For many people, buying a house will be the biggest financial decision of their lives. While they may have purchased cars, boats, or other large ticket items before, nothing compares to a first home. But buying a home isn’t just an exciting time, but also a stressful one. There are a lot of potential mistakes that someone can make — and because you don’t know what you don’t know, you might not know you’re making a mistake until it’s happened.
Here are some of the most common homebuying mistakes made by first-time buyers — and even some frequently made by seasoned buyers.
- 1 1. Not Applying for a Mortgage Preapproval or Prequalification First
- 2 2. Looking at Homes Without an Idea of What You Want
- 3 3. Waiting Too Long to Purchase Your Next Home or Investment Home
- 4 4. Making Big Financial Decisions or Credit Changes During the Process
- 5 5. Getting Into a Bidding War or Getting Fixated on a Single Property
- 6 6. Failing to Factor In the Cost of Repairs and Renovations
- 7 7. Avoiding the Process of Negotiations
- 8 8. Purchasing a Home That’s Too Expensive
- 9 9. Not Choosing the Right Loan Product
- 10 10. Waiting Until You Have 20 Percent Down
- 11 11. Forgetting About the Additional Costs
- 12 12. Trying to Go Without a Real Estate Agent
1. Not Applying for a Mortgage Preapproval or Prequalification First
You shouldn’t start looking at a home before you have a preapproval or prequalification in hand. Once you find a home that you like, the process might move quite fast; you may need to make an offer right away and you need a preapproval to do so. Moreover, preapproval or prequalification is going to tell you about how much you can spend. If you don’t have one, you might be looking at houses outside of your price range.
A pre-qualification is a fairly fast process; you provide some basic information, and the bank tells you how much it would be willing to lend you. A preapproval is a little more arduous, with you having to go through the initial steps of qualifying for a loan. It’s better to get a preapproval because it’s more likely to be accurate.
2. Looking at Homes Without an Idea of What You Want
Every home search should begin with a list of what you need and what you want. Your need-and-want list is going to guide your real estate agent toward the properties that are best for you. If you’re looking aimlessly at homes, you’re more likely to get caught up in the “feel” or “story” of a home. You might find a home that’s beautifully staged and feels exactly like what you want, only to remember later that you absolutely needed walk-in closets.
3. Waiting Too Long to Purchase Your Next Home or Investment Home
Many people wait until conditions are perfectly ideal. But you don’t have to. There are ways to purchase a next home or an investment home that calculates the rental income you’ll have from a prior home, for instance. By going for alternative financial measures (such as buying a home from within a self-directed retirement account), you may be able to buy real property faster. Few investments are as stable as real property.
4. Making Big Financial Decisions or Credit Changes During the Process
If you purchase a car, for instance, during your home purchase, you might see your loan paperwork fall through. From when you start the home buying process until the very end, you should freeze your credit scores and make sure that nothing changes. Don’t make any major financial decisions, such as starting a business, because even if you don’t change your credit score, it can change your financial picture. Definitely don’t switch jobs during this process.
5. Getting Into a Bidding War or Getting Fixated on a Single Property
This is by far the worst financial decision many people can make. If you get into a bidding war, you could end up spending tens of thousands of dollars more than the house is worth. That’s money down the drain. If the house has a particular feature you love (like a spa), consider the cost of putting that spa into another home. Likewise, don’t just discount sentimentality. Your desire for a home is worth something (a house is a sentimental thing), but you need to be aware of the actual, real value of the home, too, not just what the home is worth to you.
6. Failing to Factor In the Cost of Repairs and Renovations
As an addition to the above, you always need to consider repairs and renovations, as well as the cost of them. There may be a home that’s worth $160,000 now but will require $40,000 worth of renovations. There could also be a home that has everything you already need but would cost $180,000. Ultimately while the second home is more expensive, you’re also going to save more money because of the cost of repairs and renovations.
To get a realistic idea of the repairs and renovations, you should ask contractors for quotes. Always get more than one quote to get a feel for how much something costs throughout the industry, as an individual company’s prices could run low or high. While the contractor may need to see the property, most sellers will understand the need to get quotes for things like this before committing to a purchase.
7. Avoiding the Process of Negotiations
Negotiating is how you save money on a property. Rather than just offering the sticker price on a property, consider negotiating. You don’t always have to negotiate on the price itself, either, but you can ask for concessions from the seller. Let’s take the example of the home not having the floors you want. You could ask the seller to give you a credit of $3,000 for new floors. Don’t just accept things that you don’t want to accept, such as minor damage to a roof — ask the seller to either fix it or give you a credit for it.
Negotiations are where a good real estate agent can be particularly useful, but your agent also works for you. You need to tell them when you’re willing to push the seller and whether you’re willing to walk away from the property. Be clear about what you want from the deal and your real estate agent will be able to work more effectively. They’ll be able to tell the seller what you need from the deal and hopefully save you some money.
8. Purchasing a Home That’s Too Expensive
Always err on buying a little less of a home. If you’re approved for $430,000, that means the bank believes you can take a $430,000 payment. But only you know the standards to which you want to live. If you adore eating out or traveling, you may be safer with a $300,000 home so you can spend more money on the things that you love. Make sure that you go over your budget because your bank doesn’t have your personal budget; they only know how much you make every month and how much you owe.
It’s easy to keep moving your budget upwards as you look for homes, especially if there are almost-perfect homes that are just out of your price range. But moving outside of your price range can have significant consequences for you moving forward. It’s always best to purchase a home that’s a little cheaper than what you qualify for, so you have a buffer in terms of debt. And that means you have room for growth in the future.
9. Not Choosing the Right Loan Product
There are many types of loans and the way the loans are formed will determine how much you’re spending. A conventional 20 percent down loan, for instance, might have an interest rate of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, an FHA loan may offer 3.5 percent down but have an interest rate of 4.0 percent. You need to run the numbers and determine what’s most important to you, especially factoring in how much you’re going to spend over time.
It’s always best for you to compare multiple types of loans and lenders before you make a decision. You can apply for a mortgage loan with a multitude of lenders before settling on one that you want to go with and it should only count as a single check against your credit. Don’t worry about hurting your credit while looking for a mortgage lender, but do limit other inquiries to your credit report, because those other inquiries could hurt you.
10. Waiting Until You Have 20 Percent Down
Conventional wisdom is that you need 20 percent down to buy a home. But that’s not true nor even advisable for many people. Today, many loans offer 3.5 percent down (such as FHA loans) or even 0 percent down (such as VA loans for veterans). So, there are opportunities to buy a home if you have less down. In the past, people usually waited until they had more money down because they wanted to pay less in interest. But with interest rates so low (and home prices rising so fast) people may save more money by diving into the market faster.
Apart from this, don’t forget the “gift” benefit. Your family can gift you a certain amount toward your home-buying purchase free and clear. If you have a family willing to help you with your down payment, it will be much easier for you to buy your home. And you may be able to get home equity loans or access to programs such as hard money loans if there’s a property that you really want. Usually, if you can afford the monthly payments, there’s a way to get what you want. Even if it involves getting a co-signer or working aggressively with a non-traditional lending company.
11. Forgetting About the Additional Costs
There are other costs beyond the down payment. In addition to the down payment, there are a lot of closing costs, including loan origination fees, private mortgage insurance, appraisals, home inspections, and so forth. Plus, there’s also the cost of moving, which can be more substantial than you might think, and your last month’s rent, if you’re currently renting. Always make sure you’ve tabulated all your costs so you don’t end up getting down to the wire when you’re closing.
Many people find themselves a little cash-strapped toward closing which could ultimately make a deal fall through. This is especially true because you are limited regarding the amount of money you can borrow from friends and family. Give yourself a substantial buffer of cash and try not to overextend yourself. The most dangerous issue is almost always going to be over-spending on the home, which means you’ll over-spend on the down payment and everything associated with it.
12. Trying to Go Without a Real Estate Agent
It’s very tempting to go without a real estate agent. Today, a lot of people self-service through the internet. You can take a look at homes through the internet and you can even make offers on your own. But there are things that a real estate agent knows that you might not know, such as the price history of a neighborhood, issues with a house that could make it difficult to sell later, and other properties that might not even be on the open market yet. Going with a real estate agent as a buyer is not a problem. The buyer doesn’t pay any real estate fees; the seller does. So, going with a real estate agent costs you nothing when you buy a home.
Homebuying is a complicated process. This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential mistakes. But the more information you have — and the more research you do — the better. People purchase their first home every day without any monumental mistakes. Don’t try to rush the process, don’t get emotional, and listen to the experts, to avoid any major foibles.