Buying your first home (or any home) can be a scary experience. There are so many moving parts, fancy jargon, and big checks floating around that it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. It’s easy to get hoodwinked and end up crippling your financial future.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you avoid these common first-time homebuyer mistakes, you can sail through the process confidently, and make your first-time home-buying experience a joy rather than a terror.
Not having a large enough down payment
Experts recommend that you have at least a 20% down payment on your home. Sure, once you go to the bank they’ll offer to loan you a huge amount of money. They’ll probably say you don’t need that big of a down payment — or maybe even no down payment at all.
But here’s what the banks might be less reluctant to tell you: With most loans, you’ll be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you put down anything less than 20%. This insurance can tack on hundreds of extra dollars per month and is designed to cover the banker if you default on your loan. Read more about PMI and how to avoid it here.
This insurance does nothing to protect you — so why pay it? Do it the right way and spend some more time saving up your down payment in a high-interest savings account first.
Not hiring the right realtor
Your realtor will be your guide through this whole process. They can make or break your entire home-buying experience. That’s a lot of trust to place in someone, so don’t just go with the first person you see with fancy signs on the side of the road.
Instead, do some research online and come up with a list of 3-5 realtors whom you like and who have good reviews. Schedule a brief interview with each of them and ask them a series of questions. Afterward, pick the one you like best.
Buying the first home you come across
Your first home purchase is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make in your life. Consider it carefully rather than buying the first home you see on the market.
This can be difficult for some buyers. Maybe you live in a remote area, and there just aren’t very many homes for sale. Or, maybe you’re in a red-hot market where homes are snapped up the instant they go on the market.
In either case, resist the urge to make an offer until you’ve seen a range of homes. This might mean passing up or losing out on the first few homes you see — and that’s OK. By waiting until you see just the perfect home — lifestyle-wise and financial-wise — you can boost your odds of success and happiness.
Not hiring the right home inspector
Anyone who’s ever bought a lemon (as in a car) knows how bad it can hurt your wallet. Now picture that kind of investment, but an order of magnitude larger. Your home inspector will be the person who tells you the truth about your future home — is it a lemon, or is it in perfect condition?
Get a good, honest review and you can avoid potential pitfalls and rest assured that your home is sound. If you get a bad, dishonest review, you could end up spending tens of thousands of extra dollars and possibly have trouble getting rid of your home should you decide to sell.
Your realtor might suggest a few home inspectors, but don’t rely on them alone. Do your own research online to find a reputable home inspector. Interview them with a list of questions just like you did with your realtor before hiring them to evaluate your potential future home.
Not having a home repair/maintenance fund
Homes cost a lot of money no matter which way you slice it, so it seems silly to hold a good chunk of it back. Yet, if you resist the urge to put all your savings toward your new home, you can make sure you’re prepared for whatever monkey wrenches homeownership throws you.
Hopefully, your home inspection revealed any repairs that need to be done in the near future. Even so, sometimes things break down unexpectedly, or weird weather events happen. Would you be able to afford a new $10,000 roof if a freak hail storm tore yours to shreds?
Instead, make sure you hold enough money back to start up a home repair/maintenance fund. There are a few rules of thumb you could use to decide how much to save. You can plan out what repairs you’ll need in the future and set aside a portion of that each month until the repair needs to be done. An easier way is to set aside a certain percentage of the home’s value—say, one to four percent.
Spending too much on new home furnishings
You just got your first home. Chances are, it’s a bit of an upgrade from your previous rental. Of course you want it to look nice. No one wants to eat off of paper plates on a card table in an empty room, after all.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of blowing your money on fancy new furniture to match your new digs. Instead, try this: Set up a separate Home Furnishings fund before you buy your home. That way you have a pot of money — with a limit on it — just for new decorations. Even better — get your new furnishings as cheap as possible through Craigslist and discount furniture wholesalers.