My oh my, buying a first home is so incredible and such a mix of emotions! Edwin and I knew nothing about what it actually takes to buy a house so the whole experience was new to us and such a learning process. I really think that buying a house is one of those things that you don’t know how to do until you actually do it but I still wanted to share what we learning from buying our first home with y’all to shed some light on the process. We learned SO MUCH so I’ve decided to break this topic down and do today’s post more specifically about what we learned. Then, next week, I’m going to share a post about steps for first time home buyers. I’m by no means an expert but after going through it, I feel confident that I can share a useful tip or two for those of you who want to buy a house.
As I said, Edwin and I learned so much from buying our first house and I’m so grateful that Edwin was by my side throughout the entire process. Edwin has such a sound head on his shoulders and was so realistic and considerate of everything throughout the entire experience. My parents were also invaluable during the process as sounding boards for Edwin and me as we shared our questions, comments, and concerns. I am so grateful for them! Two other key players that helped us through the process were our financial advisor and our realtor (more on them below).
P.S. Edwin and I bought our house as a couple so I’m writing this post from that perspective but I think a lot of it will still apply to anyone who is buying a house on their own.
P.S.S. For more on our house, I wrote this post on our house restoration and remodel, this post on the 6 moving mistakes we made, and this post announcing that we bought a home… thank you so very much for the support!
Lessons We Learned From Buying Our First Home
Communicate with Each Other
This might seem like an obvious lesson that doesn’t necessarily apply to couples when buying a house. Buying a house can be extremely stressful and frustrating so communicating, instead of letting the frustration win over, is key! I believe that positive communication is something a couple will work on from the moment they meet to the final day of their relationship. I know that we will be working on our communication skills together for the rest of our lives. Buying a house was definitely a circumstance where we put a larger focus on our communication than in our day to day lives. If you buy a house with a significant other, then there is SO much to communicate about…
1. House Wish List: Edwin and I share many things in common but we didn’t want the exact same things in our first house so we really talked about it a ton. To be honest, these conversations can be really fun because it’s wonderful to share your life with someone and get to think about and dream about your future in a house and neighborhood together.
2. Finances: The tougher conversation can arise when talking about finances because, in general, most people don’t like talking about money. However, these conversations are so important and can really help you define your finances as a couple if you’re buying your house around the time when you are either getting married or moving in together for the first time… either way, it is probably the first time you are really joining forces and really having conversations about the ins and outs of credit cards, finances, income, student loans, debt to income ratio, credit reports, etc.
Think about What to Look for When Buying a New Home
When you are buying a new home, there is a lot to look for including location in a city or town, neighborhood, schools, parking, transportation access etc. Do you want to have the least expensive house in the nicest neighborhood to get your foot in the door or have more space/land in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice neighborhood? How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need to look for? Do you need a garage? Is a pool desirable or a safely hazard? Do you have a realistic idea of your price range? Take some time to think about what to look for when buying a new home before you set out to meet with a real estate agent. This will make your home purchase hunt much smoother!
Find a Great Real Estate Agent you Trust
I can’t stress how important it is to find a great real estate agent you trust, are comfortable with, and know is in your corner. I love stalking homes on apps like Trulia and Redfin (who doesn’t!?) but that doesn’t mean I know everything about real estate. Find a realtor who specializes in the area or neighborhoods you are looking in. Our realtor lived in one of the main neighborhoods we looked in for years and had sold countless homes in each neighborhood on our list. It goes without saying but this is a must. Finding a great realtor is actually pretty easy! Ask for a referral from family or friends you can trust. Your realtor will get to know you, your significant other, and your finances very well and very quickly especially if you look at lots of houses, loose a few houses in the process, or negotiate quite a bit. So, I really recommend using someone you personally know in the profession or someone who is a referral of someone you trust and see eye to eye with.
If you Lose a House, Trust that it Wasn’t the House for You
This is so much easier said than done! Edwin and I lost three homes in the process before we got our house. In real time, I thought each was the house for us and I was so sad about the lost love, time, and energy in each circumstance. It is difficult to find a house, fall in love with a house/street/neighborhood, take the plunge to put in an offer, envision yourself in the house, negotiate terms, and then loose it to another offer. The reality is that this happens all the time so it can be beneficial not to get your hopes up. I’m usually the positive one but Edwin was so fantastic at reminding me each time that it was alright and not the house for us. Now that we have our house and are getting close to moving in, we can’t imagine ourselves in the other houses! They really weren’t the houses for us. I can tell you from personal house hunting experience that everything happens for a reason!
Don’t Make all Your Financial Decisions on Your Own
For starters, Edwin and I had each other so we made every financial decision that came with buying a house together. As I mentioned above, my parents were a tremendous help as well. They never once stepped in and never gave us unsolicited advice. However, based on their life experience and experience as home owners, they did ensure us that they would voice concern if they thought we were making a large financial mistake. This thankfully never was the case so what they did do was sit down with us and listen to us if we had questions or concerns.
They guided us through some things, encouraged us, and referred us back to the professionals with any questions they weren’t fit to answer (aka our real estate agent, financial advisor, real estate lawyer (required in the state of SC but not in all states), and mortgage broker). In addition to each other and my parents, the real person Edwin and I made financial decisions with was our financial advisor. I don’t think a financial advisor is a person to be scared of, in fact, I think financial advisors alleviate a lot of stress and questions. In terms of buying a house, a financial advisor will really help you determine how much money you can put down, what you can spend each month, what type of loan you can and should get, and how to make this all possible within your monthly/annual budget.
You can Shop around for a Mortgage Broker
This was a major lesson we learned with buying a house! I’ve talked to so many people too who had no idea you could shop around for a mortgage broker and compare loan offers. A mortgage and the type of mortgage you get is a financial decision so I refer you up to the point above this… don’t make all your financial decisions on your own. Edwin and I would have never known to shop around for a mortgage broker if my parents and our financial advisor hadn’t insistent that we do so. You can do research on mortgage brokers on your own, ask your financial advisor for referrals, and ask your realtor for local/regional referrals as well.
This is what we did and what ultimately got us the best mortgage rates for us. I’d thought about our credit scores before but, before we decided to try to buy a house, I hadn’t previously given much thought to aspects of home buying like how interest rates affect mortgages and how things like a down payment, loan amount, and mortgage insurance affect each other. A great mortgage broker will walk you through everything and tell you what is best for you and your finances, what types of loans you can qualify for, and if you need things like mortgage insurance.
Do all the Inspections
We bought a very old house from the 1860s so inspections were crucial. Even if you buy a new build, doing all the inspections can be a great idea. When you buy a house, a required step is a general house inspection. If you get that back and have any particular areas come back flagged, then it is a great idea to dive deeper and do more specific inspections. Areas like your foundation, roof, HVAC system, electrical, plumbing, etc. can all have issues and it is so important to know any issues going into the purchasing process. You might discover issues that make you walk away from the house all together or you might discover issues to bring up in negotiations. Knowledge is power so it’s better to gather all the information you can. P.S. keep in mind that inspections cost money so don’t forget to factor that into your budget…
Budget for the Hidden Costs of Buying A New Home
Before we bought our house, I really had no idea of all the hidden costs within the process of buying a new house. We had never bought a house before and neither of us work in real estate so how would we know? You can do some research on your area and things like that to get an idea of some of these but be prepared to have money set aside for these hidden costs of buying a new home: loan origination fee, real estate lawyer, home inspections, and closing costs.
After you buy a house, you really get an appreciation for renting and you realize how easy it is to rent. Once you own you house, it’s important to realize that your costs go well beyond your monthly mortgage payment. Be prepared to have money set aside for these hidden costs of owning a house: taxes, mortgage interest, house and property maintenance, utilities, property tax, homeowner insurance, flood insurance (in some circumstances), renovations (in some circumstances), HOA fee (in some circumstances), and PMI (in some circumstances). It is so so important to have an emergency fund when you own a house for unexpected costs and things that arise like maintenance, renovations, etc.
I realize this post was full of lots of information but it is meant to be helpful and not stress-inducing! If you’re looking to buy a house, remember that it happens in steps so you aren’t learning all of these lessons and paying all of these costs at the same time. Take a deep breath and remember that buying a house is extremely exciting and something you should be incredibly proud of! I will always remember the day I bought my first home with Edwin! It took teamwork and we are proud to be homeowners. A huge congrats to any other first time buyers out there! xx
Photography by Edwin Eversole