I must admit that before starting my own home-buying journey, I always imagined that the decision to buy my first house would go something like it does in movies or on television. I would reach a certain age or milestone in life and voila, the need to buy a home would be clear as day.
In reality, not only does this moment of clarity not exist, but the decision to buy a house is also not contingent upon any particular event or timeline. One of the side effects of not learning how to budget early on was not knowing for certain when I could buy a home. As a result, I spent several years living in an apartment and paying ever-increasing rent when I could have been working toward paying off a home of my own.
Once that realization set in, buying a home became a matter of finding what I was looking for in the location I wanted for the cost I could afford. It might sound like a tall order, but breaking down the home buying process into smaller pieces can make it much less scary.
Lessons I learned as a first-time home buyer.
Home buying can feel like a wide open ocean. Finding ways to focus your search is key.
Lesson 1: My realtor is the single best choice I made. There are many ways to approach buying a home. From the start, I knew that I needed help from a pro. My realtor worked with my best interests in mind, helping me narrow down the seemingly endless sea of options. This not only saved me the time and headaches that are often associated with home buying, but my realtor also knew exactly what to look for in a potential home, what the red flags were, and if the costs were comparable with the houses.
Lesson 2: There’s more to location than, well, location. I always imagined that deciding where I wanted to live was a matter of pointing to a spot on the map. In reality, there’s a lot more to choosing the right location than meets the eye. Property taxes, accessibility, lifestyle and more come into play when deciding where you want to live. My realtor knew these details going into each showing (another reason why my realtor was lesson #1).
Lesson 3: There is a difference between want-to-have and need-to-have. When the first home I saw had a double oven, I was convinced that it was the home for me. I was even willing to overlook some serious issues just to score that bonus oven. After going on a few more showings, I started to refine my list of must-haves until it defined whether or not I would see the house. For example, if three bedrooms is on your list of must-haves, you may want to rethink touring a single bedroom home, unless of course, you are looking to renovate. If you don’t plan to need a car, then you might want to narrow your search to walking distance of public transportation.
Lesson 4: Mortgages are not one-size-fits-all. Just like the houses you see are not all the same, neither are the strategies for paying for them. There are several ways to approach your mortgage so that it works best for you, from deciding on the down payment to understanding the other costs involved. I also learned about programs available to first-time home buyers.
Finding the home of your dreams, whether it’s your first house or you’re a home buying pro, can be within reach. Narrowing down your search, working with someone you trust, refining your must-have list and identifying the mortgage that fits your needs can make your dream a reality.