5 Tips for the First-Time Home Buyer

Cedar Tree Lane | 5 Tips for the First-Time Home Buyer with FREE House Hunting House Evaluation Worksheet | www.cedartreelane.com

When we started searching for a house last year, we had no idea where to begin. Luckily for us, I love to research and organize. Being the checklist fanatic that I am, I quickly got to work creating must-have lists and spreadsheets to keep track of what we wanted and what we’d seen. But, it wasn’t until after we’d found and closed on our house that we really figured out what we needed to know and what we should have been looking for. It’s easy to get caught up in the search and when you’re 10 houses in, things become a blur. To spare you the trouble and bring a little pretty organization to your hunt, we’re sharing our top five tips AND a free printable!

Hope they help!

1. Budget before you look. (Get pre-approved!)

Initially, we used an online mortgage calculator to try to figure out what we could afford. I was surprised to find that for what we were paying in rent each month, we could actually afford to purchase an updated house in the city (duh, rent in Washington, DC is expensive). The thing is, mortgage companies calculate things differently. What you pay in rent isn’t necessarily what a bank will allow you to take out in a home loan. First lesson learned!

After our first round of house tours and open houses, we contacted a few local mortgage companies and started the ball rolling to get pre-approved. This turned out to be really helpful when one of the houses we were considering had multiple offers. A pre-approval letter makes your offer much more appealing to the seller.

Having a budget going in to the search also helps minimize the chances of you falling in love with something you can’t have. Emotional attachment to a house is real! Feeling at home the minute you walk through the front door is not just something you see on TV – that’s actually the way we felt when we walked into our house for the first time. Spare yourself the heartache!

2. Be patient.

Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of taking your time. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle. Be patient and be ok with looking.

There are SO many houses for sale. If you’re looking, you will find one.

To get an idea of what’s out there in your price range/desired neighborhood, go check some of them out with no expectations. Meaning, don’t wait for the perfect one to show up in your search, if something is in the right neighborhood, within your budget, with the right number of bedrooms and you don’t hate it, go see it!

Why? House hunting is a little like the princess and the frog. Sometimes the descriptions and the photos don’t really do a house justice and other times, they’re misleading.

If you’re just getting started and haven’t found an agent yet, don’t be afraid to check out a few open houses. Open houses are a great way to browse the listings without feeling pressured.

Quick Tip: Download a real estate app (I know, how original!). Most will have a “search my location” type feature so that if you’re ever driving around and see a for-sale sign or think “this neighborhood would be cool” you can quickly do a search and take a peek inside.

Once you’ve seen a few houses IRL (in real life) you’ll discover things you like and don’t like to help you narrow down your search. Which brings us to…

3. Make a wish-list and be realistic (and flexible).

We, with some help from our budget, decided pretty early on that we wanted a fixer-upper. After looking at a few turn-key properties and new builds we quickly realized that getting the look we wanted wouldn’t fit our budget. We also realized that the middle ground didn’t work for us either. We didn’t want a top-of-our-budget “move-in ready” house that wasn’t our style. What we were looking for was something that COULD BE exactly what we wanted without breaking the bank.

This realization changed the way we evaluated houses. Walking in to a house prepared to change anything you don’t like is a whole new ball game.

Our wish list was quickly whittled down to the real must-haves:
  • Updated Kitchen
  • Soaking Tub in Master Bathroom
  • Backyard
  • Two-Levels
  • Space for Office/Playroom
  • Laundry ROOM
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Lots of Light

Even if you’re not looking at/for what you would consider to be a fixer-upper, be open to the idea of making some changes here and there to make an almost perfect house your dream home.

For example, here are some quick and relatively inexpensive changes you can make to any house:

  • Paint Colors (walls, cabinets, siding, doors, trim, you name it!)
  • Carpet (have it deep cleaned, replace it with new carpet, replace it with any other kind of flooring you prefer)
  • Appliances (save up to change them out later or budget to change them out over time)
  • Lighting (changing out older fixers can instantly make a space look more modern, farmhouse, industrial, or whatever else fits YOUR style)
  • Hardware (door knobs, cabinet knobs/pulls, faucets, shower heads – can all be changed)
  • Overgrown Foliage (you can get rid of/replace plants, shrubs and trees yourself or hire a landscaping company to clean up the property)

Finally, make sure your list includes things you can’t change about the house. For example, commute or school district.

4. Take notes and photos of each home.

Because you’ll have so many options (positive thinking!), you’ll want to make sure you keep track of the houses you’re considering. Taking notes and photos when you view the house will help keep everything fresh when it comes time to weigh your options.

Things can start to blur together after a while, especially if you’re looking at multiple houses in one day and/or spreading your search over a few months worth of weekends.

Your notes don’t have to be crazy detailed. Just enough to jog your memory and remind you what was great (or not so great) about each house.

As far as photos, most listings have a good amount of photos that cover the key areas to give you an idea of the house, but I like to snap photos of cool details – things that make that house unique, special. The photos you take might help you make a final decision if you’ve narrowed it down to two houses and can’t decide.

To make things a little easier for you, we put together a little worksheet that you can use. Just download and print and you’re ready to go!

5. Take your inspection with a grain of salt.

Unless you’re buying a new build, you should always go for an inspection. Depending on the offer you put in, you can have repairs made or credits offered by the seller if something comes up in the inspection. The inspection will give you an overview of the condition of the house and all the major systems.

Even so, don’t think that the inspection is the be all and end all. There are things that the inspector won’t be able to test or won’t see; issues that might come up down the road when you own the house. That’s normal. Welcome to home ownership!

For example, if you’re house hunting in the winter and the house is vacant, the house may be winterized. That means in order for the inspector to test the plumbing/water, you’ll need to have the seller turn the water on before your inspection. The inspector also might not be able to check the A/C if the temperature outside is below a certain temperature. Again, just some things to keep in mind so that you’re not surprised.

The inspection is great for getting an idea of the big things (like the roof, the foundation, things being to building code, etc). The inspector is not going to bust open walls and check the pipes or the electrical wiring. Since you don’t own the house yet, the inspector has to leave the house in the condition that he/she finds it.

As first time home owners, there were so many things that we didn’t think of/consider could be issues. We didn’t discover some of these things until we started renovating the house. Not to mention, the things we learned once we were actually living in the house.

Something will probably come up during the course of your owning the house. It’s a little overwhelming the first time something big comes up and you can’t call your landlord/leasing company but you have what it takes and you will figure it out.

So get out there and find your home sweet home!


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