35 Easy Tips for Finding that First Place to Put Down Roots

Trista - September 25, 2019

There is a certain amount of pride and satisfaction that comes with homeownership. Everyone dreams of the day that they have a home to call their own. We have seen countless movies where the realtor drops the sparkling golden key into the new homeowner’s hand, and the couple crosses the threshold of their dream home in a state of sheer bliss.

Unfortunately, too many people get lulled into the fantasy and aren’t prepared for the real work that it takes to buy a home. We’ve put together some tips and tricks to help first-time buyers make their dreams of homeownership come true. With the help of these guidelines and some experts in the field, you too can experience the satisfaction of being the owner of your own home.

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1. Get focused on your finances

Everyone knows that houses cost money. But how much money? It is imperative that you become keenly aware of how much money you have saved, your debt to income ratio, and what expenses you may incur before, during, and after the purchase of your new home.

Knowing how much you have and how much you need to put aside will help you secure a better loan and will make the transition from renter to the homeowner a smooth and enjoyable process.

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2. Find a real estate agent

Finding the right agent can make or break your home buying experience. It would be best if you found someone who is experienced in the market that you are interested in. Don’t search for a bungalow with someone who buys million-dollar properties.

Make sure that your personalities match. You will be working with this person very carefully and need to know that they have your best interest at heart.

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3. Get pre-approved by a lender

After you have shopped around for a lender that makes you feel comfortable, get a pre-approval letter. This is a document that tells potential sellers that you can afford the home when you put in an offer.

Remember that you should use this number as a guideline when looking for homes. Don’t search for a home at the highest end of your pre-approved amount. Just like anything else, use it as a tool to help you make the decision that is right for you.

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4. Line up the end of your lease

If you are renting, you will need to consider when your current contract ends and use that as a timeline when you begin looking for homes. Leave ample time to search, negotiate, inspect, and purchase the home.

You can also talk to your landlord and ask about a month to month rate at the end of your lease. If you have a long time left on your contract, you can always ask about subletting your apartment. Know before you go so that you do not get stuck paying two monthly notes.

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5. Determine your budget

Sit down and look at your pre-approval letter. This is a good indicator of how much you can spend on a house. However, there are many other things to consider when you work your budget. HOA fees? Emergency repairs? Lawn maintenance? Higher electricity bills?

Talk to someone who already owns a home and finds out from them about how much they average in bills. You will find that there are bills that come with owning a home that you have never even heard of! Planning ahead and being prepared will help you to get a more clear picture of how much you can afford to spend on a home.

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6. Know your credit score

Do you know what you score is? Your credit score can either send lenders fleeing from you in fear or fighting for your business, Think of your credit score as your first impression. Knowing your score allows you to take charge of your financial future.

If it is not where you want it to be, you still have time to polish it up. If you are rocking the 700’s then sit back and let those offers roll in!

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7. Get your credit in good standing

Building your credit and maintaining a high score is an art form. This is something that you should work on for years before buying a house. However, if you did not work on this ahead of time, there are still things you can do to improve your credit score.

Many credit monitoring sites will often give you suggestions on how to improve a lackluster score. Knowing which accounts to close and which ones to pay off first can give you a leg up when it comes to making your credit shine.

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8. Pay off your debt

Speaking of credit, do you still owe $50 to a random magazine subscription company that you opened in college? Pay it off! You want your overall debt to income ratio to be as favorable as possible. Look into your mortgage and see what you can eliminate.

Budgeting extra to pay things down early will help you as you try to show the lender that you are fiscally responsible. There are many resources out there to help you systematically and responsibly pay off debt while increasing your credit score.

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9. Have an emergency fund

In addition to paying off debt, it is a best practice to have extra money put aside. We are not talking about the additional $100 tucked away in your sock drawer. You need to have a sizeable emergency fund before you own a house.

Consider extensive repairs like air conditioners and furnaces, flooding, or roof damage. These things come on fast, and they show no mercy to your checkbook. Having a financial cushion can save you from going broke once you take on a mortgage.

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10. Prioritize your spending

Once you have figured out your budget, try living for a few months within the parameters you set. This means that there will be a lot less going out to dinner and a lot more watching your wallet.

Living on your revised budget without the commitment of a house purchase is an excellent way to help you decide if you are ready to take on such a considerable investment. Tracking your spending on an app or a spreadsheet helps you to see where your money is going. Once you see the places where the money is being wasted, you can make the necessary changes and have more money in your budget for your new home.

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11. Determine how much you can afford

What you are pre-approved for and what you can afford are two very different things in the housing market. If you go to a store with $20, you cannot buy a shirt that costs $20 because you need to pay taxes.

Home buying follows the same principles. Just because you are pre-approved for $300,000 does not mean you should look for a house that sots $300,000. There are way too many other factors that will determine how much you pay monthly for the next 30 years. Be realistic in your search and stay within your budget.

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12. Explore down payment and mortgage options

There are so many ways that you can purchase a house. You can get loans with 20% down or 0% down. You can have a 30-year mortgage or a 15-year mortgage. Mortgages come in all shapes in sizes. There are balloon options, locked rate options, and variable rate plans.

The only way for you to know what is right for you and your financial future is to talk to your lender and discover what options are out there. Ask questions, and get as much information as possible. Remember, you are making a considerable investment, and knowledge is power.

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13. See if you qualify for any assistance programs

There are countless first-time buyer programs out there. Many lenders offer special rates and grants for first-timers, and you need to look for them.

Military and other discounts can sometimes be found when working with specific lenders and institutions. Just like with anything else in life, you will never know until you ask!

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14. Think about the future

The future is not that far away. When you buy a home, you need to think long term. Consider what might change in your life in the next five years. For most people, their first home is not their forever home, but it is a starter home. Your family might grow a little, and your tastes might change.

Considering changes in your job, your relationship status, and a possible growing family are all things that will help you to find what’s right for you. Remember, do not buy a big house for a family you do not have yet. Start smaller and save up for the home you want to raise your children in.

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15. Make a list of your wants

Sit down and make a list of the things you want in a home. Do you like an open concept? Have you always wanted a laundry chute? You will start to notice things in other people’s houses that you like as well. Write those things down and bring that list when you go look at homes.

Also, take note of non-negotiable things. If the thought of bringing your laundry up and down the stairs is enough to make you head for the hills, then your real estate agent will know not to spend any time showing you two-story houses. Sharing your list with your agent is a useful guide for them as well. Knowing what you desire will help guide your search.

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16. Search on your own

Now that you have some ideas about what you are looking for, you can go out and look for houses on your own. Drive through desired areas often as new homes are always being put up for sale. Please write down the neighborhoods that give you a good feeling as you drive through them.

Driving through unfamiliar areas is also a good idea. Sometimes neighborhoods that you didn’t even know existed are hidden gems right there in your town. You do not need an agent to go to an open house-just walk in and look around! Explore the many homes that are out there and enjoy the scenery.

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17. Visit the area often

Once you have found the area that you want to live in, be sure to drive through it frequently. See what is going on before work, after school, in the evenings, and on weekends. Keep an eye out and see if the neighborhood is kept clean and the houses are well maintained.

Check online for crime stats and check the sex offender registry. You are going to be there for a while. Make sure that the people who will surround you have the same standards of living that you do.

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18. Practice the commute

Sometimes a new neighborhood comes with new traffic problems. Knowing how the commute to and from your job and your favorite places to go can be an essential deciding factor in your purchase. Check local traffic on apps or get up early and make the drive.

Try leaving work and driving to the new house to see if it is something you can deal with for the long haul.

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19. Identify the school district

While this may not be your forever home, you need to know about the surrounding area. We all know the importance of location. One factor to consider is the schools in the area. Are the schools that you would want your children to attend? Are the schools so close to your home that carpool and foot traffic becomes an issue?

Even if you are a swinging single right now, you might have a family of your own in the next few years, and you want to be sure that Junior gets the best education your city has to offer right there in his own backyard.

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20. Attend open houses

Open houses are a great way to guide you as you search for your home. Use them as an opportunity to look for things that you like or dislike in a home. Open houses allow you to see the floorplan of a house, to feel it’s flow, and to get a general sense of it’s indoor and outdoor aesthetic.

You can also find out about the average cost of insurance and taxes in the area while you are there. Your agent can set up private tours of homes, but do not be afraid to go to open houses on your own or with a friend. Don’t feel pressured by the home’s agent either. Make it clear that someone already represents you. Ask them questions and gather as much information as you can. If you like it, take a flier or snap a picture of the house with the address before you leave.

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21. Research flood zones

If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, you need to know which zones have the highest premiums. Some fields are known to have more flooding and less drainage than others. You need to see if you are planning to buy in one of these areas.

While you may get an estimate of flood insurance premiums from your lender, the rates are variable year to year, and that is a factor that needs to be considered. Higher and drier properties are less likely to leave you high and dry financially if the floodwaters come your way.

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22. Give the house a thorough inspection

Once you have found “the one,” your real estate agent will encourage you to get an inspection. Do not skimp on this inspection. The job of the home inspector is to find anything that may be wrong with the home. There, of course, is a fee associated with this. The cost of the inspection is nothing compared to the price of undiscovered termite damage or electrical and structural issues.

If the inspector finds problems, these repairs can be negotiated during the contract time. If he considers issues that are just too expensive or too much of a challenge to deal with, do not be afraid to walk away from it. So you lost a few hundred bucks? It is better than buying a money pit that you will hate later down the road.

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23. Save for post move in expenses

Once you are all moved in, you might notice some things that your new house needs. Suddenly you realize that those beautiful windows need blinds…all18 of them! There are many costs that you will incur when you move into your house.

This is not what your emergency fund is for. You need to have money saved up for the decor, window treatments, furnishings, and more. It is not until you leave your apartment that you realize you now have a lot more rooms to decorate than you did before!

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24. Understand what your homeowner’s insurance covers and what the best plan is for you

Homeowners insurance is an essential purchase. After all, everything you own is in your house. Your home is probably the most substantial investment you will ever make, and you need to protect it. You should shop around for different plans, check coverage options, and understand your deductibles.

It is essential to know exactly what is and is not covered by your plan. Fire? Wind? Hail? Acts of God? Don’t forget private mortgage insurance if you owe more than 80% of the value of your home. Being informed about discounts for burglar alarms and the cost of having a pool on the property all significantly affect your insurance rates.

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25. Don’t get emotionally attached

After looking at what feels like one million houses, you find one that you think is great. It might even be better than great. Suddenly you get attached to it, and you can only focus on that one house. This causes you to put blinders on and ignore the problems that may arise, like a high price tag or issues during inspections.

It is easy to get attached and end up making a mistake that will haunt you for 30 years. Put your feelings aside and look at a house as an investment. You should love the home that you buy, but save the emotional attachment until you have checked it against your financial plans and thorough inspection.

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26. Be prepared to act quickly

Sometimes the right house comes up, and there are already offers on the table. Your agent might tell you that you need to put in an offer soon or you might miss your chance. This can be a frustrating part of the real estate buying process.

No one likes to be rushed to make a decision, especially a life-changing one. However, if you have taken the necessary steps to prepare yourself, this decision might not be so challenging if you are put in that situation.

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27. Be prepared to wait

On the other hand, sometimes you have to wait. During the home buying process, you are always waiting on lenders, insurance companies, counteroffers, and so on. Buying a house is a process, and it takes time.

Someone will still need another document and another 24 hours to get done what needs to be done. Be patient. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

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28. Communicate clearly with your agent

Your agent is your representative in the market. If you do not take the time to communicate clearly what your wants and needs are, they cannot serve you properly. They work with the lenders and the sellers to help you get your new home at a fair price.

However, if they do not know exactly what you want and how much you are willing to spend, then they cannot help you. Together, with clear expectations and a mutual understanding, you can get the house that is best for you and they can have another happy client.

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29. Let your agent walk you through the process

Letting your agent know that you are a first-time homebuyer is a considerable advantage. Armed with that knowledge, they can lead you towards programs and incentives that can help you.

It also makes them aware that you are new to the process and lets them know that they will need to be thorough in explaining how each step works. They are here to help you and make sure that you are evident every step of the way. Never be afraid to ask for clarification or an in-depth explanation.

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30. Ask questions

Agents and lenders use much lingo like PMI and FHA. If these acronyms make you say WTH then you need to ask questions. There are many intricate details and processes involved in home buying. Stop and ask if you do not understand something.

It is vital, especially in financial matters, that you are clear about precisely what you are agreeing to, signing, and paying for. Your agent will guide you through it and answer any questions you have.

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31. Get a second opinion

Let’s say you see a house and you love it. You then become attached and begin to dream about your future in the house. This is an excellent time to get a second opinion.

Grab a friend or family member that you trust and take them to the house with you. Ask them to play devil’s advocate. Sometimes it is easier to see problems when you are looking through someone else’s eyes.

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32. Know what living expenses you will incur after you move in

The electricity bill in an 840 square foot apartment is vastly different from the bill for a 1700 square foot house. You need to know what bills you will have as a homeowner. Quite often apartments charge utilities as part of the rent.

As a homeowner, you will need to pay water/sewer, trash pick up, gas, electricity, cable/internet, taxes, and many other things that your parents didn’t tell you about! Talk to other homeowners and discuss with them about how much their utilities cost them a month. Use these estimates when you are figuring a monthly budget and setting an ideal price range for your new home.

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33. Be honest about what home repair you can do on your own

Let’s assume that you see a house that you like, but it needs a little work. You think to yourself, “I bet I can fix that.” Can you repair it? Do you have the skills and tools? Alternatively, will it add to the already large budget of after moving expenses?

Looking at things you want to change is a great idea. However, be realistic with what you want to change and what you can afford to replace. After all, just because we watch HGTV does not mean we can do what they do!

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34. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Negotiation is part of the sale process. You will have the opportunity to offer a price and receive a counter offer. You can ask the seller to include warranties, pay closing costs, and take care of some repair.

A motivated seller will always be willing to negotiate, and a seasoned agent can help you to settle in a way that will help you win in the end.

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35. Don’t let the stress get you down

This can be a very frustrating time. You are endlessly searching for and visiting homes, dredging up lots of paperwork, and continually calling people to get things lined up. Sometimes you wonder if it is all going to be worth it.

Know that it will be worth it when you get the keys to something that is truly yours. Remember that your first home is something that you will always remember and the trials that led to it will fade away in your memory. Who has pictures of themselves faxing forms to a real estate agent? No one. Who has a picture of themselves in front of their first house? Everyone does, and you will too!

The most important thing that you can do is enjoy the moments. Yes, a lot of time and effort and money will go into it. However, the payout will be fantastic when you step into your own home knowing that you did everything right.