By Diana McKeon Charkalis
Buying your first home can be exciting—finally, you can have a yard, master suite or maybe a walk-in closet. It’s fun to fantasize about a new home, but while you do, here are some tips to help you stay on course to get what you want and what you can afford.
What’s your score? Before you set your heart on that cute colonial on the corner, make sure you’ve checked your credit score—and that it’s accurate. If you do find a mistake, open a dispute, since higher credit scores should net you a lower mortgage rate. It’s also a good idea to get pre-approved, not just pre-qualified, for a mortgage. Pre-approval means a lender has looked at all your financials and has let you know what you can afford and what they will lend you. Pre-approval doesn’t lock you into the loan, but it does let realtors know you’re serious about buying.
You can’t always get what you want. Write down which features are non-negotiable. Is it location, square footage, a pool? It’s difficult to find everything you want in a new home, so pinpointing what’s most important to you both is an important first step. And be flexible—many realtors say it’s a good idea to see at least 20 to 30 homes if you can. As you become more knowledgeable about the market, your criteria may change.
Calling all agents. Early on, you can get a good sense of different neighborhoods and home prices by checking online listings. If you’re able to narrow down your choices to a particular neighborhood, look for a realtor who specializes in that area. They may be able to alert you even before new listings that suit your needs pop up.
Referrals from friends and colleagues who’ve had a great experience with a realtor are also a good bet. More than half of homebuyers find their agents from a personal referral or had worked with their agent before. House hunters who prefer more online interaction may want to consider online companies that allow customers to use agents plus online tools for the entire process of buying and selling homes.
Neighborhood stakeout. So, you’ve found the house, and your heart tells you it’s time to seal the deal. What’s left to do? Drive by the house during the day and at night to gauge noise levels and activity on the street. Does the neighbor’s dog bark a lot? Is the freeway noise louder than you thought? Try out your daily commute from the house, and if you’re even thinking of starting a family, do your research on the school district. Kindergarten sneaks up on you!
Check your coverage. Considering renovations to your new home? To make sure you’re covered for these costs, it’s a good idea to update your home policy, suggests personal finance expert Nicole Lapin. While you’re at it, find out if your home improvements make you eligible for discounts.
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Diana McKeon Charkalis is a Yahoo Storyteller. Her work has also appeared in USA TODAY, Prevention and The LA Daily News.