My husband and I are currently in the process of buying our first home. We’ve been working toward this for years, so we are really excited that it’s finally happening!
But here’s the thing. I’m a major Type-A, pain in the ass, need-to-know-every-detail kind of person. And when you’re doing something as huge as buying a home, things aren’t always as accessible as you might want. I learned that the process isn’t over when your offer is accepted — that’s where the really hard stuff starts.
So I tried to break it down into my biggest takeaways for each step of the process. Of course, everything varies by country, state, county, province, etc, but the general feeling of “OMGOMGOMGOMG” is pretty universal, I think.
Step 1: Research
This seems like a given, but so many people go into this blind, and I wonder how they do it.
It’s tough to research when laws, markets, and regulations vary by state and county. But, once you know the general area, do as much research as you can. We scoured the market for over six months before stepping foot inside a home. We saved houses we were interested in to see how much above or below asking price they sold for. We went on Reddit and Wikipedia and every other place for neighborhood information. Google maps became our best friend.
Now, we probably went overboard (because hi, Type A here), and a good realtor will know a lot of this information like the back of her hand. But for my peace of mind, I needed to know for myself so I could go into the house-hunting process with a clear idea of what I wanted and the expectations for my price range.
Step 2: Planning
Different from research, but this can be done in tandem with Step 1. One of the biggest things I learned is that your money isn’t going just toward the sale price of the house. Apart from the down payment, there are inspection fees (in the $500 range, depending on inspector and/or age of the home), closing costs (2-3% of purchase price), appraisal fees, lawyer fees (which may or may not be included in the closing costs), the cost of moving, and dozens more. This requires a significant amount of cash on hand, which, for most people, requires at least a couple of months of saving and budgeting.
My husband and I have a master spreadsheet that tracks our monthly and yearly budgets and spending. Once we knew we both wanted home-ownership, we amped up our savings account for close to two years before house hunting. This assured we’d have a down payment we were comfortable with, and also gave us enough for these annoying fees that come up.
Step 3: Realtors
You’re not married to anyone that shows you a house. Remember, most realtors have skin in the game; they want your business and they’ll sell themselves. This doesn’t make them bad or unqualified, but they will work hard to get your business. Ask questions about their process, how much they keep clients informed along the way, how many people in the area they know, how many clients they have, if they represent both buyers and sellers (and if they’re representing both the buyer and seller of a particular home, meaning they get double the commission).
We ended up going with a real estate brokerage that is a little, well, offbeat. Their agents are salaried and their bonuses are based on customer reviews, so we felt even more assured that we would be getting unbiased advice about the homes and any offers we would make.
Once you find a realtor, do not be afraid to ask questions — even if they feel silly. Once we put an offer in, I had no clue what to do. My realtor hit me with a convenient checklist, but it was things like “secure mortgage broker,” and “schedule inspection,” and things within things, like appraisals, finding lawyers, and more. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification and step-by-step processes where needed. This will speed up the timeline in the long run.
Step 4: Negotiation
Another part of this is that deals have fallen apart where the buyers and sellers are separated by small amounts, like $7,000 or so. While those amounts are nothing to sneeze at, in many cases, they come out minimal additional amounts in your monthly mortgage payment. I’m talking like, $50 or less. If the property is really something special, and you feel like it should be yours, don’t let an extra $20 worth of pride ruin the deal.
Step 5: Practicing patience
This is the one that killed me, friends. I wanted an update from my realtor daily — even if there was nothing to be updated on — because I was sure that everything was falling apart. There will always be things happening “behind the scenes” that you’re not privy to, and as awful as it is for us Type-A folks, we just have to trust that the process is happening (and restrain ourselves to only one “check in” email every couple of days).
Buyers’ agents and listing agents all are juggling multiple clients. They have to prioritize certain things (offers, negotiations, inspections), therefore, at some point in your process, you may not be at the top of this list. This doesn’t excuse days to go by without contact, but it does mean that “I’ll email you the details later” could be a day or two. In my mind, “later” means three hours. But it doesn’t always work that way.
Processes work differently in each state, but there’s generally a time where you’re sitting on your hands waiting. We’re in this stage right now — the appraisal of the house has been ordered, and then the title will get processed, so we can do nothing until the closing. It’s awful, but it’s helpful to have this break to (you guessed it) plan the logistics of move-in day.
Step 6: Celebrate!
You did it. You saved, you planned, you had only three or four panic attacks, and you’re moving in to your new home. Savor it. After the walk through and the closing and signing away your lives, after all of the people have left and you’re standing in your new, empty home, just stand and let it sink in. It’s yours, and you earned it! Now go start painting…