It’s easy to get swept away in the romance of a new home – those tall ceilings, that spacious backyard, all the great amenities that are nearby. Eager young buyers are especially vulnerable. The mindful first-time homebuyer will keep an eye on the little practicalities that many first-timers ignore. Here are nine points to keep in mind before buying your first dream home.
Sellers spruce up a house before putting it on the market, staging it with attractive furniture and accessories, baking cookies and lighting candles to scent the rooms with a pleasant aroma. What seems like a nice detail could be covering up a problem, such as stinky plumbing or musty odors. “Go back to the house at another time and request that there be no olfactory or auditory enhancements,” says Suzanne Whang, former host of HGTV’s “House Hunters” and author of “Suzanne Whang’s Guide to Happy Home Buying” (HGTV, 2006).
During a walkthrough, think about your own possessions and how they will fill the space. Ignore the furnishings that are there – or not there. “If the house is empty, remember that furniture will make each room feel smaller,” Whang says.
Make sure the contract honors the appliances that will come with the house. And make sure it’s specific. “Do not just say ‘washer and dryer,’” says Diana Brodman Summers, an attorney and author of “How to Buy Your First Home” (Sphinx Publishing, 2005). “That way the seller cannot substitute an old washer and dryer for the one in place when the deal was made.” Brodman Summers advises doing a walk-through of the home the night before closing to ensure that all items in the contract are still there and in the same condition.
New homes rarely arrive in pristine condition. Be sure to allot some of your budget for repairs, big and small. A pre-purchase home inspection will offer insight into what projects might need to be done. Your agent will highlight potential fixes, too.
Visit the house and surrounding area at different times during the day and at night. “You’ll want to experience the levels of sunlight and shade in all of the rooms,” says Whang, who suggests walking around the neighborhood at different times to see how safe you feel.
The best way to know if a neighborhood lives up to the asking price of a property is to get a feel from the folks who live nearby. Chat up neighbors to see if they’re comfortable with the area and have had good experiences. It’s a good idea to meet people in the area or in your building; you’ll want to be sure you’ll be comfortable living next door to them.
Have kids? Want kids? A strong school district might influence a purchasing decision, but be aware that a good school means a higher price tag. What makes a school district “good?” “A person may want to research the school district online,” suggests Brodman Summers. “See if it has made the news; look at the demographics of the families in that area; look at school board meeting minutes and the graduation rate.”
According to Brodman Summers, the monthly mortgage cost on a home is often is higher than a new homeowner expects, due to insurance and taxes, which have the potential to increase. She suggests making a detailed budget and staying conscious of the fact that certain expenses will fluctuate.
“If you really love a house, write a personal letter to the owners,” Whang says. “It could make the difference between your offer and a comparable dollar amount from another buyer.” Whang notes that many sellers don’t want to sell a family home to buyers who will tear it down or make major renovations, so if your plan is to keep the integrity of the structure, let them know. A little bit of home loving can go a long way to making the best decision.