Every year, across the country, many people take the first steps toward buying a home. Whether they’re first-time buyers or current homeowners looking to improve their living situation, many buyers are ready to leap in and make a purchase.
That eagerness can lead to the home of their dreams, but it can also lead to headache and heartache if they aren’t careful. If you’re about to set out and hunt for a new home, make sure you avoid these all-too-common house hunting mistakes.
Mistake 1: Starting to Look Before You’re Ready
Sometimes, the desire to buy a house outweighs the reality of your financial situation. To make yourself an excellent candidate as a homebuyer, it’s crucial you don’t start house hunting until you have your financial ducks in a row. Being financially prepared involves:
- Having Money Saved. You want to have enough cash set aside for a down payment on the home you end up buying. It’s also important to have some money for the closing costs and for any surprise repairs or issues that might come up within the first few months of living in your new home.
- Checking Your Credit. Along with making sure you have the money to buy a house, it’s also important to make sure you have the credit to get a decent interest rate on a mortgage. Depending on your credit history and current score, you might need to spend a few months working to improve it. For example, if you have a lot of debt, it’s a good idea to pay down as much of it as possible before you see a lender about a mortgage. If you don’t have a good credit score or any credit history, you might need to open an account — such as a credit card — and work to build up your credit before you can apply for a mortgage.
- Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage. Whatever you do, don’t start house hunting until you’ve seen a lender about a mortgage. Getting preapproved for a mortgage will show a real estate agent and any sellers you encounter that you’re serious about buying a home. It also gives you a stamp of approval. After looking at your financial situation and your credit, a lender has determined that you’re potentially a good fit for a home loan.
- Knowing Your Budget. How much can you comfortably afford to spend on a home? Don’t just look at the monthly mortgage amount. Pay attention to the property taxes in the area, any homeowners’ association fees, and the cost of utilities each month. When setting your budget for a new home, remember that it doesn’t have to be the same as the amount you’re preapproved for. In many cases, it might be in your best interest to buy a house that is less expensive than the maximum mortgage you could potentially get. This will give you a buffer in case unexpected costs arise.
Mistake 2: Not Being Realistic
One of the most important house hunting tips you’ll ever get is this: Know thyself. It’s super important to be realistic when buying a home. If you’re not a handy person and you can’t remember the last time you tried to DIY something, don’t buy a fixer-upper, no matter how inexpensive it is or how much “potential” it might have.
That said, if you do want a turn-key, move-in-ready property, keep in mind that the house might cost considerably more than a fixer-upper in the same area. Depending on your budget and needs, you might have to look in a more affordable part of town for a home or change something on your wish list.
Mistake 3: Limiting Your Options Too Much
There are plenty of people out there who say “I’ll never buy a condo,” or “I need a house with an attached garage.” While it’s a good idea to know what you want, it’s also a good idea to keep your options open when you look for a home.
For example, buying a condo might be the option that’s best for you at the moment. If you don’t have time for yardwork or are looking for a home that includes amenities such as a gym or pool, without the maintenance, a condo might be the way to go.
If you’re not sure whether a condo, townhouse, or single family home is right for you, our quiz can help you narrow down your options. But it’s important to never say never, as you don’t want to ignore a property that could be a good fit for you.
Mistake 4: Getting Attached Too Soon
It’s very easy to get stars in your eyes when you’re house hunting. You might come across a property online that seems ideal. Or, you might think that the first home you visit is “the one.” The trouble with getting attached to a house that’s not yours is that it can cloud your judgment.
You might be so set on getting a certain home that you offer more than it’s worth or more than you can afford. You might also ignore other similar, potentially better properties in your pursuit of that “perfect” house.
While you do want to buy and move into a house you love, it’s important to keep a level head throughout the homebuying process.
Mistake 5: Taking Too Many People With You
Too many cooks spoil the soup. That’s also the case when you’re buying a home. While you might value the opinion of your best friend or your mother, they may not be the people you want to bring with you when you’re house hunting.
After all, your friends and relatives won’t be living in the house with you — or buying it with you. They won’t have to clean the pool, keep up with the yardwork, or pay the bills. While it can be helpful to have a third party with you when you’re looking at properties, take their opinions with a grain of salt. Remember, in the end, it will be your home and expenses, not theirs.
Mistake 6: Messing Up the Timing
When you’re buying a home, timing is everything. You don’t want to jump in too quickly and make a costly mistake. You also don’t want to drag your feet and wait so long that someone else ends up buying the property.
Timing is important when going to see a home, as well. If the area you’re looking to buy in is in a seller’s market, you might need to act very quickly when it comes to viewing houses and deciding whether or not you want them. If your agent says there’s a house available, go to see it ASAP — don’t wait a week, or else it might be off the market already or have multiple offers, which can create a bidding war.
Mistake 7: Offering Too Much
You’ve found a house you love and are ready to make an offer. You want the house, so you’re prepared to pay far more than the asking price.
There are a few reasons why you might want to think twice about making a high offer right off of the bat. One is that the house might not be worth what you’re willing to pay. It might work financially, if you’re going to pay cash for the property. However, if you’re getting a mortgage and the appraisal on the house is less than what you offered, it could impact your ability to get a mortgage.
Another reason to be cautious about overinflating the price of a home is that it can come back to haunt you when you want to sell and move on. If you offered too much or more than the value of the home, you might not be able to recoup your costs when it’s time to sell.
10 House Hunting Tips
Now that you know what to avoid when house hunting, here are a few tips to make your search go a bit more smoothly and help you find the right home with as little hassle as possible:
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
If you’ve ever watched house hunting shows, you know it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the small details of a home. Many buyers on TV complain about flooring, wall color, or kitchen cabinets.
In reality, those are all things that can be updated, even if you’re not particularly handy. If a house is ideal in every other way, don’t put it in the “no” pile because you don’t like the carpet.
- Don’t Ignore Glaring Issues
That said, it’s also easy to get so wrapped up in a house that you become willing to ignore significant problems, like a roof that leaks or old windows that do little to keep out drafts. If your home inspection uncovers considerable problems, it’s important to negotiate with the seller to come to an agreement that works for both of you.
You don’t want to end up buying a house that has substantial, possibly hidden, problems. Don’t try to convince yourself that a major issue isn’t one.
- Clear Your Schedule
Take your time when house hunting. If your real estate agent suggests looking at houses on a weekend morning or afternoon, keep the entire day clear. You don’t want to rush through a tour of a house because you need to get to a soccer game or a haircut.
Giving yourself plenty of time will also give you some flexibility. For example, while you’re out looking at properties with your agent, they might get word of a new home on the market. If you keep your schedule free, you’ll be able to head over to see it immediately, rather than having to wait and schedule for a different day.
- Know What You Want
It’s a good idea to make a list of the things you want in a house. You might actually want to make two lists. One is a “need-to-have” list, and the other is a “nice-to-have” list.
The things on the need-to-have list are the deal breakers. For example, if your five-person family needs four bedrooms, a house with only two or three bedrooms isn’t going to make the cut. If you need a basement for storage, a house with no storage space is a no-go.
The nice-to-have list should include features you can live without or add later, but they don’t absolutely have to be included with the house. For example, you might think that a pool is nice to have. At the same time, you wouldn’t rule out buying a property because there wasn’t a pool included.
- Be Flexible
One of the best house hunting tips you’ll receive is to be flexible. You have your need-to-have list, but beyond that, give yourself room to explore and give houses a chance. You might think you need to live in a particular neighborhood, but you shouldn’t be opposed to the idea of checking out properties in a neighboring community.
- Get Preapproved First
Don’t get a real estate agent or start hitting up open houses until you’ve gotten preapproved for a mortgage.
Why not? Well, getting preapproved lets you know if you’re in a position to get a mortgage in the first place. It also gives you an idea of what a lender is willing to let you borrow. You might have thought you could afford a $400,000 house, simply to learn that you’re only preapproved for a $250,000 loan.
Preapproval helps to give you a realistic idea of what you can expect when it comes to getting a home loan.
- Take Notes
Depending on your situation, you’re likely going to look at a lot of homes. At some point, all of those properties are going to start to run together, and you might have trouble remembering which one is which.
To help keep track, bring along a notebook and pen to every house you visit. Record the details of the home, including the address, number of rooms, and things you liked or didn’t like.
- Kick the Tires
Unless you’re looking at a motorhome, there won’t be literal tires for you to kick. But it’s still a good idea to make sure the home is in good working order. You can do this in two ways.
The first way to kick the proverbial tires is to schedule a home inspection after you’ve made an offer. In fact, you might want to include a clause in your offer that states it’s contingent upon the results of the home inspection.
A home inspector will let you know if there’s anything that’s going to be very costly to fix in the home, such as the roof, plumbing system, HVAC unit, hot water heater, and other major systems that could lead to a big expense if they stop functioning properly. The inspector should also be able to tell you how long those systems will last so you can begin saving up to replace them before they break.
You can also purchase additional tests to check radon levels, determine possible termite damage, and if needed, inspect the sewage system and well.
The second and more minor area you should take a close look at is the quality of the fixtures and appliances inside, especially if you’re paying extra to keep the appliance in the home. In some cases, house flippers or renovators will purchase the least expensive materials and appliances in order to turn a bigger profit. They look great when you’re viewing the house, but they tend to wear out quickly once you’re in the home and using them regularly.
- Use a Mortgage Calculator to Figure Out Your Monthly Expenses
When you get a mortgage, you’re not just paying back the principal each month. There’s also interest, insurance, and property tax to consider. A mortgage calculator can give you a realistic idea of what buying a home will cost you each month. It will also give you an idea of how long it will take you to pay back the loan and whether a fixed rate loan or an adjustable rate mortgage is the better option for you.
- Visit the Property a Few Times
A house might seem stunning when you visit it on a sunny weekend afternoon. But how does it hold up at night? Are there crazy parties happening at the neighbor’s? Or loud train noises in the morning?
Since you won’t be living in the house only when it’s sunny or during the afternoon, it’s a good idea to visit the property a few times before you finalize your offer. Visiting the property multiple times also gives you an idea of what the neighborhood and surrounding areas are like throughout the day.
A House Hunting Checklist
Ready to get started with house hunting? This handy checklist will help you avoid mistakes and make sure you don’t miss anything important on your hunt.
- Get Your Finances in Order. First things first, you need to be financially ready to buy a home. That means having enough cash saved up for the common expenses involved in purchasing a home. It also means making sure your credit stacks up and that you’re able to get a mortgage. It’s a good idea to learn about the different home loan options available at this stage of the game.
- Do Some Research. As soon as you’re financially ready to buy a home, the next step is to start researching the area you want to live in. What are the schools like? What neighborhoods have the best reputation? Which ones are “up-and-coming” — and usually more affordable? Are people moving into the areas where you’re looking to buy, or are they selling and moving out in droves?
- Decide Who You’ll Work With. Some people choose to work with a real estate agent. Others buy and/or sell without an agent involved. You can face challenges and successes either way. Working with a real estate agent may cost more for the buyer and/or seller, but they often bring a wealth of knowledge about the region and are familiar with available properties. If you’re working with an agent, you may be required to sign a contract. Make sure you understand the costs and terms before you sign. In the end, whether or not it’s better for you to work with a real estate agent, and which one is the best fit for you, is going to depend largely on your individual situation.
- Make Your Lists. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to start making your list of wants and needs for your new home. How many bedrooms do you want? What size yard, if any? Can you stand an older kitchen and bathrooms, or do you need something that’s new or recently remodeled? What’s an absolute deal breaker when it comes to buying a home, and what you can make do with or without?
- Check Out Properties. You can start looking at properties online, but you and your real estate agent likely won’t look at all of them. Keep in mind that this stage of the homebuying process can drag on. A house that looks perfect online might be missing key features in real life, for example.
- Talk to the Neighbors. When you do go to visit houses, make a point to speak with the neighbors, if at all possible. If you’re nervous about going up and ringing the doorbells of strangers, keep in mind that doing so can be a great way to introduce yourself to the neighborhood, especially if you do end up moving in.
- Ask Questions About the Property. Be sure to ask any and all questions you have about the house and property, either while you’re looking at it or after you’ve gone home and thought of additional things to ask. In some cases, problems that look like big issues can be small things that are easily fixed, while perceived small problems can actually be very large concerns. If you’re not sure about anything, ask.
- Examine the Prices of Homes. Is the house you’re considering making an offer on priced right for the market? Your real estate agent should give you the 411 on comps, or comparable sales, in the area and let you know if a house is overpriced or underpriced. An underpriced home might be a great value, but an overpriced home seldom is.
- Make an Offer. Once you’re sure a house is “the one,” go ahead and make your offer, with your agent’s help and assistance. Don’t be surprised if there’s some back-and-forth between you and the seller, especially if your offer is below the asking price.
- Schedule the Inspection. Before you finalize the sale of your home, you’ll want to schedule a home inspection to make sure there aren’t any hidden issues or major deal breakers. If there are problems with the house, you might need to renegotiate with the seller or back out of the sale entirely.
- Head to Closing. If all goes well with the home inspection, the next — and last! — step is to head to closing. After closing, you’ll get the keys to your new home and will be able to call yourself a homeowner.
PSECU Can Help You With the Home Financing Process
Remember, before you start looking at local properties, make sure you’re eligible for a mortgage. We can walk you through the preapproval process and help you determine which type of mortgage is right for you. Check out our mortgage calculators to get a sense of how much house you can afford and the loan options that best fit your needs. To learn more about our mortgages and to get started on the path to homeownership, contact us today.