5 Things Every First-Time Homebuyer Must Keep in Mind

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shutterstock_40313899I still remember walking into my condo for the first time as if it were yesterday. I had been searching for my first home for about 6 months in the Boston area when I decided to make a radical change to my plan and only look at condos (thank goodness I did this—at 28 and single I had no business looking for a single-family home just yet!).

It was number 13 of a grueling day of visits with my new realtor (more on that below), and I was getting tired and disheartened. This was the last one on the list for the day and the one my realtor didn’t want me to see because it was a foreclosure, had one very ugly, exterior photo on the MLS and basically had “buyer beware” plastered all over it.

I’ve never been so happy to be such a stubborn mule.

When I walked in the front door, I knew I was home. 1,500 beautiful square feet of hardwood floors, granite, brand-new stainless steel appliances and 2BD/2BA was staring back at me. How was this place still available??

As it turns out, I had found a veritable diamond in the rough. With an inventory inundated with foreclosures (this was back in 2010), the listing agent didn’t have the time or desire to give this property the attention it should have demanded. Lucky for me! All of my hard work and research paid off and two months later I moved in.

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Here are some of the tips I share with all first-time homebuyers after my self-professed “winning” of the foreclosure lottery:

  • Listen to your heart but don’t ignore your head or gut. By the way I’ve described my home buying process above, you might think it was sunshine & roses and I let my emotions rule my purchase decision. But it’s more like the exact opposite: I walked in there with a list of what I was looking for, had months of local real estate research under my belt and had spent years planning this phase of life.
  • You can fire your realtor. For my first few months of home searching, I was working with a realtor who was very nice but didn’t seem to understand what I was looking for. After months of fruitless efforts, I knew it was time to cut ties. I explained my wish to move my search out of her area (thereby terminating the clause of me working exclusively with her), and I hired a new realtor. Take the emotion out of this decision because you want someone who has your best buying interests at heart!!
  • Do your research. Make sure you know the area, the schools, the crime, the facilities and your neighbors (among other things). I advocate making at least 4 different visits to the property before even thinking about buying it. During those times (weekday daytime, weekday night, weekend daytime, weekend night), make sure to talk to anyone and everyone you may see in passing. Ask lots of questions!
  • Don’t neglect a home inspection. I cringe when I see those HGTV shows where the people either didn’t have an inspection or just hired the person their realtor/bank recommended. No, no, no!!! Do independent research, check references and credentials and ensure you’re getting the best possible inspection. There’s most likely no Mike Holmes to come along and “make it right” for you if this part of the process gets screwed up!!

What other tips for first-time homebuyers do you have?

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Jen is the owner of The Happy Homeowner, where she writes about living a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time. Previously, she paid off $14K in credit card debt in less than a year and hasn’t looked back since. Follow along on Twitter with her financial, fitness and travel adventures @bthhomeowner!