Buying your first home involves a financial commitment that’ll include the largest outpouring of money you’ll experience and a personal resolve to assume the responsibility of maintaining a house. Before you shop for your first home, prepare yourselves financially and emotionally.
Assess your lifestyle. Think about whether you're prepared to live in a house for at least ten years, or if you have enough cash for the down payment and closing costs or whether you have back-up funds in case of a job loss or other financial impediment. If you're ready to make the commitment, you’re ready to meet with a mortgage lender who’ll screen your financial situation and give you a preapproval, indicating how much money you qualify to borrow.
Get your financial life in order before speaking with a lender to get pre-qualified for a loan. Pay down credit cards to at least 25 percent of the loan limits. Have two years’ bank statements and income tax forms, pay stubs and salary verification available to show the lender. Don’t buy anything requiring a credit check. Ask the lender about first time homebuyer programs and assistance, especially for government-backed loans. Ask what his fees are for obtaining financing for your loan as you’re not obligated to use any specific lender. Don’t be shy about asking questions if there’s a topic you don’t understand -- you are the customer and are in control of the transaction.
Shop for a home that’s larger than you need if having children is in your future, as living in a home for many years is suggested in order to grow your investment. Find a community or location that satisfies your requirements regarding commuting time, amenities, services, schools and future growth. Make lists of what you must have in a home and what you’d like. Compromise and expand your search to several areas if none fit all your requirements.
Understand your market. Research online and read local publications, especially the real estate sections, to gain knowledge about home prices in the areas you’ve selected. Question the number of foreclosures, short sales and fair market sales that drive the markets. Examine the owner-occupied versus rental percentages in communities that interest you to establish neighborhood trends.
Hire a buyer’s real estate agent if you’re interested in purchasing a short sale, since these transactions can be complicated and lengthy. Do not pay the agent, as this is a seller's obligation.
Look at homes that have been foreclosed on or are in a short-sale position only if you are prepared to invest in remodeling, replacing appliances or general fix-up remediation; otherwise consider only fair-market listings. Visit open houses, but be sure to sign in and to indicate that you’re working with a real estate agent even though she’s not with you. Be loyal to the person you’ve asked to work for you.
Make an offer based on the comparative market analysis your agent has prepared for you. Don’t low-ball the seller and expect to get a response, especially if you’re trying to buy a short sale or foreclosure. Order a home inspection immediately and use it as a guide to whether you want the home or not, or negotiate with the seller for repairs. Buy smart, not with emotion.