When Logan Hall, a 26-year-old fireman, decided to move from Corpus Christi to College Station, Texas, to live with his girlfriend Chelsi Pensy, he was determined not to waste money on rent.
“Chelsi is at Texas A & M and is going to be a veterinarian, so she’ll be in school a long time,” says Hall, who purchased a three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family home for about $160,000. “The best thing I did was to talk to my friends and co-workers who told me about a homebuyer grant for first responders.”
Hall’s only regret is that he didn’t save more money before the purchase.
“I needed about $8,500 for the down payment and closing costs even with the homeownership grant,” he says.
His best resource, he adds, was real estate agent named Raylene Lewis, who he found when looking at houses on Realtor.com.
“Raylene showed us a lot of places, so we could choose a neighborhood that works for us and she convinced the seller to come down a bit in price so we could afford it,” Hall says.
Here are tips for first-time homebuyers:
Prepare a budget
First-time purchasers need to be financially and emotionally ready to buy.
“The first thing every buyer should do is to really look at their budget and know what they want their monthly payment to be,” says Lewis, an agent with Century 21 Beal in College Station with nearly 20 years of experience. “They need to include a homeowner’s association fee, maintenance, taxes and insurance, too.”
Next, buyers should meet with a lender and get preapproved for a loan, recommends Lewis.
“Buyers need that preapproval letter so they know they’re looking in the right price range and to be competitive when they find the place they want,” says Lewis.
When Chad Knowlton, 41, and his husband Michael Roberts, 45, got their puppy from a shelter and learned he might grow to 100 pounds, that was the push they needed to get serious about homeownership. The couple, married for 20 years, purchased a two-bedroom condo priced in the $420,000s in Shirlington, Virginia.
Find a trustworthy real estate agent
“The most important advice I can give to any buyer is to make sure you talk to a lot of people before you choose an agent and a lender because you need to know you can trust them,” says Knowlton.
Morgan Knull, an associate broker with Re/Max Gateway in Washington, D.C., recommends having a financial plan in place and saving money for a home inspection, an appraisal, a downpayment and closing costs.
Make time for research
Setting aside time to research homes and locations is also key.
“I often see engaged couples who have the ambitious goal to find a house and plan a wedding at the same time,” says Knull. “I highly recommend that people free up time and mental space to undertake the search for a home. Buying your first place is demanding and all-encompassing and it requires focus.”
Once you have established your price range, Knull suggests getting to know several neighborhoods well before you start seriously shopping.
“Go to a farmer’s market or a coffee shop and play ‘House Tourist’ at open houses to see what a neighborhood is like,” Knull says.
Another pre-search task is to develop a list of your priorities.
Know what kind of home you want
“Our first priority was to have an open concept floor plan,” says Knowlton. “We like to entertain, so the flow of the floor plan is important.”
Knowlton and Roberts initially looked at single-family dwellings but found that homes in their price range needed too much work. They were flexible about the house type and found a dog-friendly condo with a swimming pool, a gym, a park-like setting and a shuttle bus to public transit, which meant they didn’t need to buy a second car.
“Lots of people say things like ‘I need an acre of land’ but it’s important to find out what they really mean,” Lewis says.
“For example, the people who want land may just want privacy and would be OK with a smaller property that backs to green space with trails,” she says. “Understanding the way people plan to use their space opens them up to more options.”
Factor in what’s most relevant to you, says Knull.
“Think through what amenities and services you really want to pay a premium for,” says Knull. “And it helps if you know where you’re headed, such as starting a family or getting a dog.”