Ahhhh… house hunting; such an exciting time! Once you decide to take the big leap and buy your first house, or second, or third… it’s so much fun to hit the ground running! Zillow becomes your new home screen favorite and weekends are consumed by open houses. You have your wish list and budget in hand, now all you need is the perfect house. Easy, right???
And then. Dreams meet reality and expectations are shattered. In my experience, and the experiences of everyone I have talked to, our wish lists rarely coincide with reality. It can be such a deflating experience to suddenly realize that everything you had hoped for is just out of reach. And just like that, the fun of house hunting goes right out the window.
Open houses become a chore, and 9 times out of 10 you already know what you’re in for before you even open the door. Checking the new listings online can be a depressing experience. Worse yet, if you are working from a time frame, you may start to feel the pressure mounting and feel ready to give in and ‘settle.’
Friends, I’ve been there and lived to tell about it. And I’m happy to share that I now (after 3 long years) have finally settled into my dream house! (well ‘settled’ is a bit of a strong word; we are currently under renovation construction… but we’re getting there!) Better yet, the entire process was almost entirely stress free! I honestly could not have hoped for an easier home buying experience. And now I’m here to share my tips with all of you!
Home Buying Made Easy
Know Your Market
Be READY at All Times
Stay on Top of Things
Time to Get Settled!
Let’s start with my number one piece of advice: plan ahead. Now trust me, I know that buying a home is exciting and once you decide to make the leap you are ready THAT DAY. However. This is really not realistic without some serious planning in advance. And by planning, I’m primarily referring to finances.
There are two factors to consider on the financial end when buying a home. First, what is your budget? While determining a price range, it is important to not only consider the price of the home, but property taxes as well. Please, please, please be realistic with your price range. The bank may tell you one thing, but only you can truly determine what a comfortable payment is for you and your lifestyle. If you aren’t saving at least the amount of your projected mortgage payment each month now, then how can you expect to afford the monthly payment once you buy the home? And let’s not forget property taxes; they are a huge monthly commitment themselves!
Second on the financial end is the cash you will need to actually purchase a home up front. Yes, you will have a mortgage, however, you will also need a large chunk of money in cash to pay at the time of closing. Typically when putting an offer on a home, most sellers will require a deposit ranging from $1,000-$10,000 on average. This is cash up front.
Next, your mortgage lender will require a down payment on your home, typically a minimum of at least 5% the purchase price and many banks even 10% minimum. If you do not have enough money at closing to put down 20% you will also have to pay mortgage insurance each month which averages an additional $100 per month.
Finally, let’s not forget about good old closing costs; the money that goes to ‘nothing.’ Ok, I kid, of course closing costs go to ‘something,’ primarily lawyer’s fees, taxes, etc. but ‘nothing’ towards the actual price of your home. And that price tag comes in upwards of $10,000 cash out-of-pocket. So as you can see, all of this adds up quite a bit so depending on the price of your new home, plan on having at least $20,000 cash in your bank account before you even think about looking. If you have equity in a current home that you own you will have a bit of flexibility assuming you have already sold your home, but to be safe, plan on having the cash saved.
Secondary on your planning is time frame. As you can see, this is a major factor. How long will it take you to save the money that you will need? Don’t plan on house hunting next month if you don’t have the money saved. Be realistic with yourself; how long will it take you to achieve your goals? Nothing is worse than ‘just looking,’ and stumbling upon your dream home in the process only to be reminded that you’re not ‘ready’ to buy yet. You will forever think of this home as ‘the one that got away.’ Save yourself the heartache and don’t even peak at the ‘just listed’s.’
Along with your time frame, keep in mind any other factors that will come into play. Personally, we have been casually looking for a few years but I knew that I definitely wanted to be settled before my son started school so we didn’t have to uproot him later. Just remember to give yourself plenty of time to look so you don’t get stuck in a jam and have to settle for anything that you don’t absolutely LOVE.
Ok so you have done your planning and patiently waited months or even years to be financially prepared to buy your dream home. Now it’s time to get to the ‘fun stuff’ that I mentioned earlier; finding your new house! Except reality hits and it’s more of a hurry up and wait scenario. After seeing house after house after house that doesn’t live up to your expectations you may be ready to just settle since all of what you have seen seems to be what you get for the money. You may convince yourself to scale down your wish list and make some sacrifices. Trust me. I was there… MANY times. (just ask my realtor!)
BE PATIENT. I CANNOT stress this enough. Your perfect house is out there. Hopefully if you planned appropriately, you have given yourself enough time to actually be patient. We casually looked for 3 long years. My husband and I were just so disappointed with our market and what you got for the money. With our budget we surely thought that we could easily find the perfect house. We reached the point of giving up and throwing in the towel. We were literally 1 day away from signing a contract to just put an addition on our current house when we stumbled upon ‘the one.’
Clearly, timing is everything and if you believe in a higher power or the theory that everything happens for a reason, then nothing could be closer than our home buying experience. We saw it online, walked through it, and put in an offer all within 6 hours; talk about an impulse purchase! Highly out of character for a couple who painfully spent 3 years looking. But when it’s the right house, you just know and you don’t have time to waste!
Which brings me to my next point…
Know Your Market
You may think you know, but you have no idea… but seriously, “Real World” jokes aside, I know that you have a pretty picture painted in your head based on what you saw on House Hunters, but I’m certain HGTV is nothing like your market. Do your research. Preferably in advance when you are in your ‘planning’ phase. Rather than a quick snap shot of what’s on the market now, it’s much better to browse for months just to see the trend in your neighborhood. This is helpful for both buying and selling your home.
By knowing your market, you can better align your expectations. You can also be ready for a fair price when you find your home or ready to jump when a gem pops up. That was the case for us. Our home was the definition of a GEM. And we had to jump on it; FAST. Since we had been looking for 3 years, I guess you could say that my husband and I had become experts in the field. We could probably start doing real estate as a side job we are so well-versed in our market.
As I mentioned, we bought our home VERY quickly. There was no going home to sleep on it or even an in-depth pro’s and con’s discussion. Even before we walked in the home, we knew it was an insane price for the house, not to mention reasonable taxes to boot! (don’t forget those pesky taxes!) Once we walked in, it sealed the deal. This house was going to go QUICK and I did not want to miss out! Since we knew the market and saw how fast houses were moving, let alone homes insanely priced, we knew that there was no time to spare. We knew that if we wanted the house we needed to put an offer in that moment; full price, with no riff-raff in the contract.
Now some may think that this was a bit of a rash, major life decision, but since we had done our homework and planned ahead of time (and spent 3 years looking) it really wasn’t that crazy. This is why planning ahead is so important; you need to be prepared to make the move at a moment’s notice. Hours before we put our offer in, we didn’t even know that this house existed. Had we not known the market, we may have went home and slept on it while it was unknowingly being bought out from underneath us.
Be READY At All Times
So I kind of already touched on this, but BE READY! You truly never know when you’re dream house is going to hit the market. And if you love the house enough to buy it, I’m sure you’re not the only one! Be ready with your finances and be ready with your current residence. Most importantly, be ready to actually make the decision to say “yes, I want to put in a contract on this house!”
When you begin (even casually) looking at homes, it’s important to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. A big part of this for many of us is also having our current home ready to sell. Make a to-do list of any nagging projects that you have been putting off. You will be busy enough once you find your dream home, you don’t need a laundry list a mile long to get your house sold, too. Better yet, maintain and have your home in peak condition at all times. (this is just a life best-practice to live by anyhow) If you keep your house maintained on a regular basis, you take away a major stress of putting your house on the market.
Getting an offer accepted on your dream home is so super exciting; don’t ruin it with the stress and anxiety of your home selling process. Personally, I am very particular in my home and take great pride in it. Therefore, when we bought our house on a whim, (ok, completely out of nowhere; I had totally given up) I was still able to get our house on the market 5 days later with minimal stress along the way. (and sold in 24 hours… but that’s an article for another time!)
Ok you’ve found you dream home and your offer has been accepted! Woo hoo! Now it’s time to get organized. If you want to have any hope of keeping the home buying process on track, on time, and stress free you need to be on top of everything. First things first, you need that mortgage to actually buy your house. Get on the phone with your bank first thing in the morning for the full list of all documentation that they will need. Make sure you have a big piece of paper to write because that list is long! Added bonus if you’re a business owner like my husband; now your required paper work just doubled.
Collect everything the bank needs as quickly as possible and get it to the bank, immediately, if not sooner. Banks will not even begin preparing your loan documents or ordering appraisals without ALL documentation. Therefore anything that you are missing will only delay yourself. One of the pieces that they will need is proof of homeowners insurance, so that will be the second place that you need to call. In the meantime, ensure that your realtor is scheduling your inspection. Most contracts require an inspection within 14 days of making an offer.
Once you have gotten all documentation to the bank, we are back to the ‘hurry up and wait’ game. Now it’s just time to let the process play out and hope you reach your projected closing date. This is a great time to make a list of everyone you need to notify of your address change. Give yourself this time to brainstorm anyone you receive mail from, medical offices, utilities, services, catalogs, schools, etc. Once you have a scheduled closing date, typically one week in advance, it will be time to call and set up or transfer your utilities. Once I closed on our house, then I contacted everyone else.
Stay on Top of Things
You need to be your own advocate during the home buying experience. You need to realize that you are not the only client the bank is dealing with or your realtor’s only buyer. (although if you’re lucky like me your realtor will stick with you every step of the way!) Ultimately, this is YOUR home and it is up to you to make it happen.
Call and check in frequently. Be a nag. It’s ok. I have dubbed myself ‘part time secretary’ during this time of transition, and I am perfectly ok with it! My reward for staying on top of everyone and everything is that we closed; on time and almost entirely stress free.
Time to Get Settled!
Now that you have closed on your dream house (hopefully stress free!) it’s time to get settled! Check back to read about my packing tips to prepare for a successful move-in day. In addition, round up friends to help move and rent a truck if needed. Additionally, factor in any work that needs to be done. If nothing else, a good deep clean scrubbing should always be in order before unpacking. Consider if you want to paint or change out any flooring; this is much easier to do in an empty house! I know that it can be exciting to jump in and get settled right away, but your future self will thank you later if you just get the work done now.
I truly hope that you have found these tips helpful and that they will lead you to find a dream home of your own! By following these steps, I am confident that you will have an easy and enjoyable home buying experience of your own. Stay tuned for related articles on selling your home, staying organized while packing and more buying and selling tips! And if I missed anything that worked great for you, feel free to share! In the meantime, I will be super busy getting settled and making the house our own… be sure to check back to get a full tour of the new house!