Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate. This week, we talked with Michael Rooney, an real estate agent with Rooney Real Estate, who shared his tips and recommendations for first-time homebuyers.
Buying a home is likely the biggest financial decision you’ll make in your lifetime. Unfortunately, it can be a daunting and stressful experience — especially for first time buyers. But if you follow the tips I’ve laid out below, I’m confident you will have an easier and less stressful first time home buying experience.
The Mortgage Process
First things first — get your finances in order. Check your credit score before meeting with a lender, evaluate your spending habits to ensure that you can afford a mortgage and prepare the financial documents that you’ll need when you meet your lender — e.g. pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, etc.
Once you’ve gotten approval from a lender, figure out how much you can actually spend as you could qualify for more than you can afford. For those of you operating on an average-level yearly income, the rule of thumb is that your mortgage payments should be less than 30% of your monthly income. But if you fall into a higher income bracket, you may be able to spend as much as 50% of your monthly income on a mortgage.
Lastly, figure out how much you can afford for a down payment. Down payments are huge negotiation tools for agents. If a seller gets two of the same offers but one is only putting 10% down while the other is putting down 20%, the seller is always going to go for the offer with the higher down payment.
The Home Search
Now it’s time for the fun part — figuring out where you want to live. Do thorough research to learn what areas best fit your price range and assess what is most important to you in a home. Make two lists to help you — “must haves” and “wants”. Remember, this is likely the biggest purchase of your life. Try not to settle when it comes to your “must haves” but also be prepared to be a little flexible on your “wants”.
Once you’ve found an area that suits you, visit open houses in your price range. Hopefully all goes according to plan and the properties you can afford satisfy your “must haves” and “wants” — but it’s not uncommon for buyers to end up having to look into other locations.
Most importantly, find a qualified, local buyer’s agent. A buyer’s agent can get you access to listings before they hit the general market. They will advise you of a home’s true market value and help you negotiate your purchase price. And the best part of it is they typically provide FREE service — so take advantage of them!
Making the Offer
When you’re ready to make an offer, talk it over with your buyer’s agent and come to a consensus on a realistic price point. If your agent expects multiple offers, you might want to consider increasing your price point to ensure you beat any other offers. But if your agent anticipates that yours will be the only offer, you may want to start lower.
Don’t be afraid to make an offer. I see a lot of buyers wait to see if the price drops or to give them time to think. In my experience, that property will sell right out from underneath them if they wait. Trust your research and listen to your agent. If a property is priced right, it will move quickly. The worst part of my job is telling a buyer who waited a week too long that they missed out on their dream home.
Once your offer has been accepted, find a good home inspector. They will identify everything that needs to be fixed in your prospective new home and also make recommendations on what will need to be fixed in the future.
After the inspection, your buyer’s agent can help guide you on to the next steps in the negotiation process — including trying to get the seller to fix any issues found during the home inspection. Also, find a good attorney to help with the Purchase and Sales Agreement and closing. Typically it takes 45 days from offer to closing so try to be patient and let your lender, attorney and agent help you through the process. Closing day will be there before you know it and you’ll have the keys to your new home.
Good luck and happy house hunting!
Michael Rooney is a trusted South Boston real estate agent who helps clients search for the perfect property on the market.