There are few things in life as intimidating as buying your first house. The knowledge needed to buy your first home will include learning about several different professional industries; including the mortgage, real estate, inspection, appraisal, title, and insurance industries. This article will give you an in-depth look at the home buying process, and help relieve some of the tension that you may feel as you venture through the home buying process for the first time.
Now that we have established a good visual guide to help you through the home buying process, let's dig a little deeper and get into the details involved throughout each step of the transaction. The information below should help you feel more comfortable about your options and help you approach the real estate market as an informed home buyer.
How to Buy Your First House: Step 1 - Get Your Finances in Order
In order to purchase a house, you will need to know how you are paying for it. Since this will most likely be the largest monetary transaction in your lifetime up to this point, it's highly probable that you will need to get a mortgage to pay for your first house. This may seem like common sense, but every Realtor® has had those buyers who send them a list of homes to look at before they have even thought about this step. Yes, it happens often. People want to go out and look at homes before they deal with their finances because looking at homes is much more fun that talking to a mortgage lender, but it's not the right way to start off.
First, you will need to find a mortgage lender who is highly skilled, understands your financial situation, and is easy to work with. You will be communicating extensively with this person(s) over the period of time that you are under contract to purchase a property, so it's important to choose someone who is professional, experienced, and competent. Most Realtors® can offer contact information on a few mortgage lenders if you have a hard time finding one. Realtors® are not compensated for these referrals. They refer them out in good faith as a gesture to help the loan close on time, with as little drama as possible from the mortgage company. Delayed closings are a nightmare for real estate professionals.
Where I work in Colorado Springs, people tend to prefer local mortgage lenders, because they are more accessible and can usually close quickly. Many of our local lenders have underwriters in the same building, and the loan file only goes through a few different people throughout the course of the transaction. National mortgage companies are notorious for being difficult to deal with because the file can go through so many people's hands, making the chance for a closing delay much higher. Do your research and find a lender with good reviews. If you use a reputable local lender, it can help to strengthen your contract offer, as opposed to using a national lender, because the listing agent won’t be as concerned about closing on time. I recently had an offer rejected because the seller did not want to work with a national lender. We learned that the seller had just had a deal fall apart after waiting 60 days for it to close. We closed a VA loan in 25 days with a local lender and had no problems. Experienced agents know that an offer is only as good as the lender's ability to close it. Most agents in Colorado Springs have had some bad experiences with larger national lenders, and they may be hesitant to promote your offer to their sellers due to fear of complications throughout the transaction. It's just something to be aware of.
Many first time home buyers are intimidated to talk to a mortgage lender, so they put it off until the last minute. In reality, mortgage lenders would love to close a loan for you. A good lender will do everything that they can to help you purchase a home. They are on your side. Don't be intimidated. If you are nervous about taking on a mortgage, check out this article by Sean Young (a top mortgage broker in Denver, CO) entitled "Experiencing ‘Purchase Anxiety’? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New Home".
Remember that you are paying the mortgage company for their services. You will have closing fees, most likely in the thousands of dollars, which you are paying to your chosen mortgage company for generating your loan. It’s a terrible feeling to work with someone who is nice at first, but turns out to be hard to get a hold of and bad at communicating important details. At the closing table, you will be giving the mortgage company a good chunk of money for preparing your loan. You want to work with someone who you feel deserves this money. There are some wonderful loan officers out there, as well some some terrible ones. The loan officer that you choose can make or break your home buying experience.
The next step is to determine your price range. This is a crucial step to take before looking at homes online. Be smart when determining how much financial burden you are willing to take on when buying a house. Just because you are approved for a certain amount does not necessarily mean that is your price range. Look at your finances and determine how much you are comfortable spending per month and work backwards from there. Everyone's lifestyle is different. If you have expensive hobbies that you enjoy doing during your off time and you buy the maximum amount of house that your mortgage company will allow, chances are that you’re going to be strapped for cash when you want to do those extra things. It's known in the industry as being “house poor”. Sure, you may have an amazing house, but you will be financially tethered to it and unable to afford other things in life. For some people, this is okay as they spend all their time at home anyway. Be sure to assess your personal situation and determine where you want to be financially after you have signed the papers for your mortgage.
Knowing your price range is also important when looking at homes online. If you start looking at homes in the $300,000 range, but you are only approved for $220,000, your going to have a hard time with what you see available on the market when you come down to that price. Every $10,000 increment has different things to offer. If you start your home search in the price range that you are actually going to purchase a home in, then you will not have to deal with the disappointment after comparing your home to those in higher price ranges. You can work your way up to a higher price range in the future, but start off in the price range where you are going to live right now. This is a much better way to search for a home.
Third, once you have determined your price range and have found the mortgage lender you want to work with, remember to get a copy of your pre-approval letter and have it handy as you go through the process. It's your proof that you are a legitimate home buyer. As a Realtor®, I am always impressed by first time home buyers who email me their loan pre-approval letter at the beginning of the process. It shows maturity in how proactive they are as legitimate home buyers.
When you have found the house that you want to purchase and are ready to put together a written offer, your pre-approval letter will need to accompany the offer. If you have not yet received a pre-approval letter, your offer may get held up waiting on the letter and in a situation with multiple offers, this can be a deal breaker. Since you have already met with and chosen your mortgage lender, go ahead and get this step taken care of right away.
It's important to remember that there is a difference between a pre-qualification letter and a pre-approval letter. Ask for a pre-approval letter as it is a much stronger representation of your purchasing power. For more on this topic, check out Bill Gassett’s article (A top Remax Realtor in Massachusetts) entitled Mortgage Pre-approval vs Pre-qualification Letter for some great info to help you better understand these two documents.
How To Buy Your First House: Step 2 - Find The Right Home
This is the part of the homebuying process that everyone loves the most. Shopping for a home is fun and exciting. The tips below will help you navigate the real estate market and find the right home for your needs.
First, find a good Realtor®. A Realtor® is your greatest asset as a home buyer or seller. They are the most involved professional in your transaction. They coordinate all the pieces of your purchase to make sure that everything is documented properly, on time, and processed correctly. They will also be knowledgable of local market data that will help to navigate your home buying choices like a professional.
As a Realtor®, my #1 concern when working with first time home buyers is the future resale potential of the home that they purchase. This is not something that many first time buyers consider when searching for a home. In Colorado Springs, there are some areas that are consistently hot markets, and some that take longer to sell than average. For instance, in Peyton (a pleasant rural area), the average days on the market is around 89 days. In Stetson Hills, the average days on the market is around 45 days. As a first time buyer, you would need to be aware of these numbers because, on average, first time buyers are likely to sell within the first 3 years. In Colorado Springs, we have a large military population, and these home owners are more likely to sell within 2 years. If you purchase your first home and then need to sell it within 2 years, you will do much better with a property that is in an area with fewer days on the market. It means that the demand for the area is higher and you will be able to sell faster than in other areas. So, if you purchase a home in Peyton, it may take twice as long to sell as a home in Stetson Hills. Trust me, if you are likely to need to sell quickly and can avoid going through the process of having your home sit on the market for a long time, then do so. It’s an exhausting experience for first time home sellers.
A common mistake for first time home buyers is that they choose to hire the first Realtor® that they meet. This is like rolling the dice on an integral part of your home buying process. 90% of the real estate sold in most markets is sold by the top 10% of Realtors® in that market. The Realtors® in the top 10% of your local market are the ones who you want to work with in most cases. They are the most knowledgable, experienced, and professional. This is why they end up selling so many homes. If you simply choose the first Realtor® that you meet, chances are 1 in 10 that you are working with a top performing local real estate professional. Family members, local group members, church members, and neighbors are some of the worst places to meet Realtors®. I made this mistake when my wife and I tried to buy our first investment property many years ago. We used a friend and it was a disaster. Do some research online and find an agent who has a strong online presence with great reviews. Your home buying experience will be considerably better. For some great home buying tips, check out Kyle Hisock's article (a top selling Rochester, New York Realtor), entitled Five Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home.
Second: Now that you have chosen a Realtor® and you have your pre-approval letter in hand, it’s time to go find a house. For most people, shopping for a home is much more fun than dealing with financing details and looking for a Realtor®. If you are not familiar with the area in which you are looking for a home, your first step will be to narrow down your search area. Researching schools, crime statistics, neighborhood amenities, and convenience to shopping are all details that you should spend time analyzing at the beginning of your home search. Once you have narrowed down the area(s) in which you would like to live, you can then gather your favorite listings and make an appointment with your Realtor® to show them to you. It’s best to only look at 5 or 6 at a time, because all of the details tend to get jumbled when you see too many homes at once.
It's common for first time home buyers to choose the best homes on the market within their price range, view them right away, but feel unsure about making an offer on one until they have seen 20 more homes in person. Just be aware that the first handful of homes that you choose are probably the best ones on the market, and will have the highest competition from other buyers. As a Realtor® who deals with many first time home buyers, I have witnessed this scenario many times. It’s okay if you’re not ready and need to see more homes. Just be aware that this is a common reaction when you look at homes for the first time, and remember that it comes with possibly negative consequences. This is even more critical in a seller's market where homes can go under contract in a just a day or two. Your favorite home may be gone before you have had a chance to make up your mind. For some great information on buying a home in a seller's market, check out Lynn Pineda's article (a top selling Realtor in Coral Springs, Florida) entitled "How to buy a home in a Seller’s Market".
Another common scenario is the realization that homes usually look different in person than they do online. After months of shopping for homes online, it can be disorienting to look at homes in person. I often have buyers send me 2 homes and say “we know that this first one is the one we want”. Then, when they get to the property in person for the first time, it looks and feels completely different than expected. Be ready for this experience, it's very common. I advise looking at homes based on the criteria of the property details first, and not the pictures. If a home meets your search criteria but has ugly photos, you should still look at it. It may be the perfect home for you, but is just poorly presented online and listed by an agent who is not very skilled with displaying properties to their highest and best presentation. For more information on this, read the article entitled: Looking at Homes Online Versus In Person.
Third: Once you have processed through all of the homes that you are interested in and have found the home that you like the most, it’s time to move on to the next step, which is writing a sales contract and negotiating the deal. This is where all of the details of the transaction are documented and signed by both parties through written contracts. The competency of your Realtor® will play a major role in your success through this process. If you have an experienced real estate agent who has written hundreds of sales contracts, you should be in good hands. Make sure that you take your time and ask any questions throughout this process. There are no dumb questions during this stage of the home buying process. For some great tips on how to write a real estate purchase offer, check out Joe Manausa's article (a top selling Tallahassee Florida Realtor) entitled "7 Ageless Tips On How To Buy A House".
A common first-time homebuyer mistake is to try and submit a lowball offer on their first deal. As a new buyer in the real estate market, you may feel as though you are entitled to a great deal. This is possible, but great deals do not usually happen unless you ar are buying a distressed property. No one gives anything away in real estate. In Colorado Springs, our list price to sales price ratio is over 98%. That means that a lowball offer of 90% lp/sp would be way off track if the home is priced at market value and in good condition. For more information on Low Ball offers, check out Debbie Drummond's article (a top selling luxury Realtor in Las Vegas) entitled "Low Ball Offers in Real Estate – Do They Ever Work?"
Once you have presented an offer, agreed upon all of the terms of the contract and both parties have executed the contract, you will now move onto the the home inspection process. As a home buyer, you will be responsible for hiring a 3rd party home inspector to make sure that there are no major issues with the property. Your Realtor® will most likely have a list of local home inspectors with whom they have worked with and can recommend if you need a reference. They should not be affiliated in any way or compensated for this referral. Once your inspection has been performed, it is likely that you will receive an inspection report which makes the property look like it is falling apart. Don't freak out! It's the job of the inspector to find every possible problem that they can find.
Even brand new homes can turn up lengthy inspection reports. Your job is to find the important issues with significant monetary value and determine whether you would like to ask for repairs on these items.
This may not be the last negotiating conversation that you have with the sellers, so keep that in mind as you work through the list of items that you want repaired or replaced on the property. You don't want to sour the deal by asking for 50 nit-picking items to be fixed before closing. Problems like water damage, AC/heating repairs, and broken appliances are common issues to have repaired by the sellers before closing. Asking for smoke detector battery replacement, new light bulbs, small nail hole sheet rock repair, and replacing cracked light switch plates are examples of items that can make you appear difficult to deal with, and may leave a bad impression with the sellers. Remember, the property still has to be appraised at value for the deal to continue to closing. If the appraisal comes back under value, you will have to negotiate a solution with the sellers to make the deal work. If you have bothered the sellers with a list of frivolous items to take care of before closing, they may be more difficult to deal with if you have appraisal issues or delayed closing deadlines during the rest of the transaction. Just deal with the big inspection issues that have a legitimate monetary value, and you will be more likely to have successful negotiations.
How To Buy Your First House: Step 3 - Close the Deal & Get The Keys
Now that you have done all the work of obtaining financing, finding a Realtor®, finding a home, and negotiating the deal, you are on your way to the finish line. There are only a few more details to cover to get you through the home buying process and into your new home.
First, make sure that your mortgage company and title company have all the relevant documentation and information needed from you to close the transaction. Your Realtor® should be communicating with all parties involved to make sure that the transaction is being coordinated properly, but don't count on this to happen. Make sure that you are proactively communicating with everyone to protect the deal from falling apart. Incompetent Realtors® and mortgage brokers undermine deals all of the time in this business. If you have a good Realtor®, mortgage broker, and closer at the title company, your deal will go very smoothly without any issues. On the other hand, if you have an incompetent real estate professional involved in your transaction, they may sabotage the whole deal. Your sales contract will have dates and deadlines that have to be met on time in order for the deal to maintain legality. If you have a contractual closing date and your mortgage lender needs another week or two to close, the sellers have the right to keep your earnest money and put their house back on the market if you cannot close by the date on the sales contract. This does happen. Make sure that you are watching the dates and deadlines, and are in communication with the parties involved to ensure that your closing is on track.
Once you are a week or two from the closing date and everyone involved in the transaction has confirmed that it will close on time, you should schedule your final walkthrough and closing time. A final walkthrough is a standard practice of walking the property before closing to make sure that there are no new major issues the property that would prohibit you from purchasing the home. If you agreed in the contract that all the appliances would stay with the home and you notice during your walkthrough that all the appliances have been removed, then you would need to resolve the issue before closing, or cancel the closing and seek legal advice on how to resolve the issue. For this reason, it is best to schedule the final walkthrough at least 24 hours before closing to allow time for any issues that need to be worked out. If you schedule your walkthrough an hour before your appointment with the title company, you may not be able to work these issues out in time. I have never had a final walkthrough go bad, but it does happen so be aware of this.
In Colorado Springs, buyers and sellers usually meet at the closing table together and sign all of the docs in the same room. This allows time for any specific questions to be asked between the buyer and the seller. If you had a bad experience during the negotiations, and you do not want to meet with the sellers at closing, you may be able to choose to close at a different time in order to avoid having to deal with them in person.
The Grand Finale: As the buyer, the majority of the papers to be signed at closing will be yours. Be prepare to sign a stack of papers covering all aspects of your home purchase. The majority of the documents are generated from your mortgage company. If you are purchasing a government foreclosure (VA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac), you will have even more papers than the average closing. Most closings take about an hour. Once you have signed all of the papers, the title company will submit the papers to the mortgage company and the mortgage company will then send the funds to complete the transaction. Some of our local lenders will fund the loan before closing and you can receive the keys as soon as you are done signing papers. Most of the national banks will require a few hours to fund the loan. If you have a late afternoon or evening closing, the loan will not fund until the next day. This means that you will not be entitled to the keys until the next day, so plan accordingly. Once the loan has funded, you will receive the keys and be the proud owner of your first home!
As a first time home buyer, your main concerns should be as follows:
- Make sure you choose a property that will have equity and resale potential for your future security.
- Make sure you are wise in choosing a good loan officer and Realtor® to guide you through the home buying process.
- Do your research and get answers to all your questions throughout the transaction.
If you are a first time home buyer in the Colorado Springs area, feel free to ask me any questions that you may have about the home buying process. I'm here to help if you need me.
Hi there! I'm Andrew Fortune. I'm a full-time REALTOR in Colorado Springs, CO and the owner of Great Colorado Homes, Inc. Real estate is a passion of mine. I enjoy writing for home buyers and sellers to help simplify the process in a visual format. I also enjoy writing for Realtors and sharing some of the technology tricks I've learned over the years. Feel free to contact me directly, or leave a comment in the comment section below. You can also follow me on any of these social platforms. :)