Looking for a House

Follow these first-time home-buyer tips to start looking for your new house.

1. Find a trustworthy real estate agent.

One of the most important things you need to buy a house for the first time is actually a person. A good real estate agent will help you find the right home and navigate the buying process. I always recommend working with a real estate agent.

2. Get clear on needs versus wants.

Let’s be honest: Most of us aren’t very good at telling the difference between what we need and what we want. So, what can you do to change that?

Know what motivates you.

It’s easy to think you need a super nice house because your parents had one . . . but they worked for 30 years to get it. Or maybe you grew up in a less-than-perfect home, and you want a better one so you’ll feel like you’ve finally “made it.” 

When we take time to learn why we spend money the way we do we can better understand what we need in a house—and what we can do without.

Be content.

When we compare ourselves and our stuff to others, we’re struggling with contentment. Contentment can make us rich—and it can keep us from making bad money decisions. When you’re grateful for what you already have, it’ll put your house hunt into perspective.

Talk to people.

Your real estate agent has helped dozens of first-time home buyers. They can help you discern your needs and wants, set realistic expectations, and show you houses that meet your criteria.

If you’re single, talk to a trusted friend who will call you out if you’re being unreasonable. And if you’re married, now’s the time to get to know your spouse better! Be honest about what you both need and want in a home so you can find a place where you’ll both be happy.

Be realistic.

As a first-time home buyer, you don’t have equity in an existing house, and you may not have a ton of savings either. So you may have to make some sacrifices to stay within your budget. For instance, you may have to buy a house that needs fixing up or a smaller place where your kids share a room.

That’s okay. It’s tempting to think your first home is your forever home, but for most people, it isn’t. You need a house to fit this season of life—and you can always sell it and upgrade later. Keep your perspective and your cool.

Make a list.

Some things really may be nonnegotiable for you—whether they’re needs or wants. Maybe you need to live close enough to commute to work every day. Maybe your pets need a fence. Or maybe you want to live in a good school district for your kids.

List 3–5 things your house absolutely must have. (And yes, it’s okay to put a want or two on this list.) Then, write down the nice-to-haves that could be the cherry on top of your first home.

3. Start looking for a house.

Okay, you’ve got your shopping list in hand, and you’re ready to roll. Here’s how it’s done.

Get ideas online.

Find homes you like online and send them to your real estate agent. Then, they can use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to find more homes that check off the boxes for you.

Home buyers don’t have access to the MLS, but your real estate agent can use it to help you view the most properties for sale in your market. They can even help you find great deals on homes before they’re listed.

Research neighborhoods for the best fit.

Most home buyers would rather compromise on a home’s condition and size than on the quality of the neighborhood. Now, your real estate agent can’t talk about crime rates, schools or demographics. (That’s real estate steering, and it’s illegal.) But they can tell you where to find that information for yourself.

You can also look up local schools and calculate your new commute times to see what they’re like. If you can, visit the neighborhood at different times to check traffic and noise levels and see if people are comfortable being outdoors.

Once you choose the neighborhoods you like, attend some open houses. Looking at homes for sale—even if they’re not perfect for you—helps you learn about the area.

Think long term.

Like I said, you probably won’t live in your first home forever, so don’t buy the most expensive house on the block. Future buyers who are shopping in a $200,000 neighborhood won’t want a $300,000 home. But if you buy in the neighborhood’s low price range, you’ll have more room to build home value.  

Pay attention to what’s happening in the community too. Are home prices rising or falling? Are businesses booming or closing? You want a home that will be a good investment in the long run. 

Be patient.

Finding the right house takes time. More than likely, you’ll look at several houses. You may even make several offers before one gets accepted. And that’s okay. It’s part of the process.

So keep dreaming about all the exciting possibilities that are open to you right now. Be patient and proud of the fact that you’re willing to wait for the right house—not settle for the wrong one.

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