Buying a house is a very difficult decision – there are large sums of money involved, the transaction costs and hassle of moving mean that you can’t just buy another house if you don’t like the one you end up with, and you don’t have enough information to make a completely informed decision. The best you can do is try to educate yourself in all aspects of the house hunt, keep a clear head and buy a house that fits your situation.
Here are some things for house buyers to be aware of when looking for a new home.
- How far is it from where you work? Can you handle the time/money involved in the commute?
- If you have young kids or are planning to have them – how far from the grandparents from the house? They tend to be the best babysitters.
It’s nice to say “buy within your budget” but that might not realistic. Do a quick budget estimate, look at some houses that you might be interested in and then revise the budget or revise the houses. If you really can’t afford a house then don’t buy one. There is nothing wrong with renting.
3) Know your market
It’s critical that you know the market you are looking in. The asking prices for houses are often not indicative of their true value and the only way to be able to estimate a house value is to look at as many houses as possible. Take notes and find out what they sold for.
4) Don’t trust your real estate agent
I would suggest that most house buyers use an agent but keep in mind that although they may be very competent, their commission structure ensure a huge conflict of interest. Please read this post on why you shouldn’t trust your real estate agent.
5) Don’t end up house poor
Sometimes house buyers “fall in love” with a house or neighborhood or even just the idea of owning a house and they place too high a priority on it. This can lead to regret when the novelty wears off and you don’t have any money to do the things you like to do. Try living for six months on a “pretend” mortgage payment and see how it goes.
6) Take your time
Until recently, many buyers were afraid of missing out on future price gains or being “priced out of the market”. If you are renting and saving as much as you can, then you will be fine. Here are some tips for renters to be able to keep up (or down as the case may be) with their house owning friends. Note – this one isn’t as relevant as it was last year!
7) Make a decision
Previously, I said to look at lots of houses to learn the market. At that point you should be able to purchase a house fairly quickly. If you are looking for the perfect house or trying to time the market then you will never buy a house. I know people who did ten year house searches which is a big waste of time. The reality is that you will be happy with a good percentage of all the houses you look at, so as long as you can eliminate the worst choices then you will be thrilled with your new home.
8) Don’t worry about the down payment
Yes, I know – it sounds pretty shocking in the sub-prime era to suggest that a down payment of less than 20% is acceptable, but in my opinion, the ability to make the mortgage payments is the main factor for affordability. In other words, it’s the size of the mortgage that matters. Of course you can get better rates with a larger down payment so it’s better if you have one, but don’t sweat it if you have a small or zero down payment.
9) Don’t blow your budget on renovations and furniture
Most people end up buying a house that has mortgage payments large enough that the buyers have to “make the payments fit” into their budget. While this is not the best way to buy a house, some of these buyers then make things worse by spending more money on renovations and house decorations. Unless you buy a total wreck of a house, you do not need to spend big bucks on renovations. You can live with the non-granite kitchen counter and the couch set that doesn’t fit the room perfectly. I don’t care if the house has full-on 70’s decor – you can live with it for a year or more until you can fit the extra expense in your budget.
10) Be careful of flip properties
There are people and contractors who will buy a house, fix it up very quickly and turn around and sell it for profit. The problem with these houses is that they tend to look very good on the surface ie nice paint, trim, granite counters etc, but on the inside they are pretty ugly and might have substandard electrical, insulation etc.
If you are interested in one of these houses then make sure they have closed permits and check with the inspector to see if their inspection notes. Better yet, just don’t buy one.
11) Don’t buy the perfect house
If the house is livable and you have a good life, then you will be happy with whatever house you end up buying. If you spend more money on a “better” house, then you will quickly get used to it and will be no happier than if you had bought an “average” house.
My opinion is that it’s just a house. The people inside are what make it special.
Learn as much as you can about real estate, your budget and your local house market, but be prepared for the fact that buying a house is all about compromise, incomplete information and a lot of doubts! If you keep at it however, the odds are very good that you will end up with a home that suits your needs.
10 mistakes I made as a first time home buyer.