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Sure, buying a house can be confusing, overwhelming and make you feel totally broke at the end, but it can also be pretty liberating. (No landlord, for starters.) From finding the best agent to making it through a bidding war, here are 13 things we wish we’d known about taking the plunge into home ownership.
Get Pre-Approved First
You might be tempted to start hitting open houses every Sunday, but before you begin your search, get pre-approved for a mortgage. Otherwise, you’re likely to fall in love with a place before you’re prepared to put a serious offer in on it. Ask around for recommendations on trustworthy mortgage brokers, then set up a time to talk to each one. If they won’t give you concrete info about their fees or start advising you before fully understanding your financial situation, keep looking. Ultimately, a good broker will save you time and money by researching loan terms and rates from several different lenders.
Work with an Experienced Agent
Sifting through online listings is a great start, but don’t underestimate the value of working with an experienced agent. They’ll help you navigate the often-confusing process of buying a home, and once you find a place you love, they’ll research comparable listings, advise you on your opening offer and negotiate on your behalf. To find the best one, make a short list of possible agents based on word of mouth recommendations, then meet with them to get a feel for their personality and their knowledge on the neighborhoods you’re considering. New to the home buying process? Stick with a buyer’s agent -- they’ll negotiate for you, point out any defects with the house that they see, and nip potential issues in the bud whenever possible. Bottom line: they have your best interest at heart. Plus, the seller nearly always covers the buyer agent’s fee, so it’s practically free for you.
Don’t Be Turned Off by an Ugly Bathroom
It happens all the time: a funky paint color or questionable design choice can cause a buyer to overlook a home that’s otherwise brimming with potential. Remember, cosmetic changes are easy to make once you move in. Instead, pay more attention to the layout of the property, the views, the amount of sunlight rooms get, ceiling height, outdoor space and location.
Bigger and Newer Aren’t Always Better
If you're going to blow your budget on a big house, keep in mind you'll also need to decorate it -- which can cost lots of time and money. New construction isn’t always the way to go either, since homes are often built quickly with not-the-best materials. Look for signs of quality construction and materials in these homes, especially in the kitchen and bathroom.
Research the Schools in Your District
If you plan to stay in this house for a while, do your homework on the nearby schools. Even if you don't have kids, buying in a good school district will help boost your property value when you’re ready to sell.
Find Out About Your Neighbors
Once you find a home you love, research the people you'll be living around. Talk to other people on the street and see what you can find out. It also helps to visit the neighborhood at different times of the day, so you get a better feel of what life there is really like.
Be Prepared to Move Fast
Many properties receive multiple offers after the first open house and if you don’t act fast enough, you might miss the chance to throw your bid into the ring. Include your pre-approval letter in the offer so the seller knows you’re serious. If there’s lots of interest in the home, write a letter to the seller explaining why you’d be the best next owner -- a personal connection can work wonders. If competition is really fierce, consider foregoing your mortgage contingency. It’s risky, so only do it as a last resort and only if you can afford the home on your own, or with the help of a generous family member, should your financing not come through
Be Careful About Overbidding
If you plan on financing your home and get caught in a bidding war, beware that overbidding can come back to haunt you. The bank will require an appraisal of the home, and if it comes in under the amount of the loan you need, you might have to make up the difference in order to close the deal. Before you make a bid, research comparable listings or ask your real estate agent for advice. If you have the means, consider increasing your down payment instead of going up higher in price. Cash is king, so putting more money down is usually an effective way to give your offer an edge on the competition. A good rule of thumb whether you’re looking for the best loan, the right home or a great mortgage broker? Follow the “rule of threes.” Compare at least three of each before making a final decision.
You’ll Be Responsible for a Ton of Paperwork
Anyone who’s been through this can tell you: buying a home is a totally exhausting -- and invasive -- process. When you’re applying for your loan, be ready to provide a ton of paperwork, including tax returns, pay stubs and proof of your current assets. It’s also not the best time to switch jobs or rack up a lot of debt with any big purchases, since your income and credit will be closely scrutinized.
Hire an Inspector
Protect yourself from a Money Pit-type scenario by hiring a professional inspector or engineer to look over the home before you sign on the dotted line. Their inspection will help expose potential problems that could cause you a lot of grief and a ton of money down the road.
You’ll Feel Like You’re Hemorrhaging Money
You’ll be surprised by how quickly costs add up. Besides the down payment, there’s the deposit, appraisal, inspection, attorney and moving -- just to name a few expenses. Plus, you’ll need extra money in the bank, since most lenders want you to have enough to cover at least two house payments after closing. Go over all of the closing costs with your attorney to avoid sticker shock. Keep Saving – Even After You Close. Renters have the luxury of calling a super to fix the leaky faucet -- a homeowner doesn’t. As important as it is to save before you buy your first place, it’s just as crucial to continue sock away money after you move in, since you’ll be responsible for anything that breaks.
You’ll Think It Will Never Happen
Let’s be honest, buying a home isn’t for the faint of heart. Finding the right place takes time, and once you find it, you can easily get outbid. Just remember that new inventory is always coming onto the market and, eventually, you’ll find something you love.
Lia Wiedemann is a freelance writer and real estate agent at Garfield Realty in Brooklyn, N.Y.