A huge thanks to Dave Ramsey’s ELP program for sponsoring this post. If you’re thinking about buying a house, check out his free Homebuyer Guide.
It's hard to believe that we just celebrated our *sixth* anniversary of living in our current house. Where did that time go?! While we don't plan on it being our "forever home," this little townhouse will always hold a special place in our hearts because it was the first home we ever purchased. We moved here when Connor was just a few months old, so it's the only house he remembers. We brought Caleb home from the hospital to this house. We've had birthday parties, major milestones, celebrations, and made endless memories here.
As I think back to when we first purchased our home, there are several lessons that jump out at me that I'm thankful we didn't have to learn the hard way. We were so young, but thankfully we had some great people guiding us along the way, and our first purchase was a successful one. I thought I'd share some of the most important things we learned so hopefully you can have a great first (or next!) home buying experience as well!
1. Do the math.
This is a biggie. Before you jump on the real estate sites and start looking at houses, take a detailed look at your finances. Use your bank statements to help you figure out how much you're spending each month (or just look at your budget if you have one) so that you can get a realistic picture of what kind of mortgage payment you can afford. Don't forget to factor in additional expenses that come along with home ownership like maintenance costs, HOA fees, homeowner's insurance, and utilities. Maybe even try living for a few months like you are paying those higher bills. (Take the extra money and put it in a savings account-- you'll build up your savings and test out life with your new mortgage payment at the same time. Win-win!) Many times banks are willing to pre-approve you for more than you should actually be spending, so figure out a realistic number for yourself and hold to it throughout the home-buying process. The last thing you want to do is to be house-poor!
While buying a bigger place was appealing to us when we were hunting for our first house, I'm so thankful we stuck to our budget and purchased conservatively. Having a smaller mortgage and therefore a lower all-around cost of living has allowed us to have more flexibility when it comes to changing jobs. When unexpected expenses pop up, we're not in a panic since we're living beneath our means. We are able to build up our emergency fund and long-term savings accounts more quickly. So while admittedly, there have been times I have been frustrated by our "small-ish" house, there have been many, many times where I have been thankful for the "small-ish" mortgage that comes along with it. 🙂
2. Make a priority list.
Sit down (with your spouse or significant other, if applicable) and make a list of all of the qualities you'd like your new house to have. Once you have everything listed out, arrange the list in order of priority, with your non-negotiables at the top and more flexible items toward the bottom. While it's likely that you won't get absolutely everything on your list, it helps to go into the process knowing your must-haves so that you're not wasting your time looking at houses that won't meet your needs in the long run.
Donnie and my list included things like "great neighborhood, at least three bedrooms, and close to family, church, and work," all of which we ended up getting. But the list also included "single-family home, updated kitchen, and two-car garage," which didn't end up happening. In the end, though, the fantastic location and price of our current home won out over some of the things that were further down on our list, and because we knew what our priorities were going into the search, we were able to recognize this house as the "winner," even though it didn't fulfill our entire wish list.
3. Get an incredible real estate agent.
I can confidently say that we would not have snagged our current place without our amazing real estate agent. Not only was he very knowledgeable about the ins and outs of real estate in our area, but he was also incredibly connected, and we were actually able to put in an offer on our house before it officially hit the market. Being that houses in our neighborhood typically go quickly AND it was a very motivated seller, we may have ended up in a bidding war or may not even had the chance to make an offer had our agent not been so on top of things.
Not sure where to find such a stellar real estate agent? Well, it just so happens that my most favorite financial guru, Dave Ramsey, has already done all of the hard work for you. Dave has a group of real estate agents in his Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program that he has handpicked based on their outstanding qualifications, so you know you'll be working with someone who is trustworthy and will work hard to get you the best deal out there. If you hop over to his site, you can find the the ELPs in your area who can help you successfully navigate your home purchase.
In addition to connecting people with the best of the best real estate agents, Dave has also put together a comprehensive Homebuyer Guide that you can download for free on his site. It covers everything from the essential tools for getting great real estate deals to choosing the home that is right for you and making an offer; it is a must-read for anyone looking to purchase a home in the near future.
4. Don't judge the book by its cover.
Our first house hunting experience definitely taught me to go in with an open mind! This house was anything but move-in ready when we purchased it. Take a look:
Pink walls (and ceilings), stained carpet, outdated fixtures-- this place had it all! The bones of the house, though, were wonderful. We may have had to do a little creative thinking, but since we were able to look past all of the things that were wrong cosmetically and picture the house's potential, we were able to score a really great deal. (And we've had tons of fun fixing it up and making it our home together over the past six years!)
5. Get an inspection.
Look past the cosmetic elements, but definitely, definitely do not bypass the inspection! A house could look perfectly normal as you're walking through it and end up having major issues that a trained home inspector would detect. You do not want to be stuck in a house that is in need of significant, expensive repairs.
There was another home that we looked at and really liked during the search for our first house, and we ended up finding out later that when someone else put an offer on it and had it inspected, there were some structural issues that we never ever would have known about simply by looking around ourselves. I know buying a house is expensive and it's tempting to save a few hundred dollars by skipping the inspection, but it is totally not worth it down the road. Get an inspection-- you'll thank yourself later!
We certainly got an education when we were purchasing our first house! I could go on and on with the lessons we learned, but these are the biggies. 🙂 House hunting can be such a fun and exciting process when done the right way, so be sure to get those ducks in a row before you jump in. Work out your budget, create your list of priorities, and download Dave Ramsey's Homebuyer Guide-- then start searching for the perfect home for you! And whatever you do, enjoy the process. It almost never works out exactly the way you think it will, but all of the bumps in the road might just end up landing you exactly where you're supposed to be. Happy house hunting!