Reductions in Northern Virginia home prices, and unprecedented low interest rates for mortgages, have combined to offer tremendous opportunities for renters to become homeowners. The prospect of making the change may be exciting, but also overwhelming.
Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:
Not understanding the home buying process. Educate yourself. Find a homebuyer seminar that you can attend, or research online. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has an entire section devoted to first-time homebuyers, information on mortgage programs, downloadable tools such as a “wish list” and home-shopping checklist, tips on selecting a real estate professional, and so on. Another good source is a solid lender such as Wells Fargo or Prosperity Mortgage whose websites offer consumers a variety of tools and resources on purchasing a home.
Not asking questions. There are many intricacies to the home buying process, and even though you can gain a basic knowledge on your own, you will still have questions. Be sure to tell your real estate professional that you are new to the process. Choose an agent (like me!) who is willing to spend time with you and walk you through the entire process. A good agent will expect you to have questions at each step – from house-hunting, to making an offer, to the closing (such as, “What the heck is a closing?”). This is one of the largest financial transactions of your life, so you want to have a clear understanding of what’s going on at all times.
Looking outside your price range. Before beginning your home search, get pre-approved by a mortgage professional – preferably one you know or one recommended by your agent – to get an idea of how much you may be able to borrow. Use this information as a starting point in determining your price range. Then take into consideration other factors that will affect your monthly budget once you are a homeowner, such as property taxes, homeowners insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Don’t go out looking at homes before you have a firm idea of your range.
Buying on impulse. Don’t feel pressured into making an offer on the first home you see. Buyers, especially first-timers, may be impressed by the first two or three homes they view. Look at a good selection, then narrow the prospects to a select few and return for a closer look. When you decide to make an offer, work with your agent to get all of your questions answered first. But don’t wait too long to make an offer. The longer you wait, the greater the chance other prospective buyers may place offers, making it harder for you to negotiate a good deal.
Not planning ahead. Think about personal changes you are planning in the next five years. For instance, are you starting a family, and if so, is the home large enough and will it continue to be? If you think you’ll be relocating in a few years, you’ll probably want to pay closer attention to potential appreciation and resale value. If two incomes are needed to qualify for financing or to make your payments, do your plans include the ability to sustain those incomes?
Failure to consider location. Don’t just focus on the house. Examine the community. Does it suit your lifestyle? Is the area safe, well-maintained, close to work, stores and schools? Find out about zoning and whether new construction is planned on vacant land in the immediate area. Also consider the potential market for resale in the future. Your agent can also help with that.
Above all, remember knowledge is key. No question is silly. Your agent and your mortgage professional are invaluable assets throughout the process, and they want you to succeed. Making smart home buying decisions will make the home-buying process less scary and your first home purchase a rewarding experience.