House Hunting Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Our favorite house hunting tips will have you home in no time.

Spring has sprung, the flowers are in bloom, and the curbs are becoming more and more appealing by the day. Must mean it’s house hunting season. So, if you’re a first-time buyer, you’re going to want all the house hunting tips available to help snag your first home while fighting off all the other first-time buyers.

Don’t worry, with the right advice in hand, buying in a competitive market can be easier than you think. Conquer your homeownership goals with the following house hunting tips for first-time home buyers, curated by yours truly.

Tip #1: The right real estate agent can make all the difference.

When you’re ready to buy a house, it’s important to have the right people on your side. Friends and family members are a good start, and the right lender can help make sure you’re ready financially. But a real estate agent? A good agent makes all the difference. 

Consider this: A lot of people think of real estate agents as glorified tour guides. They unlock doors, they show you around, they answer questions, and that’s it…right? Wrong

A solid real estate agent (preferably a Realtor®—otherwise known as a certified agent who’s part of the National Association of Realtors) is half friend, half negotiator. They’re going to have your back through the home buying process, and they’ll spend much of their time scouring listings to find homes that fit your wants and needs. In fact, they’ll be able to search through listings you can’t even find on the most popular listing sites. Most importantly, they’re the ones who read through the contracts to make sure you’re getting a fair shake. 

Tip #2: Don’t get (too) attached.

House hunting can feel like a roller coaster of emotion, and you’re probably going to fall in love with a lot of homes. Our next house hunting tip? Don’t get too attached to what you see online or in person. Sure, the listing pictures may knock your socks off, but remember that those homes are often professionally staged

As for in-person viewings? Remember that any home you put an offer on should be professionally inspected anyway, because you never know what that fresh coat of paint is hiding and you may not have immediate access to things like attics and crawl spaces. Looks can be deceiving either way, so don’t forget that most of the homes you’re seeing are staged to sell—not staged for the realities of life. 

Most of the homes you’re seeing are staged to sell—not staged for the realities of life.

When starting out on this journey, the best thing you can do is come to terms with the notion that the first homes you look at probably won’t be the ones you buy. Use this as an opportunity to take notes on what you like and what you dislike, and compare other homes to that list. 

Tip #3: Waving the red flags.

When you do start attending open houses and scheduling private walkthroughs, there are are several factors to consider that might be so obvious. To sum up our next house hunting tip, here’s a short list of things to keep an eye (or a nose) out for:
  • Bad smells: These can be indicative of backed-up sewage lines, hidden mold, garbage, or pests. When it comes to funky odors, trust your gut. 
  • Humidity: If you can, get a humidity reading in basements and crawls, and keep an eye out for signs of moisture. Brown or yellow spots in the ceiling and bubbled wallpaper or drywall could indicate leaks in hidden areas.
  • Craftsmanship: Look closely at corners, edges, and lines to make sure everything lines up. Look for bows, cracks, jams, and scratches, as those could be signs of poor worksmanship. And don’t forget to make sure doors and drawers close correctly. 
  • Surroundings: People love to look at the home, but they often forget about the surroundings. Is the home located on a busy street? Near a church bell? Do the neighbors have dogs? We’d hate for first-time buyers to have buyer’s remorse because they forgot about the sights and sounds around the home.
  • Perspective: Online listings have a habit of making spaces seem larger than they actually are. Rooms that once looked huge online turn out to be little more than the size of a coat closet. Perspective is everything, so don’t let that wide-angle lens fool you. 

Tip #4: Do your homework.

Your agent is going to take you to see plenty of homes, but you should also take the initiative to see some homes on your own time. If not by attending open houses by yourself (or with your partner), then at least by (safely) staking things out during off-hours. What’s the traffic look like at 2:00 PM on a weekday? What’s it like at 10:00 PM on a Saturday night?

These kinds of impromptu visits to homes or neighborhoods you like on the surface can reveal far more than a typical house tour, and could help narrow your selection or eliminate some options entirely. Ultimately, the more you see, the better off you’ll be. 

Impromptu visits to homes or neighborhoods you like on the surface can reveal far more than a typical house tour, and could help narrow your selection or eliminate some options entirely.

Tip #5: Get pre-approved.

If, by chance, you do stumble upon your dream home at any point in the house hunting process, you’re going to want to put in an offer. 

These days, offers backed by a lender’s pre-approval carry more weight than your standard pre-qualification (which is nothing more than a statement saying what you might be able to afford). A pre-approval is a bonafide, verified review of your qualifications—your income and your credit score, for example. Plus, it tells sellers that you’re serious about moving forward. 

Tip #6: Patience, patience, patience.

They say it’s a virtue, but it’s also a totally necessary house hunting tip for first-time buyers. Impulsivity leads to mistakes, and mistakes lead to regrets. The process can be unpredictable and time-consuming, but your agent and your lender should help provide a smooth, seamless process that gets you to the closing table in no time and with no regrets.

And now that you know how to house hunt, you’re ready to start the next chapter of your life!


The Essential 2023 Spring Cleaning Checklist

It’s officially spring! For homeowners especially, that means it’s officially time for spring cleaning. There’s no wrong way to go about it, but a spring cleaning checklist certainly doesn’t hurt. And remember, the key to not losing steam halfway through is to take it one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your spring cleaning doesn’t have to be done in one either.

The 2023 spring cleaning checklist

There are generally two schools of thought on the best way to tackle your spring cleaning checklist: Room by room or task by task. Both have their pros and cons, but we’d argue that the best approach is actually a hybrid of the two, broken out into three phases (it’s less technical than it sounds).

  • Phase 1: Declutter
    • Room by room, throw out or donate what you don’t want
    • Store winter items out of the way
  • Phase 2: Clean
    • Wash bedding
    • Dust and wipe down surfaces
    • Clean baseboards
    • Sweep, mop, and vacuum
  • Phase 3: Organize
    • Choose a method that you can maintain all year
    • Utilize vertical space
    • Replace any essentials you threw out in Phase 1

Before you dive in, you’ll want to set aside some moving boxes for items you’re donating, items you’re throwing out, and items that need to be stored for the season. 

Spring Cleaning Phase 1: Declutter

For Phase 1, we recommend the room-by-room approach.

  • Bedroom
    • Remove winter clothes from drawers and hangers and place in boxes for storage
    • Place any items in good condition that you no longer want in your donation box
    • Throw out any clothing or decor items you no longer want that can’t be donated
    • Throw out sheets if you’ve been using them for over three years
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen
    • If you have any utensils, towels, or cookware that need to be replaced, throw them out
    • Donate any unused items (like that fancy blender from your wedding registry that’s never seen the light of day)
    • Throw out expired food from your pantry, fridge, and freezer
    • Donate non-perishable food items if you know you won’t be using them

Not sure what needs to be thrown out? Use the handy chart below as a guide. Just remember, the exact expiration dates will depend on the quality of the item and how much you use it.


ItemReplace every…
Bathroom towels2 to 5 years
Kitchen towels1 to 2 years
Sheets2 to 3 years
Mascara3 to 6 months
Eye shadow6 to 9 months
Eyeliner3 months
Lipstick1 year
Foundation6 to 12 months
Concealer1 to 2 years
Face powder2 years
Blush1 to 2 years

Pro Tip: If you’re a bit of a clothes collector, it can be hard narrowing down what to keep and what to get rid of. A good way to keep yourself in check is to buy a set number of clothes hangers and don’t buy more when you run out. Instead, solve the problem by getting rid of clothing items you have, or holding off on purchasing new ones. Hello, closet equilibrium.

Spring Cleaning Phase 2: Clean

In Phase 2, we recommend tackling your checklist by task (dust, sweep, mop, etc.) rather than doing every task in one room, then repeating the list for the next room. When it comes to cleaning, start from the top (literally) and work your way down to avoid dust and grime from higher areas getting swept down onto a surface you already cleaned.

  • Strip beds and start the laundry cycle 
  • If you have ceiling fans, dust or wipe down the blades
  • Clean windows, mirrors, and any other glass surfaces
  • Dust and wipe down furniture, shelves, cabinets (inside and out), and counters
  • Especially if you have little ones of the fur or human variety, vacuum your furniture
  • Wipe down baseboards and molding
  • Sweep, mop, and vacuum all rooms
  • Place clean bedding back on beds
  • Take a nap on that clean bedding, you earned it

Pro Tip: If you want to get really particular about your approach, take out your trash and recycling before you clean the floors. This way, any drips from the garbage bag or dirt you track back in won’t undo all your hard work.

Spring Cleaning Phase 3: Organize

Now that you’ve cleared up space and cleaned your home, it’s time to organize what you have left. This is also the time to replace any essentials that needed to be thrown out, like new cookware or towels. In Phase 3, we recommend going room by room. How you organize is up to you, but here are a few tips for each area.

  • Bedroom
    • Utilize vertical space in your closet
    • Get a bedside table with built-in storage
    • Store out-of-season items under your bed
  • Bathroom
    • Keep a stylish bin or tray on the bathroom counter to store items you use every day
    • Install a shower caddy
    • Add shelves over the toilet
  • Kitchen
    • Add riser shelves inside cabinets
    • Stack towels vertically (like books)
    • Use a caddy for sponges, dish soap, and other sink-side cleaning products

There are a lot of elaborate and aesthetically pleasing organization methods out there, but remember to choose one that you can realistically maintain in the long term. Spring cleaning is all about setting you up for a better homeownership experience for the rest of the year.

Any other spring cleaning tips?

With your spring cleaning checklist squared away, you’ve got all the essentials you need to handle it like a pro. But because we like you, we have a few more spring cleaning tips for you to take or leave before you get started.

  • Don’t try to do it all in one day
  • Make a physical list that you can check items off of to see your progress
  • Gather all the necessary cleaning supplies before you start so you don’t lose momentum making a run to the store
  • Recycle as much as possible

Ok, NOW you’re ready to go. Oh, and if your home needs more than a thorough cleaning to feel refreshed, renovation loans could help you finance upgrades like new floors, fresh paint, and new appliances. The more you know.

With the right spring cleaning tips, you’ll be ready to make your house feel like home for the season in no time.


Land, Lumber & Labor: How the One-Time Close Construction Loan Does It All

Depending on market conditions, you may have trouble finding a home that checks all of your boxes. Sometimes there aren’t enough homes available in your area, sometimes there’s nothing in your budget, and sometimes you just may not like what’s out there. 

If that’s the case, or if your needs have shifted throughout various life stages, you may want to consider new home construction. Not just any new construction, though—custom construction, or the opportunity to build your dream home from the ground up. 

A one-time close construction loan, which allows you to pay for a plot of land, all the lumber, and the labor with one convenient mortgage, may be able to help. 

Breaking down the benefits

There are three main reasons to consider a one-time close construction loan when building a custom home: Cost, credit, and closing. 


Depending on what type of one-time close construction loan you go with, your down payment probably won’t be what you think it’ll be. Sure, there’s the common notion that you should put down 20% (which we’ve dispelled before), but VA buyers could obtain financing with nothing down and FHA buyers could build a custom home with as little as 3.5% down. 

Beyond that, a one-time close construction loan allows buyers to roll the cost of land, building materials, and labor into one loan—saving you from having to pay two mortgages: one for the land and another for the home itself.  Even better? You’ll make interest-only payments during construction, saving money upfront. 

With a one-time close construction loan, you’ll make interest-only payments during construction, saving money upfront.


Because you won’t have to take out two separate loans to fund the purchase of land and labor, there’s no need to worry about re-qualifying. So, instead of taking two hits to your credit report—potentially and unnecessarily dragging down your score—you only have to submit one application and go through one underwriting process.


Since a one-time close loan pays for the land and the construction, you only have to work through one closing. That closing occurs before construction even begins, and because a one-time close loan comes with a fixed rate, you never have to worry about market changes forcing your rate to rise. 

It’s all part of the process

Building a custom home isn’t as simple as buying a bunch of wood and throwing some shingles on a frame. Because a one-time close construction loan is still a mortgage, it comes with its own set of procedures and requirements. Here’s what you can look forward to:

  • Contractor Validation We’ll review your builder’s qualifications, including their own credit reports, building history, and project references.
  • Project Approval If your construction details meet loan standards, we’ll make sure the budget fits the project and approve a start date.
  • Underwriting After submitting your application, our underwriter will review the information like they would any mortgage.
  • Closing Once approved, we’ll schedule a closing date to sign final documents and pay whatever closing costs are left to pay.
  • Funding Throughout construction, your builder can request to draw funds from your loan to pay for materials, labor, and other costs.
  • Completion This one’s easy! Once construction is over, it’s time to grab some friends and pack those moving boxes.
  • Conversion Once everything’s done and dusted, we’ll convert your one-time close construction loan into a permanent mortgage.

Any downfalls?

One-time close construction loans are pretty straightforward, and they come with a long list of benefits (including the fact that they can be used for primary, secondary, and investment properties). That said, there are some considerations to think about before opening an application. 

First, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lead times on construction materials, as well as their costs, are both heightened in the current market. So, keep in mind: These factors could impact your total loan amount. 

Second, a one-time close loan tends to come with a higher interest rate. If rates are already higher due to market conditions, you may want to run your budget with your rate quote to make sure everything is affordable.

What’s it cost?

Some sources report that building a house can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per square foot, depending on location. According to American Home Shield, the average house size in the U.S. is 2,500 square feet, meaning a custom build may run anywhere from $1.25 to $2.5 million. 

If that number shocked you, don’t worry too much. Other sources pin the average cost of a custom, similarly sized home at about $500,000. 

So when you’re building a house, your location, equipment, and finishes can and will push your costs up or down. The safe bet is to leave some cushion in your budget, just in case. Even safer? Get pre-approved for construction loan financing with a lender you trust. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting into with your one-time close construction loan.


DIY Home Renovations on a Budget

DIY home renovations can be a lot to take on. They don’t have to be a lot for your budget, though. As you start making your DIY budget, consider our top five tips for easy, cost-effective home renovations. Who’s up for a trip to the hardware store?

Pro Tip: Saving up for renovations? Check out our best money-saving strategies here.

5 DIY home renovation budget tips

  • Make small changes first
  • Embrace the paint
  • Focus on your floors
  • Rethink your storage space
  • Demo it yourself

1. Make small changes first

The temptation to give your home a big overhaul is understandable, but you might be surprised what a significant difference small updates can make. So, before you start knocking down walls and ripping out cabinets, take inventory of small details that are easy, cost-effective swaps. This could include:

  • Replacing hardware on drawers and cabinets
  • Installing decorative switch plates over your standard light switch covers
  • Adding statement fixtures in focal lighting points like your dining room, entryway, or front porch
  • Updating your decor palette (darker tones add depth and drama, while lighter tones can help open up your space)

If small changes still aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to take it to the next level: Repainting.

2. Embrace the paint

Painting sometimes gets a bad rap for being a pain, but it’s well worth the work. To get the biggest bang for your buck, start with accents like trim, cabinets, or even a single accent wall. For best results, try these paint job tips and tricks:

  • Paint during dry weather. Humidity makes it harder for paint to dry, resulting in more drips and uneven patches.
  • Invest in the right tools. Make room in your budget for quality brushes, roller covers, and tape to save yourself a lot of frustration and do-overs.
  • Use primer. If you’re considering renovations, we’re assuming the walls aren’t in pristine shape to begin with. Before applying paint, a primer base will ensure it all goes on evenly.
  • Start at the top and work your way down. The last thing you want is paint dripping down onto the surface you thought you just finished.

While paint is a cost-effective update, you may want to avoid choosing colors that are too on-trend for your DIY home renovation. Unless, of course, you want to paint it all again in a year or two. If that’s your thing, don’t let us stop you. Otherwise, neutrals are always a safe bet.

3. Focus on your floors

Refreshing your flooring may seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually one of the more budget-friendly DIY projects out there. Plus, there are a lot of simple ways to give your floors a new look. If you’re working with a natural wood floor, try sanding it and applying a new coat of varnish. Peel and stick tiles are also an easy option, especially for smaller spaces like bathrooms and utility rooms. A fresh coat of paint can also spruce up your floors, just make sure to plan your painting schedule for a time when you can be out of the house long enough for it to dry without getting stepped on.

4. Rethink your storage space

Storage may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you remodel. After all, isn’t the point of storage to keep things out of sight, not draw attention to them? Not necessarily. Open shelving’s moment may be passing, but implementing stylish storage into your home can still involve minimal effort with a big payoff.  Some easy-to-update options include:

  • Portable kitchen islands
  • Free-standing bathroom cabinets
  • Ottomans and benches with storage
  • Stylish entryway racks
  • Headboards with built-in shelving

5. Demo it yourself

Finally, the fun part. Breaking things down requires less finesse than building, but don’t dive in without brushing up on some fundamentals of demolition. Experts recommend staying away from demo on interior spaces unless you’ve done it before. Otherwise, you risk knocking down a load-bearing wall or damaging wiring and plumbing. On the other hand, outdoor spaces like a deck or porch should be simple enough for a novice to handle.

If the DIY route isn’t for you, renovation loans can help you finance your professional home updates and your mortgage in one convenient process.

Are there any other DIY home renovation tips to know?

You’re investing more than money when you DIY. You’re also investing your time, energy, and creativity. So, before taking on a DIY project, remember that it will probably look worse before it looks better. Don’t get discouraged halfway through your renovations! The mess and inconvenience now are well worth you loving your space later (and the boosted home equity doesn’t hurt, either).


The Essential 8-Step Home Babyproofing Checklist

You may not be able to 100% babyproof your home, but a babyproofing checklist definitely won’t hurt. The good news is that you really don’t need to worry about incorporating these changes until your baby can crawl. And, with our eight-step babyproofing checklist, you and your home will be more than up for the challenge when your little one starts exploring. 

How to babyproof your home

  • Wrap up renovations
  • Store cleaning supplies out of reach
  • Screw unstable furniture to the wall
  • Cover outlets and cords
  • Invest in knob covers for your stove
  • Place corner guards on furniture
  • Place non-slip pads under rugs
  • Latch drawers and cabinets

1. Wrap up renovations

Welcoming a new addition into your family is a seriously busy period of life, so make sure you’ve wrapped up any home reno projects that you’ve been putting off beforehand. It’s not just a matter of time management—peeling paint, uneven floors, and more common fixer-upper problems could all be hazardous for children.

2. Store cleaning supplies out of reach

Raise your hand if the cabinet under the kitchen sink is your go-to cleaning supply storage space. We get it, but it’s not the safest location when you have toddlers on the move. We recommend choosing cabinets that are both higher off the ground and completely closable (open shelving might be in, but not in this babyproof house). This goes for any items that could be hazardous if your baby is exposed to them, from laundry supplies to medicine to toiletries.

3. Screw unstable furniture to the wall

Your little one will be learning to stand by pulling themselves up with furniture, so you need to make sure that furniture is stable. That means actually screwing that tall bookshelf into the wall at the top like the instruction manual told you to. If you’ve got chairs or other furniture with wheels, make sure the wheels lock if you’re unable to take them off entirely.

4. Cover outlets and cords

No babyproofing checklist would be complete without covering your electrical outlets. Outlet covers are fairly easy and inexpensive to find—just make sure you don’t forget any outlets tucked away out of sight. You’ll also want to store cords for chargers, appliances, and other devices out of reach from curious hands (and teeth).

5. Invest in knob covers for your stove

The last thing you want is for your baby to turn your stovetop burners on by accident. Or on purpose, for that matter. Stove knob covers may be a bit more challenging to find than outlet covers, but the peace of mind you get as a result will be well worth the extra effort.

6. Place corner guards on furniture

Falling is an inevitable part of learning to walk. So, it’s a good idea to cover any sharp edges with corner guards as part of your babyproofing process. Even if your baby isn’t at the mobile stage yet, you may want to consider corner guards for furniture near the changing table, crib, and anywhere else you’ll be frequently picking up and putting them down. To be clear, we think you’re going to be amazing as a parent and will absolutely not drop your baby. But, sometimes the best sleep comes from knowing you’ve prepared for the worst.

7. Place non-slip pads under rugs

From toddlers swaying unsteadily as they find their, well, legs in general to late-night rocking and pacing to coax the semblance of a regular sleep schedule, there are a lot of reasons you’ll want non-slip pads under your rugs. Tripping hazards are no joke when you’ve got a baby in your arms. And on a less serious note, it keeps your rugs looking neater. That’s one less thing to worry about on the adventure of parenting.

8. Latch drawers and cabinets

In an ideal world, we would store everything that posed a threat to babies out of their reach. But you only have so many cabinets, and the list of things that could potentially be problematic if a little one got their hands on it is essentially infinite. Props to toddlers for their ability to see the potential in objects beyond their intended purpose—never change! But for the sake of your sanity, we’d recommend installing latches on cabinets and drawers that are within tiny arm’s reach.

Is there anything else I should add to my babyproofing checklist?

You’ve probably noticed by now that a lot of people have a lot of thoughts about how you should raise your kid. While there are some good universal safety measures as we just went over, ultimately it’s your decision when it comes to how to babyproof your home. Your babyproofing checklist might look very different from ours, and that’s ok! If you tried to do everything everyone recommended, you’d go crazy. Do what you feel comfortable with and capable of, and the rest will come naturally. You’ve got this.

Babyproofing can feel overwhelming, but a good babyproofing checklist helps take some of the stress out of it.