afford,” says Jamie Blades, CEO and founder of Homicity, a real estate marketplace site. “You’ll also look confident to the seller and you will have what’s needed to make an offer right away if you find your dream home.” Pro tip: Keep your papers together in a designated folder or organizer.
Mistake #5: Thinking you need 20 percent down
Maybe you’d love to home shop on the weekends but you aren’t quite ready with cash in hand. Turns out, you don’t need 20 percent down to buy a home, says Michael Pacheco, a realtor at Real Estate Just for You in Nashville. “A lot of people I speak with—and even buyers who have purchased a home before—don’t know that you don’t have to have 20 percent down to buy a home,” he says. “There are many first-time home buyer programs out there, and with government loan programs, a first-time home buyer can get into their home with as little as 3.5 percent down. There are also state-based programs that will give you up to five percent of the purchase price towards down payment and closing costs.”
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Mistake #6: Forgetting to account for property taxes and insurance
It’s critical for first-time home buyers to be aware that your mortgage will not be the same amount year over year, as your insurance and property taxes will increase almost every year. “When you’re getting a quote for your homeowner’s insurance, for example, ask how much the insurance rates went up each year over the past 10 years,” suggests Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta, Georgia. “They should be able to easily provide you with this information.” To find out the home’s tax history, look it up on Zillow and scroll down to tax history. While the section may give you exact numbers, it will tell you the percentage of change annually. You can then use that number to estimate how much it will increase each year if you buy. “Our first home’s mortgage payment went from $990 to $1,123 after the first year,” says Breyer. “We never thought about increases in property taxes and insurance, so it was pretty shocking.”
Mistake #7: Thinking you don’t need help
You definitely don’t want to go it alone as a first-time home buyer. “You want to put together a team of professionals when you start your search,” says Neil B. Garfinkel, a real estate attorney at Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, a law firm in New York City. “This team should include a mortgage professional, real estate broker, and home inspector,” he says. “Waiting until you have an ‘accepted offer’ is not a good time to start assembling your team.” Here, the eight people you shouldn’t buy a home without.
Mistake #8: Not setting a budget
Buyers should “shop with their heart but make an offer with their head,” Garfinkel says. “In other words, create boundaries in terms of how much you can afford and stick to those boundaries.”
Mistake #9: Not considering the age and condition of the house
The age and condition of the home you’re interested in should be carefully examined, says Gerri Edwards, a real estate agent in Charlotte, North Carolina. “You want to take a look at how old the home is and if it will break your budget with the number of updates that need to be done,” she says. “Older homes offer a lot of charm that you usually don’t find in a newer home, but along with that charm comes upkeep. A better option might be a newer home you can move into and enjoy right away.”
Mistake #10: Not matching your home with your lifestyle.
In the end, you want to really be honest about the best house for you. “These days everyone is busy trying to live the American dream and get a piece of the pie,” Edwards says. So if you tend to hang out in the kitchen, seek out a home with a kitchen island for gatherings with friends and family. If you like outdoor space, find a house with a porch or deck you’ll actually use. “I always tell first-time homebuyers to really take your time to find a house you really love,” she says.