- Save Some Cash
This one’s kind of a no-brainer… you obviously need to save some money for your down payment, but not everyone takes into consideration their closing costs, cost to move all your stuff, and extra cash to buy all the fun stuff you’ll want to put in your new house.
Closing costs can amount to 1-3% of your purchase price, although these can sometimes be worked into your loan payments or even negotiated into the deal (the seller might agree to pay some or all of your costs!). No one wants to get to the pressure point a few days before closing, only to realize they will need to drain their bank account to close, or worse, might not close at all.
- Watch the Market for 3-6 Months Before Buying
You might already be doing this, because you’re so excited to be a homeowner one day! But instead of just looking at all the HGTV-worthy listings, have your agent set you up on a very narrow search, as well as a broad one, so you can get a sense for what’s going on in your market.
Set a specific search so you can start to get a realistic idea of what your dream house actually would cost – and, so you can be prepared for the type of house you can afford.
As for your broad search, use this to monitor neighborhoods you should be shopping in – or avoiding. If you spy a neighborhood with a lot of listings, it could indicate a favorable location to be a buyer (tons of inventory = better deals), or it could mean there’s a problem in the community.
If you know exactly what type of home and location you want, ask your agent to send you some information on recently closed sales. You’ll want to know the stats on price per square foot, number of days on the market, and sales prices compared to list prices. Knowledge is power – and will help you structure the best deal possible.
- Talk to a Lender and Get Pre-Approved
Many buyers wait until the last minute to start this process, but it’s actually easy to do, and will certainly pay off in the long run. Your agent can give you a list of small, local lenders (probably my #1 piece of advice to buyers). Stay away from big banks! They are NOT incentivized to get your deal done, and rarely are able or willing to think outside the box.
There are several reasons why you should have a conversation with a lender before seeing a single home in person. First, you want to make sure you’re shopping responsibly. Online calculators are often structured to give you confidence about your financial ability to purchase a home – and, by design, usually have some lender ads right next to them in the margin! Countless factors go into the amount you actually pay per month. You’ll want to talk with your lender to see if you can afford what you think you can. You might even be able to afford more!
Also, if you’re in a seller’s market (like we are here in Palm Beach County), no seller will even consider your offer without a pre-qualification or pre-approval letter from a lender. (What’s the difference? I found this great article that explains it all: https://www.thetruthaboutmortgage.com/pre-qualification-vs-pre-approval/). Even in a buyer’s market, it will make your offer much stronger if you can show the seller that you’ve started the process, done your due diligence, and are serious about buying their home.
- Find an Agent Who Will Protect You
Shameless plug alert!!! But seriously – a great agent is such an undervalued resource, and I don’t just say that because it’s what I do for a living. We are in a digital era where nearly 100% of buyers see the home they end up buying online first. Sure, you might need more expert guidance or a highly-refined search only found on the Realtor-only MLS (don’t get me started on the glaring inaccuracies of Zillow, Trulia, et al.). Even negotiations lean as much on statistics as they do a solid negotiating strategy.
But our true value comes out in what we call “contract to close”. Our main job is to find you the best deal possible, while protecting your assets, especially your deposit on the home. Many things can trip up a deal and cause you to lose your deposit – including timelines related to inspection, financing, sale of your current home (if you have one), and more.
And, you want this house (obviously!). We want to make sure you get it (responsibly), and never find yourself in a position to lose the house. Your agent will make sure that once you’re under contract, you take all the right steps, at the right times, towards buying that home (and filling it with all your new stuff!).
Pro tip: ALWAYS bring your agent to an open house, or if you go alone, let the host know that you’re working with a great agent already. The seller’s agent sees a solo shopper as a juicy double commission, and might do whatever it takes (often at your expense) to get you to buy the house. Your agent will make sure that whatever offer you make is in YOUR best interest!
- Get The Inspections, and Get Educated
You’ll probably have a period of time after you go under contract where you can have the home inspected for any physical problems. You should never waive the opportunity for an inspection. Keep in mind, no home you ever buy will be absolutely perfect and free from any flaws whatsoever – not even a new construction home. But, you’ll want to know what you’re getting yourself into.
The home will likely need some minor electrical or plumbing repairs – and personally, I don’t think this is worth haggling with the seller over. However, if the roof is about to fall apart, the bathtub is hiding some mold, and the air conditioner is inoperable, you might want to go back to the negotiating table with the seller – or maybe even walk away from the deal, if the repairs are more than you’re prepared to handle.
Every situation is different, but I usually advise my buyers to ask for a seller credit at closing if a major repair is needed, instead of asking the seller to fix it. The seller will probably take the easy/cheap way out of the repair, and won’t fix the issue as well as you would have!
There’s plenty more I could talk about – but that’s why you should come have coffee or a drink with me. I can’t give you all my secrets here! Let me know what you’d add from your experience in the comments below. As always, you can call, text, or email me anytime with questions! Happy home buying!