Buying your first home can come with its own set of surprises. This should help you be prepared for them.
Buying your first home is an exciting time. And there are so many resources out there to help you prepare for it (I mean, have you seen the rest of our blog?). But as with most life-changing events, there are things people just don’t tell you. We’d like to help you out so you don’t have to learn the hard way. Here’s a list of ten things no one told you about buying your first home. (Note that every homeowner’s experience is different so you may not deal with any or all of these.)
1. You play the most important role
Here’s a little news flash: buying a home requires some work on your part. Unless you hire someone to do this for you, you don’t just get to sit back while everyone does all the work for you. You’ll most likely spend a good chunk of time writing and answering emails, or making phone calls, to check in with various parties involved in the process.
And note that the less involved you are—the more time you spend sitting back—the farther you can slip from your target closing date. That’s because you, the home buyer, are the most important conduit in the process, and you’ll be connecting people to each other so they can get what they need. This could include connecting your loan officer with your title company, giving your real estate agent your loan officer’s contact information, and the like. You’re essentially the middleman, connecting them so they can do their jobs.
You, the home buyer, are the most important conduit in the process.
And you won’t just be connecting people to people, you’ll be gathering information and documents to give to them. To help you be prepared for this, read up on what you’ll need and get it together before you contact a lender. Do you really want to be calling old employers and tracking down W-2s while you’re trying to close on your first home? Have this ready in advance and the process is sure to flow faster.
2. You’re doing more than just picking a house
As you’re buying your first home, you’ll learn that it involves so much more than just picking out a house and getting a mortgage. While those are arguably the two biggest components, there is so much more that goes into it. You’ll have to decide on the finer details too, like which insurance company and home inspector to go with. If you have a co-borrower, whose name goes on the mortgage and whose goes on the deed to the house—or both on both. There’s a lot that goes into your home buying process and it’s certainly more than just picking out a house.
3. It’s not a linear process
If you’re more of a linear thinker, buying a house might drive you nuts. Don’t go into it thinking that it’s a “Step 1, Step 2, . . .” process. A lot of things will be happening at the same time. Your bank statements might be under review while your appraisal results are coming in while the title company is sending you a questionnaire to fill out. Sound like a lot? Don’t worry. This is meant to save time, not to overwhelm you.
4. Get ready to ask questions
At Cardinal Financial, we pride ourselves on educating our borrowers. We know an informed home buyer is an empowered home buyer—that’s why we provide tools (like this blog) on our website and equip our team to best serve you and keep you in the know. If you’re buying your first home, we’ll always do our best to tell you everything you need to know, but we don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why it helps to ask questions, not just to your loan officer, but to other parties involved in your home loan as well. For people who do this for a living, especially if they’ve been at it for many years, they may come to assume certain things. If there’s ever a moment that you feel is unclear, just ask.
An informed home buyer is an empowered home buyer.
5. Ask about grants and programs
While we’re on the topic of asking questions, be sure to ask about grants, discounts, and programs for first-time home buyers. There are lots out there! Sometimes, the city you’re moving into will offer a grant for buying an old home, tax credits, or special programs for new home buyers. You should ask your loan officer and your real estate agent since both will have insight about the area you’re buying in. And they may not outright tell you, that’s why it’s good to ask and do a little bit of your own research.
6. Your agent knows more than you do
Speaking of real estate agent, you should get one. And one you like, who is honest, straightforward, and goes the extra mile to keep your business. So don’t be afraid to shop around. Your agent should be someone who not only works with you, but works for you and your best interests. A good real estate agent will go above and beyond to find you the right home for your needs.
Think you found the perfect home already? Think again. Public listings aren’t all that’s out there. Your agent knows more than you do, and they have access to MLS listings that only licensed real estate professionals can view. They’ll find properties for sale that you can’t find online, which is another reason why you’ll want to hire a real estate agent. They may even have some listings up their sleeve that haven’t gone on the market just yet.
7. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch
Want to know a good rule of thumb for life? Stay present. Here’s what no one tells you about buying your first home: that idea board you’ve been working on here and there . . . now you’re going to obsess over it. You’re closer to owning a home and making those dreams a reality, so of course you’re excited to start furnishing and making it unique to you.
But my advice is to stay present, and don’t get ahead of yourself. Anything can happen in the process of buying a home, and nothing is final until the keys are in your hands. It’s better to stay focused on closing the loan before you start mentally moving in.
8. The first three months are the most expensive
People tend to talk about how much cheaper it is to buy than it is to rent. And that’s true—overall, homeownership tends to be the more affordable choice and a better investment than renting. However, buying a home can be more expensive up front. Usually the first one to three months after you buy are the most expensive—but it gets better. To prepare for this, have more money saved up than just what will cover your down payment and closing costs.
In addition to your monthly mortgage payment, you’ll have utility bills. And like any new homeowner, you’ll probably want to start furnishing your new place. In the first month, you might buy cable and internet, appliances that didn’t come with the house (such as a washer and dryer, refrigerator, or microwave), cleaning supplies, and tools like a lawnmower or weed whacker. If you, like most homeowners, are going to be doing your own maintenance, you’ll need an arsenal of tools at your disposal, and these cost money.
9. Your new house isn’t perfect
Even after the home inspection—and even if you’re buying a brand new house that no one else has lived in—there will still be repairs to be made. After you move in, you’ll be “debugging” your house—in more ways than one. If the home has been empty for a while, you may encounter some pests and need to call an exterminator. If you’re buying an older home, you might need to service your septic or well water system, replace insulation and fix water rot, replace your roof or plumbing, service your HVAC system, and the like. These things don’t usually all happen at once, but they might happen gradually as you settle in. Just remember that your new house isn’t perfect and it’ll need some care but that’s part of the beauty of homeownership.
10. You aren’t getting any younger
Heads up: you aren’t getting any younger. And when you’re home shopping, it’s important to keep in mind that finding the right home is about more than just bed-to-bath ratios. Depending on how long you plan to stay there, you should think about aging in place. Ask yourself Will this home require too much maintenance down the road? How much time can I commit to upkeep on a regular basis? If there’s a lot to be done but it’s your dream home, consider creating a fund for contracting out maintenance work, like hiring a landscaping company or a cleaning service. Your bones will thank you later.