Early last year, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first baby and quickly decided we’d like to try to purchase our first home before our little one arrived. We were living in a rental home at the time, but we wanted to have a more permanent home base where we could raise our daughter. As first-time home buyers who were completely naive to the steps involved, we mistakenly believed buying a home would be a streamlined and straight-forward process. We quickly realized just how complicated the process could be.
Since we jumped into buying a home without any real planning, we did quite a few steps out of order, and consequently, wasted a lot of time and energy. Despite the stumbles we faced along the way, my husband and I found our dream home just in time for our daughter’s arrival. We couldn’t be happier with our new home, but I do wish we’d been more organized and informed during the home buying process. Today I’m sharing three tips for first time home buyers along with helpful resources to ensure your experience is better than ours!
Top 3 Tips for First-Time Home Buyers
1. Plan Every Detail of Your Financing in Advance
Before you start seeing (and consequently falling in love with) homes in your area, I’d recommend figuring out your financial situation. You’ll want to determine exactly how much money you can put towards a down payment and closing costs, and you’ll also want to factor in the costs involved with property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and home inspection. Also think about what you can afford to pay on an ongoing basis for your mortgage payment (use SunTrust’s mortgage calculator at onUp.com), mortgage insurance (if applicable), potential renovations, utilities, and upkeep.
Once you understand your personal finance situation and have a rough budget, I’d recommend contacting a home loan officer if you need to obtain additional funding. If possible, I’d recommend getting your home loan pre-approved. In our market, homes were going off the market in 24 hours, and having a pre-approved loan statement in our hands allowed us to finish the home buying process in a quick and efficient manner. Before you start, check out the mortgage pre-approval checklist from SunTrust.
In addition to potentially giving you a competitive advantage in the buyer’s field, having your home loan pre-approved and your financial situation organized will help you narrow down your choices of homes. Knowing our maximum budget helped us limit our searches for homes and understand exactly what we could and couldn’t afford and saved us so much time and energy.
2. Create A List of Non-Negotiables
One major mistake we made was not creating a list of non-negotiables before searching for a home. We weren’t quite sure about what we wanted in a home, so we basically just scheduled a showing at any house that came up for sale in our budget. Big mistake. We ended up wasting so much time and energy looking at houses that didn’t fit our lifestyle, budget, or preferences. Buying a home is a serious decision with long-term consequences, so you want to make sure the home you ultimately end up purchasing will fit you and/or your family’s immediate and future needs. When you’re creating your list of non-negotiable features, think about your monthly budget, family size (current and future), work situation, renovation budget, and of course, things that could affect future resale value.
Once my husband and I saw a few homes in our desired market, we sat down and created a detailed list of non-negotiable features. While we hope to stay in our home for many years, we were both adamant about purchasing a home in a growing market with consistent resale values. We decided to prioritize areas with strong school districts and rising home prices. Next on our list of of non-negotiable features was space for a baby nursery. I was pregnant during our home search, and we knew we wanted a space for our daughter to grow and play.
When we visited our current home, I instantly knew one of the rooms would be perfect for my daughter’s nursery. Everything from the size of the room to the soft light peeking in through the window to the proximity to the master bedroom helped me to envision a peaceful room where my baby girl could sleep and dream. Conversely, it was easy to eliminate homes where the spacing/locations of the rooms just wouldn’t work with a baby.
Our final non-negotiable item was finding a home that was move-in ready. I was seven months pregnant when our final home offer was accepted, so it was important for us to find a home that was basically ready to go. Of course we made a few tweaks once we moved in to our home (painting walls, re-finishing flooring), but we knew we wouldn’t have the time or money for serious renovations with a baby on the way.
It’s so easy to get distracted and seduced by beautifully-staged homes and fun features in the homes you see, but it’s absolutely crucial to keep a clear mind about the features that must be in your new home. I urge you to make a list of non-negotiable items before you see any homes to help yourself stay focused on your ultimate goal. After all, there are thousands of beautiful homes on the market, but most of them are not going to be right for your family’s exact needs.
3. Get to Know Your Desired Market
One thing I cannot stress enough is taking the time to get to know the market in the area where you want to move OR find someone who does. We were blessed to have invaluable sources of market information for our desired area because my husband’s family has lived in the area for years, and they continually keep a close watch on the local housing market. My dad is also a commercial realtor, so he was able to find out incredible information from local real estate agents too. All of these sources of information helped us make informed decisions during our home buying experience, so we could feel confident in each and every one of our decisions.
If you don’t have local insiders to help you get familiarized with the local market, do the research yourself! Monitor the prices of homes for sale in your desired area and see how quickly they sell. Take a deep dive into how the value of those homes have fluctuated over the past few years. Find a local real estate agent and get detailed information about the availability of homes, the speed of sales, and the trends they’re noticing this year. Look at the price of the home you’re considering compared to the price of the other homes in the adjacent area. These little pieces of information will be more helpful to you than you possibly imagine.
If you’re not sure where to start, head to SunTrust’s helpful resources on onUp.com where you’ll find tons of helpful articles to help you have the best home buying experience possible. SunTrust has an amazing collection of resources on everything related to home ownership, including everything from determining if you should tackle home improvement projects to the best negotiation strategies. SunTrust developed the onUp movement to help you have the confidence to make one smart step at a time in your home buying experience. I only wish Ryan and I had known about this website last year. It would have saved us so many headaches!
In addition, set up accounts on all of the home listing websites with your preferred home requirements. You can then allow those websites to send you notifications whenever a new listing goes on the market or if changes are made to a particular listing price or availability. Then schedule a meeting with a local real estate agent and give them your exact requirements. They can give you detailed information about their area’s listing as well as potentially give you a heads up if there are listings they know of that haven’t gone on the market yet. The more information you collect, the better decisions you’ll be able to make.
Our home buying journey lasted nearly six months and included dozens of showings, five offers, and endless twists and turns, but finding our dream home was worth every minute of work. It has been so gratifying to turn our new house into a home for our daughter, and it brings me so much joy to make memories with our little girl in each and every room.
If you’d like even more help with purchasing your first home, you’ll love the home ownership section of onUp.com. Whether you need a free mortgage calculator, tips on when to rent vs. buy, or need to know what could go wrong at closing, SunTrust has you covered! If you’re a first-time home buyer, get ready for an adventure. I’m so excited to hear about your journey to find your first home!
This post was sponsored, and paid for, by SunTrust. All opinions are my own.