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10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes You Can Totally Avoid

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Nick Cunningham
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Buying your first home is one of the most exciting things you get to do as an adult. You choose a neighborhood, find the perfect house, make a needs vs. wants list, and negotiate the details.

It can also be a total nightmare if you aren't prepared.

But there's good news:

Many first time home buyers came before you and made all the mistakes you can imagine, so you don't have to. 

Instead of risking long-term emotional and financial stress resulting from poor decision making, you can read a quick blog, learn what to avoid, and save yourself some trouble. 

Here are 10 common first time home buyer mistakes you can totally avoid:


1. Not Knowing Your Credit Score Before You Apply for a Loan

Planning to buy a house without knowing your credit score is a bad idea. Yet, many people applying for their first home loan have no idea what their credit score is. 

The list of reasons people avoid checking their credit is pretty simple. It almost always stems from wanting to avoid bad news or mistakenly thinking to check it will lower the score.

It won't lower your score to find out what's on your credit reports. That kind of inquiry into your credit is different than an inquiry from a bank or credit card company looking into your credit.

first time home buyers checklist

It's probably not as bad as you think. And if you don't check it, you're missing an opportunity to fix whatever might be wrong with it before you get serious about buying a house. The better your credit score, the lower the interest rate you'll be offered by lenders, saving you money over the long haul. 

But even a decent credit score will often get you a reasonable rate, so don't avoid your credit score just because it might not be perfect.

Investigate your credit score and learn how to make it work for you. There are many apps to help you monitor your credit score, and some even give you tips for improvement.


2. Finding a House Before Finding a Loan

We get it; it's way more fun to look at houses and talk floor plans than meet with a stranger and spill your financial guts onto the table. But the right way to start shopping for a home (and the best way to compete in a crowded market), is with a fully vetted pre-approval in hand. That means shopping for a loan before you shop for a house.

If you start shopping without knowing your real budget and projected loan limits, you risk falling in love with a house that ends up being out of your price range. Or, you could lose the perfect home to another buyer who was more prepared and already has a pre-approval letter in hand.

Getting pre-approved for a loan first will greatly reduce the stress of buying your first home. With a pre-approval letter in hand, you'll be ready to pounce on the right property as soon as you find it.

Most first time homebuyers decide their price point based upon what their monthly payment is going to be. A lot of the online calculators and payment estimates you find on popular websites are deliberately misleading, designed to phish for your information (which sadly, is ultimately sold).

Instead of getting your hopes up based on a deliberately misleading monthly payment estimate, talk with a mortgage professional you trust to determine what a real monthly payment will be, including property insurance, property taxes, and HOA dues (if applicable).


3. Finding a Realtor Before Finding a Loan

Realtors and mortgage brokers often work together to help you buy a house, and many will recommend their favorites. At times, that can end up costing the buyer money.

Sometimes a real estate company and mortgage brokerage will even be owned by the same parent company. In that situation, realtors are often incentivized to recommend buyers use their favorite loan officer to find a loan because they stand to get paid more that way. There are various federal and state laws to protect against this, but unfortunately, it still happens.

On the other hand, mortgage brokers aren't allowed to accept any kind of payment from a realtor for recommending them to a client, so they have no additional incentive to do so.

Don't get us wrong, we're not saying there aren't great realtors out there who always have the client's best interest in mind, but when the stakes are this high, you have to consider what motivations might be at play.

Reduce the stress of finding your first home and start with a mortgage broker who can then recommend a Realtor they trust. 

When all parties are motivated to protect your financial well-being, you'll navigate one of life's most significant financial decisions with ease.


4. Taking the First Loan You're Offered

Buyers new to the loan process are often intimidated by all the paperwork, feeling of exposure, and unfamiliar financial terminology. They want a house so bad they're willing to take the first pre-approval they get to avoid potential rejection somewhere else.

Some people are also under the misconception they are somehow bound to the pre-approval they get from a bank or lender. 

This is NOT true

You are not bound to the loan you are quoted until you sign on the dotted line and take ownership of your new home. Few Mortgage bankers and brokers will tell you that you have no legal or binding obligation to continue with their services after a pre-approval, but the truth is you have the power to switch lenders at any time.

Unless you have a deep understanding of your financial positioning and how residential lending works under the hood, it's smart to shop around until you find a trustworthy mortgage broker who can help you compare your loan options. 

A good, honest broker will encourage you to do so, and if your broker tells you anything different...run. 

Remember, your loan rate matters, but it isn't everything. The best experiences come from a mixture of a great rate and excellent service. A high interest rate paired with exceptional service is just as useless as a low rate paired with a terrible service experience. The perfect mix of a good rate and frictionless service will leave you happy, knowing you scored a great deal.


5. Giving Emotions Purchasing Power

Emotion plays a part in most purchase decisions. Advertising professionals count on it. If you don't get teary-eyed during the Super Bowl commercials, businesses won't make money.

But if you want your first home to be a good investment, you've got to keep your emotions out of it.

First time home buyers are especially vulnerable when it comes to letting emotions run wild. We imagine the milestones we'll experience there: having and raising children, entertaining our friends, celebrating holidays with family...

Unfortunately, inviting your emotions to the negotiating table can drive the price of a home way up and leave you with more debt than you need. Try to stay logical and remember that your first home probably won't be your 'forever' home.

If you're like most first time home buyers, you'll move several times in the next few decades as you build wealth and move up the economic food chain. Investing in too much house at the start will slow your upward momentum and put you at a disadvantage. Make a wants vs. needs list and stick to it, so you don't get wrapped up in a color scheme you love, or a beautiful kitchen that's out of your price range.


6. Not Allowing Enough Time to Move and Get Settled

Buying a house is stressful. Moving is stressful. Being married, working full time, and managing finances—all stressful. 

If you're trying to do all this in a very narrow window of time, expect it to be…extra stressful.

Do yourself a favor and plan to rent your current home for a month after you close escrow on your first home purchase. Many young borrowers try to squeeze a few thousand dollars out of the transaction by making a move in a few days so that they can save the rent they would be paying during the month grace period they have between buying their house and having to make their first mortgage payment.

This causes chaos and tense emotions that make the first few days in your new home a nightmare of hurry and worry. 

Plan to include that extra money in the overall cost estimate to buy your first home, and you'll have much better memories of your first few weeks in your new home.


7. Putting Every Dime of Savings Toward a Down Payment

There's a lot of talk around down payments when it comes to buying a house, but it isn't the only cost you'll incur. There's been little education pointed at the other expenses you will encounter when purchasing a home.

Consider these other costs that might pop up when you're buying a home:

  • Closing costs
  • Inspection fees
  • Moving/relocation expenses
  • Time off work
  • New furniture or decor
  • Cleaning services
  • Surveys
  • Wire transfers

Plan to buy your house with enough money to put the down payment on the house, but still have some leftover as a cushion. Even if it takes you a couple more months, and you feel impatient...just slow down. You'll be much better off in the long run if you have a few pennies to rub together, and your wings aren't clipped after you land in your new nest.


8. Not Reading the Contract You're Signing

Buying a home involves an insane amount of paperwork. Every little bit has a purpose, but it's enough to overwhelm even the most patient person. 

Familiarize yourself with some of the real estate terms and mortgage lingo before you start shopping, and you'll be a lot more comfortable when it comes time to put pen to paper. Individual sections about which appliances stay or go, specific times of day the seller will be gone, and which closing costs you'll be responsible for can be buried in the fine print under fancy jargon, or simply overlooked in all the papers.

Lean on your mortgage broker and Realtor for understanding and ask them to clarify anything you don't understand before you sign.


9. Giving the Bank a Reason to Deny Your Home Loan

After you accept the proposed terms of your future home loan, you'll get to work collecting the documents you'll use to prove your creditworthiness. After they're all submitted, the lender goes to work verifying your information to make sure you are likely to be a safe bet to lend money to.

Don't make any sudden moves!

You'll want to avoid making any financial waves while your loan is in process. Lenders are like deer in a quiet thicket. If they sense any danger or suspect you may not be a good candidate to pay their money back, they'll bolt, leaving you without a loan.

Avoid any of these red flags:

  • Applying for credit cards or other loans - the last thing a lender wants to see is you taking on more potential debt that could impair your ability to repay the money you owe them.
  • Changing jobs - it looks good if you've been at least in the same industry for at least two years, even if you've moved jobs here and there, but making a job change in the middle of a home purchase is a bad idea.
  • Getting behind on bills - missing payments on any kind of bill while your loan is in process can serve as an indication of how you might treat your loan payments. Don't get behind.
  • Spending a bunch of money on existing credit cards - any debt you rack up before you finalize your loan is added to the debt portion of your debt-to-income ratio...which means if you're on the border, you could lose the loan over a few hundred dollars.

10. Underestimating Ongoing Home Ownership Costs

When you rent a house, many of the ownership costs are paid for behind the scenes. Common expenses that catch first new homeowners buy surprise are:

  • Property Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Homeowners Association Dues
  • Landscaping Upkeep
  • Preventative Maintenance
  • Improvement Costs
  • Higher electric and water bills

The solution?

Create a realistic budget before you even start looking.

Look at all the costs you could ever encounter, and make room to allocate money to them before they become a problem. Property taxes and insurance can be managed in an impound account and collected with your mortgage payment each month, but inconsistent expenses home repairs and maintenance can be budgeted for gradually.

You can make your first home buying experience as awful or as enjoyable as you want. All you need to do is slow down, think about what you're getting into, and work with someone you trust. 

Find your team, work the plan, and you'll be more likely to look back with pride at your first home purchase.

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