Buying Our First Home – The Search Process

new home owners

new home owners

Guess what!? We are buying a house! Yes, after about three months of house hunting, we are finally in the process of purchasing a house, and if all goes well, we will be moving into our very first home come the beginning of October. As first time home owners, we are super excited about this next stage of life. And for me, I am super excited to actually be able to start decorating and putting together my very own home. To be honest, I have already been in and out of Home Depot and Lowes while also shopping online for furniture and decor on Wayfair, Overstock, West Elm, and a few other places that have some amazing pieces that I am dying to add to my home. It’s been a whirlwind but super exciting, and I am probably getting way over my head. But I am committed to completely starting from scratch in our kitchen, living room, and my home office.

Let’s start from the beginning though.

Adulting is hard. There is so much to manage, and I will be the first one to admit that I have gone to my parents and thanked them for everything they have done for me. But even through some the strain, adulting brings new experiences and exciting rewards. As we move through each milestone, new lessons are learned and big things happen. And now, this year’s milestone is buying our very first home.

This year, my husband and I are becoming first time homeowners, and we are ecstatic. Now, I will admit that the process hasn’t been the easiest thing and it hasn’t been without frustration. We have learned a lot in the process. There are a lot of little details that many of us don’t think about up front, and I am here to share with you all of the finite and nitty-gritty details that we have learned throughout the process of the home search experience.

The Basics

Where to Start

There are a few things that you first need to do when you decide that you are ready to move to the next step in life and move into a house. For us, we just realized that we were paying just as much for rent for our apartment as some of our friends were paying for their mortgage. So, why wouldn’t we just buy a house, pay the same amount we are now, and not have a landlord telling us what we could or couldn’t hang on our own walls?

Find Your Location

The very first thing that you need to do when you are ready to start your home search process is to determine where you want to live. Take in all factors such as distance from relatives, commute to and from work, and the mileage increase or decrease to the main places that you go frequently in the month outside of family and work.

As a blogger, I frequently travel to both NYC and Philly, so we wanted to find a place that would put me in a space where I could easily get to both of these cities. We also looked at the distance between our jobs. My husband and I currently work 2 hours away from each other – depending on route and traffic. So we wanted to find a place that met in between but also gave us a route that would cut down the time. Additionally, we wanted to move so that we could be closer to our friends in family, instead of having to drive over an hour just to go visit.

Find a Realtor

I will be honest, I am a big do-it-yourself person. In the beginning of the entire process, I thought that my husband and I could just sit down and look on sites and find a house on our own. Boy, were we wrong. There are so many big benefits to having a realtor such as:

  • realtors have access to get into properties outside of the open house dates
  • they can see when a house in the area you like is about to come onto the market before it is released to the public
  • they see things in houses that you may not even know to pay attention to
  • they have insight to the area that you are looking to move into because of past clients either moving in or out

Our realtor was so essential to us getting our first house. We thought we knew all the essentials of home buying, but we soon learned there was a lot more into the process than we thought. When you get a realtor, he/she will set you up on the process of where you can search for your house and set you up in their system so that you can get direct alerts when houses come onto the market that may be of interest to you.

Many realtors do a great job of working within your schedule for when you want to go see houses and will provide you with insight about how to go in and negotiate, budget, and prepare for the entire process.

Start Your Search

Outside of the alert system that you’ll get from your realtor, you can also do your own searching.

The two main tools that my husband and I used were Realtor.com and Zillow.com. You can sign up for both of these sites and save searches along with your favorite listings so that when a house pops up within your search parameters, you’ll get an email. Also, when something changes with one of your saves searches, you’ll get an email about that too.

Both of these sites also provide you with an estimated payment calculator where you can see how much you may be paying for a mortgage depending on the amount of money that you can put down at first.

Once you have found some houses that you are interested in seeing, send the list over to your realtor and he/she will set up a schedule where you can go look at the houses within a time that works for all parties. No need to worry about the open house and someone else walking around the house while you’re there.

Get Pre-Approved

Your realtor will most likely explain this concept to you, but you’ll want to get pre-approved {see full term explanation below}.

By getting pre-approved, you’re showing sellers that you  are serious about buying a house, which will make your offer look a lot better than those who are not pre-approved.

Additionally, by already having your lender lined up, you’ll end up going through the purchase process a lot quicker because the day that the offer is accepted, you can begin going through the full mortgage application process with a lender who you already know and already has your information from the pre-approval.

I’ll be talking more about mortgage and lenders in a post follow this one which will go into the entire process of finding a lender, what to look for, how it all works, rates, and the mortgage application process.

Making an Offer

Know What You Can Afford

The most essential thing that you need to do right from the start of the process is to make sure that you know what you can afford. Be aware of the amount of money that you can put down and where you want your monthly mortgage to be.

This will help you from walking into the house that aren’t quite in your budget and falling in love with them. It hurts. It is kind of like going into a store where the cheapest thing on the floor is a $6,000 clutch and you fall in love with everything only to realize that you’ll have to return it or live out on the street.

Make the Offer

Once you have found the house that you want, you want to make an offer as soon as you can. If you aren’t too sure about it, then the house is probably not for you. But if you feel like this is the house that you want and you know, for sure, that you can afford it – then make the offer ASAP. Otherwise, you may lose the opportunity to put your offer in. Things move quickly when it comes to home buying and it is possible that you can be getting shut out of the house the moment that you are walking into to take a look at it.

If you have a realtor, you’ll just have to send in the amount that you want the offer to go for and he/she will prepare the paperwork for you and walk you though the entire process. After that, you just have to wait to see whether the seller will accept your offer.

On most typical offers, the seller has 24 hours to accept, decline, or counter offer before the offer expires – unless  otherwise negotiated. If they sign, congrats – you’re off to the next step on the home buying process. If they decline, then it’s time to get back out there and keep search.

Big Tip: You DO NOT always have to put in an offer at or above the asking price. If you are interested in a house, but need to go a little below the asking price based off of your budget, put in the offer and see if the sellers accept it.

new home buyer

The Home Buying Terms

When you start your home search, there will be some terms that are basically self-explanatory. But you may run into some terms that you may have to Google or just ask your realtor and have them explain them to you. I’ve listed some of the terms that we encountered and had to look into so that we full understood what was going on and what we were doing.

  • Disclosure – This is a part of the paperwork that you’ll have to go through and sign when you’re putting in an offer for the house. It is a pre-prepared document that the seller has to have that states all of the information about the property – including any previous inspections, damages to the house, and what will be left within the house (appliances, fixtures) when you become the owner. You’ll have to sign it when putting in you offer to note that you have seen all of this information and you are still willing to make an offer.
  • Pre-Approval – When you find a lender, your lender will work with you to get pre-approved. This is basically a soft pull of your credit and a verbal review of your current finances. Once that information is provided, the lender will tell you how high of a mortgage you are pre-approved to get. But remember, just because you may be pre-approved for a certain amount doesn’t mean that you need to buy a house at that amount. We were pre-approved for over 300k, but wanted to buy a house that was not as big since it’s just the two of us.
  • Agreement of Sale – This is another part of the paperwork that you will fill out in the process of making an offer. This is basically a document saying what you are agreeing to in relation to what you are planning to purchase the house for, what your initial deposit amount will be, what inspections you are electing for, and any other aspects that you are requesting for within the sale. You will have to sign off on this and when the seller accepts the offer, they will countersign and that will be the agreement that you are buying the house.
  • Active – Under Contract  – One thing that you may run across when searching for houses online such as on Realtor.com is the status saying “Active – Under Contract” which basically means that the seller has accepted the offer and the buyers are in the process of moving forward with the purchase process. The agent and seller won’t take the listing off of the market completely until the settlement date, but you can’t really make any other offers on the house at that moment.
  • Foreclosure – On Zillow, you may see a lot of house pop up that say they are in foreclosure. This means that the current owners have missed quite a few mortgage payments. The house really isn’t on the market, but it could end up being if the home owners are removed from the house. If that happens, the house may go up on the market by the bank or it may go straight to auction.
  • Short Sale – A short sale is when the bank or lender may be willing to sell the house for less than the remaining mortgage payments. We didn’t run into many of these, but we did learn that if you go through with buying a house for short sale, you may lose out on certain things within the purchasing process that may lead you to problems later on. Our realtor didn’t recommend that we go through with trying to buy a house on short sale.
  • Seller Assist – This is something that can be put in place in the agreement that says that the seller is agreeing to help the buyer pay for a portion of the closing costs. I’ll go into more about seller assist and closing costs when I post about the mortgage process. But it is good to be aware of when making the offer and putting in your seller agreement.

What to Prepare Yourself For

Disappointing & Frustrating Moments

Home-buying is not super easy. Depending on where you are looking, you may get outbid on properties more often than not. We were outbid on a four properties that we attempted to put in offers for before we found the home that we are now in the process of purchasing.

Walking Through A lot of Houses

Take your time and walk through a few houses in the area that you want to live in. You may walk into the very first house and feel as if this is where you need to be, but try to line up multiple houses on one day so that you have something to compare it to.

The first house that I thought was so fit for us ended up being the house that I thought it was. There were aspects of the house that I didn’t even know I was missing from my life until I looked at other houses. After looking at a few properties, we were able to put together an entire list of the essential aspects we need in the house.

Making Sacrifices

Make a list of the deal breakers for the house that you are searching for and be willing to give up on some of the things that you don’t really need but would like if you could. For me, I thought I needed to find a house that had a two-car garage, but we really didn’t. We only have two cars and a one-car garage with ample driveway space is okay.

At the end of the day, all of this will work out and you will find the home you are looking for. As a first-time home owner, you want to make sure that you are not stretching yourself too thin and prepare for things to work out in your favor.

You’ll find the home you have been looking for. And if you have any questions during your search, don’t be afraid to leave your question in the comments, I’ll give you my personal advice and maybe even another reader may have the answer too!

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