5 Smart Moves for First Time Homebuyers

I came across this article and felt it was very timely – I also added my 2 cents in italics.  Enjoy – Sabrina
As a first-time real estate buyer, you probably have no idea how the overall purchasing process works or how to make sure you’re making a smart decision to purchase. And you’ll probably be very surprised to learn how much work it really is just to buy a home. To get you started in the right direction, and this is just a start, here are a few tips that you should consider.
Get lender-qualified and find a good real estate agent
To start off, you should get qualified by a lender to see what price range you can realistically afford and interview some real estate agents to find the right person to represent you in your transaction.
Once you’re qualified and have your price range estimate in hand, you’ll be able to spend your time shopping in neighborhoods that you can afford. But remember: Just because the bank says you can qualify for a certain amount, that doesn’t mean you should spend that amount. Make sure you can actually afford the monthly payment, along with all your other bills.
For real estate sales professionals, you should get referrals for a full-time agent or broker who sells at least five or more properties per year and is well-educated on the process and location where you plan to live. You should call references, check that the agent’s state sales license is up to date and interview them to make sure you’ll be comfortable working with them.
My 2 cents – Buyers should work with a lender who picks up the phone and answers their e-mails and questions in a timely manner.  Unless a buyer is using all cash, the home loan is VERY  key to purchasing.  A buyer will find that during the hunt and offer process – they will need an updated lender approval letter about every 30 days and your Realtor will need questions answered as your home journey progresses.  If the lender doesn’t respond, it can throw the home transaction off.
Make sure you plan to be a long-term owner
Once you know your price range and have looked at some properties, it’s time to make sure that you believe you can find a property that you will own for a minimum of five years. If your price range doesn’t match where you want to live, you’d be better off staying a renter and saving some additional money until you can afford where you want to live. This is because an owner really doesn’t earn any equity, on average, in a property for at least five years. That’s the generalbreak-even point, and you really need to shoot for longer than that as an ownership strategy. The truth is, long-term real estate ownership can be a great way to earn wealth, but short-term ownership usually will diminish your wealth.
My 2 cents – Due to our SF Peninsula location, The Caton Team advises buyers that they will mostly likely be in their new home for more than 5 years – closer to 7+ years before they see enough equity to sell.  Real Estate is definitely a long-term investment!  In regards to sitting back and saving though – it all depends on the real estate market where the buyer is purchasing and how fast homes are appreciating.  That’s why a buyer needs a full time agent to help them sort this out.  
On the SF Peninsula, we hit bottom on prices in 2009 – though not many people knew that.  Since then, due to low inventory, historically low interest rates and high demand; prices are moving up quickly with each sale.  Around here sometimes the market appreciates faster than buyers can save – and the last thing any buyer wants to find out – is that they waited themselves out of the home purchase market. 
Since no one can control the market and where prices are going.  If a buyer is serious about purchasing on the SF Peninsula and the home they want is not in their price range, The Caton Team suggests they go back to the table and re-evaluate their wants and needs list.  Determine if they can settle on something they didn’t necessarily want but fulfills their need.  And in time, they will earn equity, be able to sell their first home and buy a home more to their wants list than their needs list.  This might be the hardest part about purchasing on the Peninsula.  Often it pushes a buyer away from buying a home and more towards buying a condo since the price is more affordable and often larger and in better areas than similarly priced homes. 
Educate yourself
Buying property is probably the most complex, riskiest and expensive thing you will ever do. Do your homework: Talk to real estate owners, go to first-time buyer seminars, check out online material and read some books to learn what to avoid in the buying process. The more you educate yourself, the better the chances that when things go wrong — and they will go wrong — they will only be minor issues, not major headaches.
My 2 cents – In our experience the pro-active buyer is the most successful.  A Realtors knowledge and experience cannot be downloaded, though we try to explain and guide – there is so much to cover.  When a buyer steps in the real estate market it is far different than they expected.  Knowledge is power.  The Caton Team will never push a buyer to sign their name to a price or contract unless they feel it is the right thing to do.  And that feeling comes from educating themselves.  Asking questions, driving through areas, going to open houses and also sitting in our car to discuss homes as we tour.  It does take a lot of work to buy a home – and a buyer must be up for it if they want to succeed.  The Realtor cannot do this alone – a buyer must work closely with their Realtor and communicate!  Communication is so key to a successful working relationship.  And let your Realtor know who you would like to communicate.  Phone Email Text?  Just let us know.
Find a nice affordable property
The real gems in real estate are the nice, decent shape, moderately priced, boring houses, town homes and condominiums that are within your budget. Most buyers stretch to purchase the most expensive property they can afford. What if you lose your job? How about saving some of your money for retirement? You want your home to be an asset you can afford, not a liability that leaves you with no additional funds over the cost of homeownership. Also, skip the fixers, prize properties or anything that sounds too good to be true: Those always end up having issues, and owners realize, after the fact, that the deal they thought they were getting really was just too good to be true!
My 2 cents – This really hits home.  Often times buyers are so focused on getting a “house” they tend to overlook the repairs.  Figuring they can fix it themselves.  Sounds great in theory – until the repairs cost more than expected and now the monthly budget is tighter than expected.
When I purchased my first place, a one-bedroom condo, it only required some cosmetic updates.  We did most of the work ourselves, but in the end it still cost us about $20,000 and that was a condo – not a home.  Home repairs can be expensive.  And remember – it’s not an unexpected home repair – it is an expected home repair.  Because, like everything else, homes will deteriorate and require lifelong maintenance.  HOA dues don’t seem so crazy anymore once you compare what a home repairs might cost!
I’d rather see a first time buyer buy a condo that needs updating than a home that needs a roof, foundation repair and new windows. 
It’s hard for first time buyers to gauge and understand the cost of home repair and maintenance.  Ask your parents or a trusted friend who owns their home to get an idea of what maintenance and repairs can be like and how they are discovered.  Better yet start practicing your skills at painting etc or start getting quotes to better understand the cost.  We call this homework.
 
Take your time
Realistically it should take you six months or longer to buy a nice quality property that will add to your long-term wealth. Make sure you have a full understanding of what the marketplace has to offer in your price range and that you know what you’re doing.
Those are a few tips to get you started in the right direction. Real estate is buyer beware, so try to make sure you’re one of the buyers who is “aware” of how to make quality wealth-building real estate decisions. Down the road you’ll pat yourself on the back when things work out well.
My 2 cents – Be patient.  This is a journey not a race.  It will be frustrating.  At times a buyer will feel like this is just an uphill battle without any hope in sight.  Writing several offers and getting outbid will be stressful.  However, there is one thing we can say in our 25+ years of Real Estate experience.  If you want to buy a home and you are realistic, willing to adjust your wants and needs, taking the time to understand your financing options, your day to day expenses and doing your homework – you will get a home! 
Doris Day said it best – what will be will be.  Thanks for reading!
Got Questions? – The Caton Team is here to help.
Email Sabrina & Susan at:  Info@TheCatonTeam.com
Visit our Website at:   http://thecatonteam.com/
Please enjoy my personal journey through homeownership at:
Thanks for reading – Sabrina
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Sabrina Caton - The Caton Team Realtors

A native Californian with a passion for residential real estate and writing. A full time Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Drysdale Properties.

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