This guide for first-time home buyers is intended to provide general information to help buyers be aware of the buying process, and to dispel any myths about buying a home. Please discuss your particular situation with the appropriate professionals before making any decisions.
So, You want to Buy a Home?
Since buying a home is a BIG financial commitment, many first-home buyers (and some repeat buyers) feel very intimidated by the whole process, which, in itself is rather uncomplicated, but it involves a lot of small steps, that, if not done right, can produce expensive mistakes.
In my 12 years in Real Estate I have dealt with many types of buyers and different scenarios, so I have developed a "method" to reduce stress and ensure success. Here's a brief synopsis of my recommended "Buying Process".
STEP 1 - Hire a REALTOR to Represent You
In SC, buyers can hire their own Buyer's Agent, normally at no cost to them. Once you hire a REALTOR as your Buyer's Agent, this person has a FIDUCIARY responsibility to represent you and protect your best interests. Buying a home is a "joint project" between you and your REALTOR. Make sure you establish a mutually agreeable communication pattern and that you have clear expectations of each other's responsibilities.
STEP 2 - Show Me the Money
Whether you are single and about to buy a home on your own, or (even more so) a couple with kids, money is always one of the crucial factors to explore upfront. Ask yourself these questions:
- What's the total monthly payment that you would feel comfortable with, without stretching your finances or cramping your style?
- Do you have an "emergency fund" in case there's a hiccup (loss of income, emergency, etc.)?
- How much money do you have to put down toward the purchase?
Now, it's time to get PRE-APPROVED. Contact a local lender and they will be able to walk you through an application. The lending officer will review your INCOME, EXPENSES, ASSETS and LIABILITIES, plus your CREDIT SCORE. Based on a formula that takes into consideration several factors, the lender will tell you HOW MUCH is the maximum purchase price and loan amount you can have, the amount you must have ready for your down payment and your estimated MONTHLY PAYMENT.
Ask for a written PRE-APPROVAL letter and how long it is valid for. Keep in mind that (especially in this market) such a letter is often required by Sellers, and will give more weight to any offer you make.
STEP 3 - Define Your Needs and Wants
Some buyers do not have a clear picture of what they want, and in a "buyer's market", where there are literally thousands of available homes, they can get confused and frustrated quite easily. I recommend that you write down your needs and wants, and rank them in priority, for example:
MY/OUR BUYING CRITERIA
- NEED (must have): Min. 3-bedrooms, "excellent" rated schools, 2,000 sq. ft., under $200,000, within a 45-minute drive to/from work.
- WANT (would like to have): Community pool, bonus (FROG) room, 2-car garage.
NOTE: If there is more than one decision maker, make sure you all agree on at least the NEEDS column. It is important that you share these criteria and priorities with your REALTOR, to help him/her give you better selection of properties and provide better advice.
Tomorrow: Searching for a home and negotiating a contract....