When my husband and I casually mentioned to friends and family we were on the hunt for our first home, many were surprised. After all, we’ve lived and traveled overseas for most of our lives and rented three different apartments in two different states when we moved back to the U.S. No one was more surprised than me — I thought I was going to be a nomad of sorts. But our desire to create a routine for our son and our feelings of exhaustion at moving so often tipped the scales for us.
It’s been a whirlwind process — a total of five months — but we’re finally done with the home buying process and will be moving within the next week. Throughout the entire journey, here are some crucial lessons I’ve learned as a first time home buyer.
Lessons for first time home buyers
It’s important to balance emotions with the numbers
Buying a new home is an emotional process. After all, the intention is to stay put in one place for the foreseeable future, so you want your home to fit your needs. For my husband and I, we really wanted to be close to parks, be in a decent school district, and live in a neighborhood with young families.
I’m not the one who really cares about having an HGTV-worthy home (sorry to all you Joanna Gaines fans!) or a large one either, so we were just concerned about the sticker price. Once we were ready to look at listings, all I cared about were the lowest priced homes in neighborhoods we were interested in. It almost became an obsession. I figured we could save money even if we had to do some renovations.
When we started touring homes, I was a bit upset that I hated all the lower-priced homes — even if I were to gut the entire place. I was complaining so much my husband stopped me and told me to think about how much time I’ll be spending in a house considering I work from home. He reminded me that none of the homes we were looking at were anywhere near the top of our budget, so I should stop worrying so much.
The lesson here is that, yes, it’s important to consider how much house you can afford. However, it’s just as important to find a place that you’ll like. My husband and I were clear with our realtor on what we wanted and our maximum budget, so that we could focus on other things like the neighborhood and the house itself.
Keep your eyes on the prize (get aggressive with your savings goals)
My husband and I had been toying with the idea of buying a home a little over two years ago and we decided to set aside money for a down payment just in case. We both knew we wanted to put at least 20% down, plus a few thousand for closing costs. As I’m sure you can guess, this is no small feat.
To be able to successfully save for this goal, we got really aggressive. As in, we cut back on things we wanted to do, like have a longer family vacation (we settled on smaller trips) and lowered the amount we put towards retirement savings (don’t worry, we still saved a lot). I also ramped up my freelance writing efforts so I could increase my income, and extra earnings went towards the house fund.
Saving for a down payment is a major goal and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before looking for a new home, get clear on how you intend to pay for it. You don’t need to put 20% down like we did, so do your research on the types of mortgages you may be able to qualify for, whether it’s a conventional, VA, or FHA loan. It’s also helpful to look at the type of monthly payments you can afford so you can budget accordingly.
Work with people you trust
A home is probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, so find an agent whose personality is a good fit with yours. You want to trust them and feel like they’re listening to you.
We initially spoke to a real estate agent who was very knowledgeable and answered all our questions in a timely manner — he also got rave reviews from online reviewers. However, when it came time to view homes, he tried to pressure us by asking if we wanted to put an offer down each house we looked at. Both my husband and I were so disheartened we decided to go with someone else.
When we met our new realtor we immediately liked her. She was very upfront about whether our expectations were realistic and gave us time to look through listings for a week or so before calling us to see if we wanted to tour homes. There was no pressure to put an offer down on anything, and she had a whole slew of recommendations from contractors to mortgage lenders if we needed help.
All this to say, be very careful who you work with. It doesn’t matter if someone is reputable, if they make you uncomfortable, just go with someone else.
Make it easy for the lenders
Not to brag (ok, a little), but our loan officer, his assistant, and the underwriters thanked us for being so easy to work with. It probably had to do with the fact that we had excellent credit and that we handed over all necessary paperwork as soon as they asked. We also shopped for homeowner’s insurance well in advance so we were able to let the lenders know who we decided to go with to speed up the closing process. The mortgage process was so smooth we barely thought about it.
Of course, getting a good credit score and having all your paperwork in order isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but by having our financial house in order, we were able to get a pretty good interest rate. We looked at things like our credit report to make sure everything was on the up and up and that we didn’t do things like open a new credit card when we were going through the prequalification process.
Beware home tour exhaustion
Yes, it can be exciting to look at lots of homes — we went to quite a few open homes to look at luxury homes — but all that touring took its toll. All the photos of different homes started looking similar and I forgot which homes I liked when we toured them (some more than once to make sure we really liked it). By the time we looked at the 20th house, my entire family was so tired we felt ready to give up.
Don’t let that happen to you. Buying a home should be an exciting process and not one that turns into a chore. Don’t tour homes that you aren’t serious about, or are out of your price range. Lucky for me, we found a home that both my husband and I loved equally and we got it at the price we also loved — we were under budget!
Hopefully these lessons will help you on your house hunting journey. Good luck!