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5 Tips For First Time Home Buyers

Penelope* was beyond stressed out. She finally realized that she had enough money saved to stop renting and was ready to buy her first home, but she had no idea where to start. Sound familiar?

She would stay up late searching for her ideal home online, but she really didn't know what she could afford. Every time she just wanted a little more information on a home she found herself getting phone calls unwanted email solicitations. Heard of this before? Penelope just wanted a list of things that she could do to get herself ready to BUY her first HOME.

I understand the frustration. It's one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. I want to give you 5 Tips for First-Time Buyers to ease your mind, calm yourself down and proceed on your mission with confidence.

WELCOME to your first home search. What's that? You've already been looking on Zillow for six months? Let me stop you right there. Your home search has yet to begin. In order to be prepared to actually buy a home, I am giving you 5 Tips for First-Time Buyers that you absolutely must do BEFORE you go look at your first home in person.

Pick a Neighborhood - This means to get off of Trulia and get in your car. If you aren't sure where you want to live, you aren't ready to buy. Too often buyers are swayed by the allure of the physical and aesthetic value of a home and forget to make sure that they really want to live on that block, in that neighborhood. Do some neighborhood and school research and narrow down your list of neighborhoods to no more than THREE. This way I can focus my search for you on the specific features you are looking for in a home, in the neighborhoods you WANT to live in. Then drive through the areas you like in the morning, the middle of the day and at night (and on a weekend) to see what's going on in the community. Your search will be SO much easier when you narrow down your target area. If you aren't sure what you want to eat for brunch and you go to a diner with a thirteen page menu, you are going to have a really hard time choosing (except for bacon). The same holds true for your 'hood. Narrow it down and pick a neighborhood or two.

If you're not sure which neighborhoods you can afford, then get the next step completed and I will be happy to help you map out the areas that have homes that are in your price range and show you how likely they are to be available. 

Get Pre-Approved - Do you want to know why I won't show you a home if you don't have a pre-approval for a mortgage? 

  • If you are out looking at homes without a pre-approval, you will not be ready to buy when you find "the one." Getting a true pre-approval takes more time than a few clicks online. We want to get a good pre-approval from a reputable lender so that when you find the home you have always wanted, we can move forward with an offer.
  • I will not submit an offer on a home for you without either a pre-approval for a mortgage or a proof of funds for a cash buy because there is no reason that a seller would accept an offer without proof that you have the money to purchase the home.
  • Imagine you are the seller. You will be one day! Do you want agents privately showing your home to people who are not qualified to purchase it? NO, that's what public Open Houses are for.

Choose a Buyer's Agent - Stop clicking CONTACT AGENT on Zillow and leaving it up to an advertising algorithm to find you an agent to show you a home. Do the work before you start looking and find an agent who you think will do a great job for you. P.S. - That is never the agent that tells you they are the best! The best agents let you find that out on your own. Read their bio and read their reviews to see what they did for other clients. If you don't pick an agent of your own, you will have to retell your story to every real estate agent you meet. How many times have you done this so far? You are likely about to spend the most money on any single thing in your whole life. Protect that future investment by only working with an agent that you trust who gets you and understands exactly what you are looking for.

Stop Looking at Fixer-Uppers - I know, I know - they are attractive online because they are cheaper, but they are cheaper because you have to put money into fixing them up; hence the term fixer-upper. Do you really want to balance the joy of moving into your first home with the angst of remodeling your first kitchen? Say it with me...NO. Ask yourself these questions before you think about buying a fixer upper:

  1. Have you ever done a renovation, of any kind, on a home? If no, STOP looking at fixer uppers. If yes, proceed to step 2.
  2. Do you understand the cost involved in kitchen and bathroom renovations? If no, STOP looking at fixer uppers. If yes, proceed to step 3.
  3. Do you have service providers that you trust to do the work the right way, but also for a good price? If no, STOP looking at fixer uppers. If yes, proceed to step 4.
  4. Have you calculated your offer price plus your renovation costs? If yes, double your renovation costs. If no, STOP looking at fixer uppers. If yes, proceed to step 5.
  5. Are you able to continue to pay for the place you are living in now while you renovate your new home? If no, STOP looking at fixer uppers!

Understand the Process - Don't start learning the steps when you are ready to make an offer. Get INFORMED early and ask your agent to go over with you how it all goes. Then, when it is time to make an offer, you won't be overwhelmed by the unknown. At least know what these terms mean:

  • Inspection contingency
  • Appraisal & financing contingencies
  • Closing costs

Home ownership is a wonderful thing, but the journey to get there can be stressful and frightening. Listen to these 5 Tips for First-Time Buyers to stay ahead of the curve and fully engaged in the process. A great way to get started is to set up a free, no obligation, Buyer's Strategy Session with me so I can tell you all about what to expect. Maybe I should write a book, What to Expect When You are Expecting...Your First Home

In your quest for home ownership, you should never feel pressured nor intimidated into making a decision. However, the reason you should be vetting your buyer's agent so heavily up front is because when it comes time, you are going to need to TRUST him or her to properly advise you on your inspector, what to ask for and what not to, proper negotiating strategy and so much more. Build a relationship and you will begin to build your future.

Now it's time to celebrate all of your newfound knowledge! THANKS for making it to the bottom! I appreciate you taking time out of your day to get more informed about the home buying process. In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon was credited with saying, "Knowledge is power." When it comes to buying your first home, no truer words have ever been spoken. Get ahead of the curve, find an agent you TRUST and stay informed. Soon you will be sitting in your new living room, waxing poetic about how simple the whole process was.**

*Penelope is not a real person. Actually, she is. Penelope is a conglomeration of all of the first-time buyers I have ever worked with. You are not alone. Everyone's journey to a first home starts with wild uncertainty.

**Note - Be prepared for hiccups. An easy process is one where everyone stays calm and finds solutions because no home buying process is foolproof.

P.S. - One of the best ways to learn about an agent is to read their reviews. Social proof is an important aspect of any business and real estate is no different. If you want to make sure you have a good meal out, where do you start your search? Advice from friends and/or Yelp, right? Do me a favor and just read these and ask yourself, "Is this the kind of agent that I want to work with?" I hope you answer yes and get in touch so I can help you take the next step in your real estate journey.

"Representing People, Not Property" is the tagline of Dave Kolakowski and his team and it is proven every day.  We aren't here to pressure you, we are here to support you.


Dave Kolakowski is committed to giving back through our partnership with Children's National Medical Center. A portion of the proceeds from every closing goes to Dr. Bear's Toy Closet. Every day, a deck of cards, a doll or a stuffed animal puts a smile on the face of a child who hasn’t smiled in quite some time. Dr. Bear’s Closet has donated toys, games, books and other items that help boost the spirits of patients of all ages. A well-stocked Dr. Bear Closet ensures that every patient has a gift for holidays, birthdays and most importantly, a little something to serve as a reward for their courage in fighting an illness.

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