Q: I’m a first-time homebuyer and I don’t even know where to start. What will the process of searching for and purchasing my first home be like? How should I prepare?
A: As a prospective first-time homebuyer, it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed! But if you take the time to prepare before you begin looking at homes, you can take the process one step at a time.
1. Find a Mainstreet REALTOR®
You may be totally new to home buying, but REALTORS® help their clients do this day in and day out. So before you do anything else, find the professional who will guide you through the homebuying process. Start by reaching out to family and friends for peer reviews of REALTORS® they’ve worked with. Since REALTORS® are local experts, it will be especially helpful to talk to people in the area you’d like to move to.
Take note: not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. Anyone with a real estate license can be a real estate agent, but REALTORS® are held to higher standards. REALTORS® follow a strict Code of Ethics set by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). The code protects homebuyers by guiding how REALTORS® represent their clients in every step of the process, ensuring all parties are treated fairly and with respect. A Mainstreet REALTOR® will help you match with a home you love, and advocate for you every step of the way.
2. Determine your purchasing power
Once you’ve found a Mainstreet REALTOR® but before you start touring homes, you need to determine your realistic purchasing power by getting pre-approval for a mortgage loan. This needs to take into account both how much you have saved for a down payment and the ongoing monthly payments you’ll be comfortable with.
To get pre-approved, you’ll need to bring information about your income and assets to a lender. They will also check your credit score. The lender will let you know the loan you can expect. A pre-approval is not binding, so feel free to talk to a few different mortgage lenders and compare terms. When you do, remember that you could be in this home for five or ten years. Depending on your circumstances, those years could bring job changes, new members of the family and more. You want to commit to a monthly payment that will remain in reach even with these potential changes.
If you have trouble qualifying for a mortgage, you can also explore programs that help people access homeownership.
3. Be open-minded about the homes you see
Talk with your Mainstreet REALTOR® about what you’re looking for in a home, and they will find properties for you to tour. I always counsel clients who are buying for the first time to be open to what they see.
Think of your home search as trying to hit a bullseye. Hitting the absolute center of the target would mean buying your dream home, but ending up just a little to the right or left of that bullseye would still mean landing a home that fits the majority of your preferences. You may need to make a few compromises to find the home that’s right for you at this moment in your life.
Traditionally, first-time buyers have purchased homes that need some work, which allows them to get a bit of a deal. If you’re willing to put in some time and work to make your new home your dream home, it can be much more attainable.
Do you have a real estate question you’d like answered in our Ask a Mainstreet REALTOR® blog feature? Email Amy Robey at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question.
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