DeWitt Hutchins Relationship Manager
4 min read
So you’ve decided to take the leap and join the ranks of first-time homebuyers. Congratulations! You’re about to enter an exciting new world full of possibility and potential.
However, the homebuying process is not without its twists, turns, and challenges — especially in today’s competitive market.
That’s where the first-time homebuyer checklist below comes in: This practical guide can help you reach this meaningful and momentous milestone with fewer surprises, less stress, and a greater chance of finding yourself one day very soon unpacking boxes in the home of your dreams. Here are the basic steps to buying a house:
Step 1. Assemble your team
While it’s obviously wise to do your own market research and familiarize yourself with the details of the homebuying process, it’s also essential to recognize that, for most people, there are limits to the degree of expertise you can acquire without taking away time and attention from your real goal: finding and purchasing a home that fits your unique needs and wants.
In practice, that means seeking the services of seasoned professionals you can trust to help you navigate the process: a real estate agent who understands your desired location and price point, a reputable banker or mortgage broker, a top-notch real estate lawyer, an eagle-eyed home inspector and beyond.
Think of it this way: You’re on a mission and now it’s time to assemble the sort of crackerjack team that is willing to go all-in with you to make it a success.
Step 2. Gather important documents
There is, of course, one area where you absolutely need to be the expert: your own personal finances. And not simply so you can set realistic expectations for yourself. The truth is, you can assemble the greatest house-hunting/buying team on the planet, but if they’re working with incomplete information, their ability to tailor their efforts to your short- and long-term needs and goals will be limited.
Here’s where to start:
- Request your credit report from all three credit rating agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Be sure to do more with it than look at your credit score number and move on. You’ll want to go through the entire report to make sure there aren’t any errors marring your credit unnecessarily.
- Gather paperwork including tax returns, W-2 forms from the past two years, current pay stubs, bank statements from the past several months, current asset statements and other relevant financial documents.
- Apply for mortgage prequalification/preapproval.* This is key in competitive markets.
Step 3. Set a (realistic) budget
Once you get out in the world of open houses and guided afternoon realtor tours, it is very easy to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt and lose sight of the fundamentals. Which is why it’s smart to set your budget before you begin that part of the process — and make sure your team is aware of the sturdiness of that self-imposed ceiling and your commitment to it.
By narrowing your search down to properties you can truly afford, you’ll save yourself plenty of time, avoid clouding your mind with the amenities and layouts of homes you have no intention of actually purchasing, and eliminate the temptation to stretch your resources into precarious territory.
Keep in mind that your budget cannot be based upon list price alone. You’ll also need to take into account down payment and closing costs — closing costs for co-ops, for example, are generally lower than those for townhouses or condos — moving costs, renovations, taxes and other everyday expenses. Further, to provide yourself some protection from the unexpected, it makes sense to set aside cash to cover maintenance costs and mortgage payments for one to two years after purchase.