My wife and I just bought and moved into our first home. Throughout the process, I’ve been learning and observing things that will help you buy a house better (not necessarily buy a better house, but to buy a house better… in a better way). I’m not an expert (I’ve only bought one house in my life), but the experience is fresh in my mind so I think this is an appropriate time to write this guide.
Get your paperwork together and get pre-qualified for a loan
Pre-qualification is great for a lot of reasons. It gives you an idea of what your monthly payments will look like, it makes your offer look better to sellers when you want to buy their house, and it makes the actual process of getting a mortgage a little bit faster and smoother when your offer on house is actually accepted.
Before you go in to get prequalified though, get all of your ducks in a row. Tax forms, pay stubs, all of it. Get it all together somewhere safe and accessible (preferably, scan it all and save it as a PDF file that you can then email to your bank). Getting things together on the front end can save you literally weeks on the back end. If you’re not sure which documents to collect, check your banks website or call them and ask.
Look at a potential house more than once
A few days after moving into our new house, I walked into the bathroom and realized for the first time that there was a ceiling fan in it. I’d been in the bathroom probably half a dozen times but I’d never noticed that fan.
The point of the story is that you miss a lot of details when you’re looking at a house. sometimes those details are trivial (like a ceiling fan), but they can also be a potential headache. Keep this in mind as you look at potential houses. If you’re seriously considering purchasing a particular place, go back and walk through multiple times (at least 3) to also make sure you’re seeing everything.
Don’t confuse the excitement of buying a home with the excitement of buying a certain house
This is more for first-time home buyers (like my wife and I were). When you’re standing in a nice house that meets all of your needs and requirements, it’s easy to get excited about the possibility of owning a home. Be careful not to mistake this feeling with excitement about that specific house.
It’s hard to tell the difference, but keeping this idea in mind will be the first step. Ask yourself, “What really sets this house apart from others that I’ve seen? Why do I like it? If I’m still living here in 20 years, will I still be glad I bought this house?”
Above all, make sure you…
Sleep on it and keep looking
If you fall in love with a house, make sure you do 2 things: sleep on it, and look at some other houses. Sometimes we’re so focused on certain details that we miss the big picture. Other times we’re impressed with a house overall and we forget about certain details that will bother us for years. Take your time. Make sure you have 1 or 2 nights of sleep between first seeing a house and buying it (not matter how nice it seems).
Additionally, keep looking. You may already have your mind made up, but make sure you do your due diligence. My wife and I found an incredible house early one house-hunting day and we felt like going back to our realtor’s office and buying it right then. Instead, we went and finished looking at the other 6 houses that we had on the list to look at that day. There were some other nice houses that really surprised us. We ended up buying the original one, but the other houses really helped us get good perspective.
Ask dumb questions
This really applies to all the steps of the process. Make sure that you are actively thinking and asking questions throughout the process. Inevitably, you’ll end up sounding ignorant once or twice, but it’s worth it. The other (good) questions you ask may mean the difference between an OK house and the house of your dreams.
This should be obvious, but I’m putting it in here for those who struggle with overconfidence. There are tons of people out there who have made mistakes and they can help you avoid making those same mistakes. Talk to people about buying a house. Ask what they would do differently.
To take it another step, take lots of pictures of perspective properties and show them to trusted friends and family to get new insight. Don’t let a week of pride cause you years of frustration.
Take advice with a grain of salt
It’s obvious that people give advice from a different perspective than you, but that’s even more pronounced when you’re asking advice about picking a place to live. A friend of mine who works in heating and air told us to make sure we had a house with a basement, not one with a crawl space or built on a slab. Some friends who are feeling cramped in their home encouraged us to buy a house that was a little run-down but large and incredibly spacious.
It’s great to get advice, but make sure you take each piece of advice with a grain of metaphorical salt. If someone recommends a certain course of action (like getting a basement), ask them why they think that is important. This will give you an idea of where they are coming from.
Get a home inspection
When you’ve got an accepted offer on a house, make absolutely sure you get a whole home inspection. Every time, no matter what, without exception… always…
Get a competing bid on a mortgage
Make sure to get at least one competing bid on your mortgage. If you’re not sure where to go for a competing bid, your realtor can probably recommend some quality places.
In our case, we got our first estimate from Chase, and then we got an estimate from a local (smaller) place. The local place actually had a better rate and told us that they could probably process our loan faster than Chase. I told Chase what the smaller was place going to do for us and they ended up giving us a really sweet deal to ensure that we would choose them. This one step could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your loan.
Try to group your housing insurance with other insurance
Most larger insurance places offer discounts if you have more than one kind of insurance with them (i.e. car, life, housing, etc.). Check and see if your car and/or life insurance place offers these kinds of discounts.
Let the store deliver large appliances
After you’ve purchased your home and taken possession, you’ll probably need to buy a few large appliances (fridge, washer, dryer, etc.). It’s a really good idea to get those from a place that will deliver and install those for you without additional cost.
We did this with our fridge. The Lowes guys did an excellent job. They measure our doorways to make sure they could get it into place, unboxed, it, moved it (with a lot of skill I might add), and even made sure it was balanced correctly before they left. It was really nice to just watch the whole thing happen.
Don’t fill the house up right away
If you’re a first-time home buyer, getting all moved in can be a little underwhelming. The house probably feels a little empty. You can probably think of 20 different things you could buy to make it better, comfier, and warmer. But don’t. Do a few things, but make sure to spread out your purchases.
First, it’s better for your budget and cash flow. But besides that, you’ll probably come up with better/new ideas about decorating and arranging after a few weeks or months of living in your new place. Better to let all the good ideas come before you go and spend a whole heap of cash making it “perfect”.
Decorate to make it feel like home
Finally, after your boxes are all unpacked, decorate your house. Not just with pictures and posters, but with seasonal decorations too. I was amazed at how quickly our house felt like home after my wife put up all of our Christmas decorations. It felt good. It was a simple step that added a lot to the whole experience.
What lessons have you learned that you would pass on to others looking to purchase a house?