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Buying your first home is a mixed-up bag of emotions. Amid all the excitement, there’s an underlying doubt: “What if I mess this up?”
Look, no home is perfect, and you can’t avoid every mistake. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure your first time around. There are steps you can take to make your American Dream a success.
We asked Dave’s Facebook fans to share their lessons learned. Here’s what they had to say.
Do Budget for the Unexpected
If there’s one thing you can count on as a homeowner, it’s that Murphy will show up. Anything that can go wrong will. When that happens, you’ll need a solid emergency fund to get you through.
Just ask Christine D. from Loa, UT. Nearly every appliance in her new home broke within the first year. “We thought the home warranty would protect us but found they were horrible to work with,” she says.
Keep Murphy at bay by piling up enough cash to cover three to six months of expenses before you take the leap into home ownership. Couples can build an even bigger buffer by buying a home based on just one income. That way, if one of you loses your job or decides to stay home with the kids, you can still afford the mortgage.
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Carol F. from Raynham, MA, learned the value of this approach when her husband became terminally ill. “I am so thankful we did this,” she says. “Had we required two incomes to make the mortgage, we would have lost it.”
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Two words of advice made a frequent fan appearance: Start small.
“Always remember the bigger the house, the bigger the bills,” Nick R. says. And forget what the bank is willing to loan you. “Just because you qualify for a certain amount doesn’t mean you have to buy a house at that amount,” he adds.
If you’re getting a mortgage, aim for a payment of no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage and plan to put at least 10–20% down. Be sure to factor additional costs like maintenance and repair into your budget as well.
This is especially true if you’re in the market for a fixer-upper. Krista B. of Baton Rouge, LA, suggests making an itemized list of projects and costs before buying a fixer-upper. “It will always cost more than you think in your head when you put it on paper,” she says.
Do Look to the Future
It’s easy to get used to the mobility that comes with renting, but home ownership requires long-term commitment. Before jumping into the perfect home today, ask yourself whether it will still be practical tomorrow.
Kristi M. and her husband bought their first home in 2003, assuming they’d be there five years max. Then the recession hit. “We didn't think about schools or area when we were 21,” she says. “Now with two kids, I really wish we would have thought about those things back then!”
It also pays to look into future plans for the surrounding area. Kristine C. of Marysville, WA, suggests reading city and county construction proposals. “The quiet back road we bought our first home on was slated to be a six-lane highway in 20 years, and we had no idea because we didn’t think to research it!”
Don’t Ignore Location, Location, Location
It may sound cliché, but location matters—a lot. So how do you know what to look for?
Lea B. offers these ideas: “Drive by the home at all times of the day and night. Physically go into the schools where your kids will attend. Talk to neighbors. Stop by the nearest police station and ask about the crime rate.”
It’s also wise to consider convenience. Paul S. from Marion, IA, recommends thinking about places you go frequently. “Not just work because that likely changes anyway,” he says. “Things like grocery stores, gas stations, church and schools are more likely to be static over a number of years.”
Do Pay Attention to Details
Many folks regret getting so caught up in the enormity of the decision that they overlooked the little things. Here are just a few small details they said make a big difference.
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—“Turn the shower on, run the sink water, and flush the toilet at the same time to check for water pressure limitations,” Antoinette M. of Artesia, NM, suggests.
—“Make sure electrical switches are in common places,” Sarah W. says. One of her bathrooms has the switch behind the door while the other one has the switch outside the bathroom.
—Maddie S. from San Antonio, TX, recommends counting your closets and testing all the kitchen drawers to make sure they actually open.
—“Think hard about the amount of maintenance the yard and garden will need,” Sally H. says.
—David G. likes to change the oil on his cars to save a buck, but his HOA doesn’t allow it. “Make sure you can live within the HOA rules before you own it,” he says.
There’s no need to sprint to the finish line with your first home. You don’t want to stumble on a purchase with that many zeroes at the end!
“When in doubt, wait a while,” Chris C. of Austin, TX, says. “There’s time. Take it slow.”
A good real estate agent can help you navigate your options. Look for a pro who has your best interests at heart and doesn’t hurry the process.
“If that isn't the case, don't feel intimidated—find one who is!” Anne S. of Greenwood, IN, advises. “This is a huge decision and should not be made under pressure while dealing with someone who just wants to sell you a house and move on.”
Success Starts Here
Buying your first home is serious business, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. An experienced real estate agent can make reaching your goal of homeownership an enjoyable experience by helping you find great deals on homes, negotiating the contract on your behalf, and handling all the paperwork.
Work with a high-energy agent like one of Dave’s real estate Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs). Your ELP is an expert in your market who will do all it takes to find the right home for you. Find your trustworthy, hardworking real estate agent today!