The prospect of owning a home for the first time can be thrilling, daunting or downright scary, and many may feel the temptation to dive into the process headfirst. But not so fast, say local real estate agents — there is plenty to consider before you make what likely will be the biggest and most important investment of your life. So what are some tips for buying a new home? Two local real estate agents offer their advice: ? Ask yourself: What can I really afford? When Karen Derosa, Belmont County top $ producer with Harvey Goodman Realtor in St. Clairsville, bought her first home, she realized she would have to trade in her sporty new car for something with a slightly more manageable payment in order to get the home she wanted. Accepting the responsibility of home ownership, she said, often means making those kinds of tough decisions. “Be honest with yourself about what you spend and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to get that new home,” she said. ? Be cautious of “fixer-uppers.” Lee Paull IV, executive vice president and associate real estate broker with Paull Associates in Wheeling, said the average first-time homebuyer will spend five to 10 years in that first home before moving on to something a little bigger. For that reason, selecting a home that needs a lot of work may look like more of a bargain than it actually is. For every problem that you can readily see, you’re likely to find several more that aren’t so obvious. “If you think it’s going to cost $20,000 to fix up, it’s probably going to cost $40,000. Things just kind of domino once you get into it,” said Paull. ? Your “dream home” can wait. Derosa said one of the most common mistakes she sees among first-time homebuyers is falling into the temptation to “overimprove.” Sinking money — often in the form of a second mortgage — into a home in order to make it what you’ve always wanted may not be wise if you’re at a point in your life where career changes and a growing family could force you into another move. “They get too excited and they think, ‘Oh, I’ll be here forever’ ... and then their job changes, they get transferred, and they cannot afford that second mortgage,” she said. “You don’t need the stainless steel, granite kitchen — that can be for your second home.” ? Get prequalified for your mortgage if at all possible. Both Derosa and Paull emphasize the importance of getting that prequalification letter from a bank before making an offer on a home. That gives the seller peace of mind, and could make all the difference if you find yourself in a competitive situation with another potential buyer, Derosa said. Paull also noted that prequalification tells you up front what your lending threshhold is, so you don’t waste your time looking at homes that are beyond your budget. If you know you’re about to be in the market for a house, prepare by paying off as much debt as possible before you go looking for a loan. “If you have to wait to get all your things in order, you may lose out on a house,” Paull said. ? Bank locally — and know your credit score. According to Derosa, people who think they have impeccable credit often have forgotten about those missed credit card payments from a few years ago, and are in for a rude surprise when they go to get a mortgage. Knowing your credit weaknesses and being prepared to explain them, she said, will make lenders more willing to work with you rather than simply turn you down. She said most of the local lending institutions she works with are very willing to help out — something you may not get if you look elsewhere. ? Work with an experienced real estate agent. Paull said with the recent mortgage crisis pushing the issue to the forefront, he believes the public is better educated today than it ever has been when it comes to the housing market. But that doesn’t mean you should go it alone. “That’s why we do this. We’ve seen all the trends,” Paull said. “We’re here to guide you and make sure that you’re not making those mistakes.” According to Derosa, finding the right agent can mean a lasting relationship — she said she has clients who have bought three or four homes from her through the years. “I want them to be happy. I’m working this job seven days a week because I’m working to make sure my clients, sellers and buyers, are happy and there’s no surprises,” she said.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Those in the market to buy a home for the first time have plenty to think about before signing on the dotted line, according to local real estate agents.