Your first stab at buying a home involves a lot of emotions. Excitement, happiness, anxiety, fear, joy, sadness; you're sure to feel at least some combination of these and more during your first homebuying experience.
Real estate agents know this, and they're often prepared for it. "First-time homebuyers can be scared because they've never experienced this situation before," Michael Blazek, Managing Broker of Watson's Atlantic Beach office, says. "But working with them is fun because they're usually very excited."
We understand just how daunting buying your first home can be. That's why we got some of our brokers to come up with their own expert advice for first-time homebuyers.
Before You Start
One thing that will always make your homebuying process smoother is solid preparation before you get started. Consider what you're looking for in a house by making a list of priorities, wants, and needs. Prepare a list of questions you'll have for your agent and your mortgage lender. Take some steps to ensure your credit is in a good place.
If you really want to get ahead of the curve, start preparing the documentation you'll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. It might seem a little extra, but Jared Holm, Managing Broker of Watson's Mandarin South office, explains how it could save you from an unfortunate result.
"Sometimes it can take a few months to prepare for the pre-approval process. Many people wait to have that conversation with their lender until a home they like hits the market, which can then make it hard to get approved in time."
Finding an Agent
Perhaps the most critical step towards buying your first home is also the first step you should take: finding a real estate agent. But it's not just about finding any agent; you want to put in the effort to find the right agent.
What does that mean? Well, that all depends on you. Think about what you want in a home. You'll no doubt have must-haves, wants, and can-live-withouts. The same goes for your ideal agent! It may take a few meetings with different folks to really finetune that list into identifiable traits, but it'll be worth it. Take it from the Managing Broker of Watson's Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach offices, Geannina Mejía-Acevedo.
"Not all real estate agents are made equally, and not every agent will align with how you want to do business. Having the right representation is essential to a successful house purchase, however, so it's critical to work with someone who suits your style."
Searching for a Home
Clear and consistent communication with your agent is a must when you're actually looking at listings. Let them know which areas you're interested in and why, as well as the neighborhoods you'd rather avoid (and why for those as well!).
Tell your agent about your all-important wants, needs, and priorities list. But also be aware of the market and current trends because that could impact how closely you're able to follow your list.
For instance, in a competitive market you need to be flexible. In many cases, you may even need to prepare to compromise on certain items. If you have a consistent, open line of communication with your agent, they can tell you when it's time to compromise and when you can push for the features you truly want.
"I've found it's helpful to provide your agent with three must-haves for your new home," Geannina says. "This way, you've given your agent a few key items or features but you still have room for flexibility, which is key. There is no perfect home, but you can find the next best thing if you're willing to bend."
Submitting an Offer
That's a great way to approach the process of submitting an offer on a house. Another great approach is to continue trusting your agent to guide you through crafting the perfect offer.
An offer contains much more than just the price you'll pay; it includes details like financing method, cancellation terms, repairs you want done, date you'll take ownership and possession of the property, and more. A lot of this information will be determined by the requisite appraisals and inspections that will be completed on the house.
A note on inspections. Some folks view these as haggling tools – a means of lowering the price based on issues that may come up during the inspection. Geannina advises against this strategy.
"Remember, contractually, inspections are meant for you to learn about the condition of the property. They're meant to help you decide if you want to move forward with the purchase, not a way to bargain down the price of the house."
Finetuning Your Offer
Your first offer might not be accepted, and that's okay! Especially in competitive markets, multiple offers can be made on the same house at the same time, making it harder for any one offer to stand out. There are still a few ways to get an edge even as a first-time homebuyer.
Have your agent find out from the listing agent which things are important to the seller (like closing date, post-sale occupancy, etc.) and see how you can work those things into your offer. Amanda Feagle offers even more approaches:
"Many buyers are winning offers today by purchasing with cash, using escalatory clauses, paying appraisal gaps, paying their own closing costs and sometimes even the seller's costs, and more," she explains. "Above all, listen to your agent and their proven track record to help you compete and ultimately win."
You Can Do It!
If there's one resounding piece of advice our brokers agree on, it's that you can do this!
"The more informed they are, the more comfortable they are with process," says Michael Blazek. "And it's our job to educate customers."
"For first-time homebuyers, the homebuying process can look like climbing a mountain," Jared Holm adds. "But with the right guides it can be a walk in the park!"