- Get approved: It's really smart to be pre-approved with your mortgage so you know how much you can spend and you can be competitive with the bidding. And share that number with your realtor so they only show houses that are a fit for your budget.
- Demo right: Know the rules about additions in your city, which might change the way a small house looks if it sits on a big lot.
- What do you really need? Make a list of things you don't need and share it with your realtor. For example, sharing that you can live without an ensuite bathroom or a fully updated kitchen might help in a competitive market — and help you avoid a bidding war.
- Budget right: Just because you're approved for a certain amount doesn't mean that number actually fits your budget. Before even thinking about seriously putting an offer on any home, take a look at your monthly financials to determine how much of a mortgage you can really take on.
- Post-purchase money: Build a budget for after you get the house. Even if you find something (or intend on finding something) move-in ready, you will want to change some things to make it your own. Have the money for it so you can start enjoying your house and making it feel like home!
While You Are House Hunting
- Location, location, location: Buy for the neighborhood, and then the house — where you live is key. It's better to have the worst house on a great block than the best house on a bad block.
- Chill out! Just remember it's a few stressful months out of your life, and once it's done, you'll hopefully not have to do it again for a while!
- Clock the miles: Do a mock commute before you commit. It may sound silly, but if you drive or take public transportation to an office every day, your commute time (and convenience) is a major factor!
- Personal tour: If they're willing, ask the sellers for your own walk-through. While your visit with the real estate agent is meant to confirm that everything is as it should be, a one-on-one walk-through with the sellers offers the opportunity to ask specific questions about everything from which spot in the backyard gets the best sunlight to when a refrigerator was last replaced.
- Get organized! When you get all your paperwork together to get pre-approved, keep it handy because you'll need it again (and usually additional paperwork) when you actually apply for a loan. And be prepared to spend a good chunk of time making copies and faxing documents.
- Don't stop looking: Continue to look on Zillow, MLS, and even the Sunday paper on your own, even after you start working with an agent. You might actually find a house your realtor missed, which could be the one!
- Write a letter with your offer: Be flattering to the owner about why you love their home, in addition to sharing details about yourself. And don't be afraid to get personal, which might help the seller be more willing to budge on price.
- More cash down: Consider making an offer with more cash down than you will actually end up using. If you could theoretically pay 35 percent down, put that in your offer letter. But when you work it out with the bank, you might only need to put 20 or 25 percent down, giving you more cash on hand for improvements or as a buffer. The more you put down in the offer, the easier it is to compete with all-cash.
- Look at everything: Don't be afraid to look at foreclosures and short sales in your price range. It might seem a bit scary, especially when you're dealing directly with the bank, but that means you don't have a seller that's connected to the property. And low-ball bids might actually be accepted — especially if the property has been sitting vacant.
- Close right: Ask about closing costs up front. This way you'll know how to budget when making an offer.
- Think big: Try not to get too connected to a home. Don't get caught up in the seller's furniture or wall color — you get to change all that when you buy the home. Think about how the property will appreciate in time and if it's worth the investment.
After Buying Your Dream Home
- Refinance: Even after a few months of blissful home ownership, you can look into refinancing. The process isn't scary and a lower mortgage is totally worth it.
- Remodel right: Sure, the bathroom or kitchen might not be exactly how you want it, but budgeting for big renovations is a must before taking down a wall you don't think you need. And it's always a good idea to hire a contractor before attempting any home projects — you never know what you might encounter!
- Save payments: Set yourself up with at least three months of mortgage payments so you are prepared if something happens in the future.