Buying your first home is a big ‘adult’ move. If you’re feeling nervous, rest assured you’re not alone – navigating the real estate industry can be confusing. In fact 40% of Americans said that buying a home is the most stressful event in modern life, according to a study by Homes.com.
There’s no one-size-fits-all roadmap for buying a home, and searching for good tips online can feel like plunging down a rabbit hole. That’s why we went straight to the experts – Lemonade homeowners who have been around the block – for some crucial home shopping lessons.
Before you hit ‘create’ on your home furnishing Pinterest board, here’s your crucial first time home buyer’s checklist.
1. Stay on budget
Picture this: You’ve worked out the home price you can afford, but your agent convinces you to see a property slightly over budget. As soon as you step in, you fall in love. Cue the heartbreak.
To avoid expending any more energy buying a home than you need to, always shop for a price under budget, and use a mortgage calculator to work out your monthly payments.
Grace, a Lemonade condo owner from Washington DC, advises being brutally honest about what you can afford.
“Make sure your realtor is aware of your priorities and is not trying to push homes on you that you simply can’t afford. And when you’re budgeting, try to factor in unforeseen expenses of owning a home like repairs and maintenance.
Check with the bank first to figure out how much they’ll lend you before shopping for homes. Why? There may be tons of additional expenses in the mix, like homeowners insurance and home repairs (more on this later).
2. Keep an open-mind while house hunting
Anyone who’s been on the hunt for the perfect property with a limited budget will tell you the same: Don’t get your hopes up for a house in perfect condition. In fact, many properties might appear tired and rundown from the outside.
For example, If you spot a property online with a great location but unattractive photos, don’t pass it up immediately — it’s always worth a visit to see if there’s potential.
And don’t underestimate the power of minor renovations. Even if you see a home that looks like it’s past its heyday, remember that it could be upgraded with a few minor remodellings here and there. Something as simple as removing an old carpet and replacing it with modern wooden floors can really transform a place.
Grace had to learn which renovations were important, and which were simply cosmetic and could be easily and cheaply fixed:
“I looked past the ugly bathroom tile and got a great deal, and then I had the tile replaced myself for a really reasonable price.”
3. Research your location
So you think you found the perfect home, and can picture yourself sitting in its living room with a glass of red. But before you let your imagination run wild, find out everything you can about the location.
Sarah, a Lemonade homeowner from Brooklyn, told us she didn’t factor in the train’s proximity to her new home:
“The nearby train tracks were definitely something I didn’t consider when I first bought the apartment. My advice would be to discover everything you can about the surrounding area, so you can make an informed decision.”
To avoid any unexpected surprises, make sure to look out for:
- Future development projects
- Public transportation
- Proximity to amenities
- Property taxes
Pro tip: Drop in on the area at different hours of the day — especially at night.
4. Get an agent
If you’ve mastered Zillow and Redfin and have already spotted a few gems online, you might be asking yourself, “why get an agent?”
Good question. Even though you may be able to find a property without one, agents can do a lot more than just find your new digs. They’ll also help you with technical aspects of buying a property, including:
- Securing a mortgage
- Giving you an accurate estimate of how much repairs will cost
- Working with you to negotiate an offer
- Working through paperwork
What should you look for in an agent? Natalie E., a Lemonade condo owner and real estate agent from New York, advises:
“Find someone who has experience in the area — not necessarily the exact neighborhood or building, just someone who understands the local market. Also, make sure it’s someone you feel you can trust.”
If you’re having trouble finding a good agent, hit up a few open houses and meet potential agents there.
5. Talk to at least three lenders
To get the best deal on your lender, make sure to apply to multiple mortgage lenders. Since they compete with each other, having more than one offer will give you some leverage.
Grace lowered her costs by shopping around for a loan:
“I recommend speaking with at least three different lenders, as they will compete with each other for your business and end up offering you a lower rate.”
It’s also worth looking out for various surcharges or administrative fees. If you don’t know what a fee is for, ask! Most of the time, administrative fees are completely unnecessary, and you can have them waived.
6. Move fast
The real estate business ain’t for the faint-hearted, and deliberating a purchase for too long can work against you.
That’s not to say you should be impulsive, but if your gut is telling you it’s the right place for you, and you’ve done enough research on location, be prepared to make an offer.
You should also be sure to get your paperwork sorted out before you start looking for homes, since a mortgage pre-approval and other financial requirements can take a while to put together.
Zach and Natalie, Lemonade condo owners from New York, fell in love with their place the first time they saw it:.
“We weren’t looking, but when we saw this place become available, we knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up on. It’s great value and in a great neighborhood — we had our paperwork ready so just jumped on it and by the end of the weekend we were approved!”
7. Keep in mind extra costs
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but becoming a homeowner means added expenses. So when buying your home, you’ll also need to consider extra costs like property taxes, homeowners insurance, hazard insurance, repairs, and maintenance.
Bryan, a Lemonade homeowner from Texas, was surprised how quickly the little things you don’t think about add up:
“You think about the big things of course like appliances you’ll need, but a random trip to Home Depot to pick up a few extra things can quickly get very expensive.”
Costs can increase with taxes as well. The average price of property taxes can be as high as $4,813 in New York County, according to SmartAsset.
Ask your agent to help crunch some numbers so you’re properly prepared for these seemingly hidden costs. Shop around for homeowners insurance and compare quotes, and use this homeownership calculator to work out how much extra you’ll be paying.
Don’t get discouraged
Shopping around for a home is kind of like dating – fraught with highs and lows. But even if you do encounter disappointments along the way, there will always be another house around the corner. Try not to get too emotionally invested in any one property, especially before the deal is done. Even if your offer has been accepted, always wait until the ink is dry before uncorking the champagne!