Buying your first home can be thrilling – and frightening as well, as it's among the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make. It's not something to entertain lightly, as so many things need to be considered before choosing a place to call your own.
There are aesthetics of course – nobody wants to live in an ugly home, but equally important is the old real estate mantra “location, location, location”. It's recommended to think ahead for at least five to seven years when choosing your home.
For example, think about your current family size, how it may change in the future, how close you will be to work, the quality of the schools in the area and any other amenities that are important to you and/or your family.
Your financial future may be negatively impacted if you sell too soon or at the wrong time, so it's important to be very clear on your plans for this home.
The first thing you'll need to do, before home shopping is to get all of your ducks in a row. Run your credit report to see where you stand, and make the effort to clear up any “dings”. Have good credit added as well if it's not there.
Get in touch with either a mortgage broker or a specific lender (your existing bank is a good place to start) and get pre-approved – this adds tremendous negotiating power when you do. Make certain that they give you a pre-approval rather than a pre-qualification. The first pretty much “guarantees” that you can have the funds, as the loan officer has run your credit, reviewed your income and debt and qualified you for a loan program, whereas the other basically states that you can afford “x” loan amount.
Remember – be frugal with your credit since every lender will want to run your report which can lower your credit score. If your credit is “iffy” a mortgage broker might be a good place to start as she has access to many different loan programs (through a number of different lenders) and she will only need to pull your credit once.
Once you've been pre-approved, the fun can start. Searching for a home can be fun, and if you've been home shopping while waiting for your pre-approval (which is a good idea), you may already have your eye on one or more homes.
If you don't have the time or desire to house hunt on your own, give a list of your written needs and desires along with a copy of your pre-approval to a buyer's agent. She will have a large network which she can tap to find the perfect home for you.
Above all, however, it would be wise to consider the recent difficulties that many homeowners found themselves in. Certainly their home values dropping was not their fault, however many people did buy well above their true affordability level. Take a cue from their mistake and don't buy the maximum home you qualify for. Start small and work your way into a larger home over time as you build equity slowly, the way that families have done for decades.
When you've found a home you're interested in, drop by at different times to take note of traffic, noisy neighbors or anything that seems unusual or different.
If an opportunity opens up for you to talk to any neighbors, do so. Many of them love to talk and it always pays to listen.
Amenities and schools are highly rated among home buyers. Unless you absolutely know you'll be living there for 30 years, consider the resale factor when buying your home.