Buying a home can be an anxiety-ridden process for anyone, but more so for first time homebuyers. I have experience in this area and can help you navigate this often stressful process.
And even though you don’t want to scare yourself away from the entire process, you still need to be wary of falling into a few common traps that first-time buyers generally don’t avoid. If you’re aware of these five potential mistakes — and able to keep yourself from making them — then you’ll be saving yourself some significant stress on your home buying journey.
MISTAKE NO. 1: NOT UNDERSTANDING YOUR DOWN PAYMENT OPTIONS
The biggest headache for so many first-time buyers is the down payment. If you’ve ever bought a car, then you’re probably familiar with the concept — it’s money that you contribute to the total cost of the purchase.
A down payment of just a couple thousand dollars can get you a head start on your car. If you don’t have a certain amount to put down on your home loan, however, you might find yourself paying private mortgage insurance (PMI) on the lifetime of the loan. Depending on your credit score, the bank and other factors, PMI could cost between 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the total loan amount.
Most banks require at least a 20 percent down payment before they will waive the need for PMI on the loan so if you don’t have that amount to put down, be sure you can cover the cost of monthly PMI.
However, there are loans that allow you to put as little as 3 percent down on the home ($6,000 for a $200,000 home), which is much more reasonable for a first-time buyer. There are even government backed 0% down loans for qualified first time homebuyers – these are based on your income level, credit score and other factors which can qualify you for free money to wrap into your downpayment. And veterans could be eligible for zero-down loan programs with no PMI through the Veterans Administration (VA) loan program, so that’s something else to think about. I can help direct you to some great local banks that can discuss all of the available loan programs with you.
MISTAKE NO. 2: NOT GETTING PREQUALIFIED FOR A LOAN
Between the amount of money you plan to put down on the home, the potential PMI and other cost factors, your monthly cost could be significantly more (or possibly less) than some of those calculators will show you online.
So before you trust those “estimated monthly mortgage loan amount” numbers on Realtor.com, Zillow or a brokerage website, it pays to figure out what you can actually afford — and that means getting prequalified for a home loan.
This means you will need to talk to a mortgage loan officer and submit documentation, from your monthly pay stub to your credit score, in order for that loan officer to tell you how much money you can get for your home loan. It’s a little bit painful, but the prequalification letter you’ll get as a result is much more credible than a quick qualification you can pull up on an app — and that means sellers will take it more seriously when it comes time to put in an offer. I can’t stress this enough – I’ve seen sellers only accept offers from those with a prequalification letter in hand because they don’t want to take their home off the market for someone who didn’t go get preapproved. You’ll have to qualify for a loan eventually anyway, so why not get the painful part out of the way?
Mistake No. 3: Not finding a qualified real estate professional
It’s so easy to find homes online these days that you may wonder why a real estate professional is even necessary. After all, isn’t the hard part — finding the place you want to buy — something you can do yourself?
Well, maybe. But the process of buying and selling a home is filled with 100’s of details that need to be planned for and navigated to a successful outcome. Not to mention areas with competitive markets where you’re probably not seeing the most updated listings — that home you just fell in love with online might be under contract before you can set up a time to tour it.
Not only can I make sure you have access to listings the day they hit the MLS, but I can provide expertise on the area where that home is located. Many buyers don’t know what’s going on in an area when they begin their search? Is there a major landfill planned, what about a new housing development? I keep myself apprised of what’s happening in the local towns and will pass that important information on to you. I recently worked with some buyers who weren’t aware of a new housing complex going in just 50 feet from the driveway of the home they were looking at. My information and their review of the proposed development plans at the Town helped them decide that wasn’t for them. Months later they were thrilled they had that information when the huge project started and those new owners are going to be dealing with it for the next 18 months.
A real estate professional is an invaluable resource.
MISTAKE NO. 4: NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT’S FIXABLE AND WHAT’S A DEAL-BREAKER IN THAT HOME INSPECTION
Those kitchen cabinets are hideous, and you can’t imagine how anyone can fit into that tiny bathtub.
Are those annoyances that can be fixed or deal-breakers that mean you should pass on the property entirely?
This is another area where a good real estate agent can help. We see so many houses in various stages of repair and updating that we can point out the major items that are concerning and what is just cosmetic that. I can also give you an idea of what’s likely to come up as not up to code (obviously a home inspection is always recommended by a professional and this can help us formulate what your offer will be.
In markets where entry-level homes are getting snatched up as soon as they hit the market, knowing what’s acceptable and what you just can’t take is a huge advantage — it’ll help you make a decision, with confidence, on the fly.
None of these mistakes will keep you from buying a home of your own — but they could delay the process and cost you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars at the end of the day. But if you’re able to avoid them, you’ll be signing the closing papers on your dream home before you know it!