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Buying Your First Home: Tips, Tricks and Realizations

This post is sponsored by Allstate. All opinions are my own.

This September marks 3 years since we purchased our first (town)home together! It feels both longer and shorter in reality, mostly because I’ve rarely lived in one house for this long without getting tired of it. Never mind the fact that I’m constantly looking at real estate sites (I was perhaps a real estate agent in a previous life), but I absolutely love our home and it was such an act of fate that we even found it!

Adult decisions really stress me out, especially when finances are involved, so being a first-time homebuyer made me very anxious. I know many of my friends and readers are now in a position where they are purchasing their first home, so I thought it would be helpful to share my experience, guidance and reflections looking back on the process!

Prepare Yourself

It’s not a good idea to impulsively wake up and decide you’re going to go look for a house to buy that day. I know this is inherently how my mind impulsively approaches activities, but do as I say, not as I do. Buying a house is an extremely important, life-changing activity so you will want to be as prepared as possible before you even step foot in an open house. Here are the steps we took before we ever looked at a house:

  • Make a timeline: we knew the exact day we needed to be out of our apartment, so we could work backwards to consider what day we needed to close and what that meant for our home search and purchase timeline.
  • Get pre-approved: I can’t stress this enough. I’m sure you’ve seen an HGTV show by now, you will like houses that are above your price range, duh. Get pre-approved to see what you can actually afford.
  • Research typical payments like mortgage, PMI, taxes, HOA, etc.: Our mortgage advisor did this for us and it was the most helpful thing I experienced throughout the entire process. She laid everything out so clearly based on the type of loan, down payment and home price. SO great to see this laid out.
  • Save money for a down payment: ultimately, you should start saving as soon as you can, not as soon as you decide to buy a house. By the time you decide you want a house, it’s too late. The down payment is the worst part of buying a home, but depending on how much you save, it can be the most beneficial. I wish we had saved up a little more on our down payment to decrease our monthly mortgage, but regardless, these are some of the financial mistakes first-time homebuyers often make.

Finances, Finances, Finances

Speaking of financial mistakes, I can’t think of anything more important than finances. There are a lot of different factors that you don’t consider when you look at the purchase price. Things like down payment, PMI (basically the insurance you pay on your mortgage), homeowners insurance, HOA fees, escrow, property taxes, realtor fees, closing fees… I’m sure there’s even more I’m forgetting. Basically, you’re not paying $300,000 for your house unless you’re paying it all in cash upfront!

You’ll need to save as much money as possible ahead of time. There are ways to save money during homebuying, but going into it with a stack of cash makes the process a lot smoother.

Surround Yourself with Good People

You probably have a friend who is a real estate agent. You probably also know someone in the mortgage business. Your parents, grandparents or any other older close family friend will have experience and knowledge of purchasing and selling real estate and can give you insight into their mistakes and recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or input, especially if you’re on the fence.

We had an amazing team behind us. Like I said earlier, our mortgage advisor Brittany (who is one of Andy’s close friends from high school) was an angel and made the entire financial process a breeze and so easy on my anxiety throughout the loan process.

Our realtor was also a close friend which was great because we could trust her and knew she had our best interests at heart. We could be honest with her and she knew our style, so she was honest with us too. Plus, going into a closing attorney’s office is so intimidating, so having two friends on our side of the table made it a much more enjoyable process!

Have an Open Mind

There are very few of us who are working with an unlimited budget. You will need to compromise and that may be by moving 2 miles outside of your ideal neighborhood or going with an older home that needs some work. We ultimately wanted a single-family home with a yard, but with the market in an upswing, we weren’t able to find the “perfect” one for us in our budget and location. Luckily, we found a townhome in our budget and location that was near perfect for us and had the ability to add a (small) fenced yard.

Cosmetic changes can be very easy to DIY and relatively inexpensive if you research your options, finishes and installation. A few of the projects we took on for less than a few thousand dollars:

  • Repainted 90% of the interior: we hired a painting crew to to the majority of the work (bedrooms, living room/main floor) and did some of the extra rooms (master bath and 1st floor office) on our own
  • Installed hardwood floors: I wanted hardwood floors everywhere and I got it, thanks to Andy and our good friend Justin. We went with an affordable, engineered hardwood that was a fairly simple weekend project
  • Retiled the fireplace: it makes such a big difference!
  • Installed a fenced in backyard

Something May Go Wrong

We had a couple hiccups in the process. Thankfully, nothing too serious, and nothing that would jeopardize the purchase process. There was a possibility that our closing date was going to be pushed back due to the sellers’ scheduling, but unfortunately, we had a hard move-out date at our apartment the day after closing, so we didn’t have much wiggle room there. We also had other timing issues moving into the actual house on closing day, which meant we were really cutting it close on our move-out deadline.

We were extremely close to not finding a home and giving up altogether. This is where the story of fate comes into play. Because we weren’t able to find a home that we both loved and agreed on, we decided to give up looking. We drove up to our apartment office to resign our lease, and ironically the office was closed for an emergency that morning. To kill time, we decided to check out an open house nearby… well, it turns out this open house was for our dream house and future house! Funny how timing works, right?

We were one of 4 couples who submitted an offer the day of the open house. I don’t know now what made them choose our offer (probably because it was full price), but I’m so glad it all worked out perfectly!

Work Doesn’t End at Closing

Just when you think you’re in the clear, you really get in the thick of it. When your A/C goes out, you can’t just call maintenance and have them bring in a replacement and you get to cool off again within days. When you own your home, you get to pay thousands of dollars to replace the units. 🙂

Things like yard work, exterior maintenance and general improvements do add up, though typically they just give you more value. Here are a few resources to consider to maintain and protect your home after the purchase, like home maintenance issues and home insurance information.

Although buying a home for the first time seems daunting, scary and overwhelming, it’s honestly one of the most fun and exciting processes. If you’re in this stage of life, you should be so proud that you’re able to achieve this life goal!

For more home and interiors posts, click here!

This post was written as part of the Allstate Influencer Program and sponsored by Allstate. All opinions are mine. As the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer, Allstate is dedicated not only to protecting what matters most–but to guiding people to live the Good Life, every day.

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