Take it from someone who’s been there — buying your first house can be the most exciting and the most confusing milestone you hit in your adult life. The only way to survive the rigorous process is to go in with both eyes open. These insider tips will keep you from feeling like you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life on closing day.
My husband and I had a good experience buying our first house with the help of a great realtor. But after just a few weeks of being beaten to death by paperwork, my brain felt like it needed a month-long break to erase the memory of all that red tape.
And that’s when everything goes right. Any real estate agent can tell you (as they laugh maniacally under their breath) that buying a house hardly ever goes according to plan. Something strange is going to happen. Some loophole is going to be found. Some fine print you never bothered to read is going to come back to bite you in the ass.
This is the first year we are seeing a rise in first-time homebuyers in more than five years, meaning plenty of 20 and 30-somethings are ready to lock down their first house. So far in 2015, Generation Y makes up 68 percent of all first-time home purchases. While this is great for the economy, it isn’t so great for the thousands of clueless soon-to-be homeowners who have no idea what they’re doing.
More: How to know you’re buying a house in the right neighborhood
If you’ve scraped together a down payment for your first home, don’t back out yet. You can have a pleasant first-time home buying experience when you learn to expect the unexpected:
1. The seller has the advantage
A sellers’ market is a good thing — if you’re selling. I was a buyer in a sellers’ market when we bought our first home, which simply meant that the seller had the upper hand. It also meant even more stress for us, wondering if our offer was ever going to get approved. Jennifer De Vivo, realtor and owner at De Vivo Realty in Florida, explains, “Unfortunately, home inventory is at all-time lows, and sellers are sitting pretty. If a home is priced well and in good condition, expect stiff competition. Yesterday, I went to a show a pretty home in a desirable part of town, and there were literally seven agents parked outside of the home on a rainy day waiting their turn to tour the home with their clients!”
She advises, “Know in detail what you want in your next home and then realistically set your expectations as to what your local market is able to offer in your price range.”
2. You get run over without a bidding strategy
As De Vivo explained, it’s a sellers’ market, and consumer confidence is at an all-time high. This spells nothing other than good old-fashioned competition, so put on your bargaining hat and make like you’re at a flea market. De Vivo recommends, “Be prepared to discuss bidding strategies with your agent. Your agent should be advising you on how to make your offer stand out strongly from the others.”
De Vivo says, “Price is important but so are terms. Shortening your inspection period and putting down a larger deposit will help you get your foot in the door on that hot property you are after.”
3. You have to pay extra
Buying a house is not as straightforward as paying the price you saw on Zillow. If only it were that easy. I learned the hard way that there are plenty of unexpected costs that pop up before closing — including the closing costs themselves, estimated at two to five percent of the purchase price. If you live in a big city, you can expect to pay even more out-of-pocket above your home’s asking price, says Becki Danchik, a real estate agent at Charles Rutenberg LLC in New York City. “There are building fees such as move-in and move-out fees, which can range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars each, and board application fees of $500 to $700 or more depending on the condo/co-op.”
She continues, “For condominiums in new developments, the purchaser will pay costs normally paid by the seller. These include seller attorney fees, as well as NY and NYC Transfer Taxes.”
4. It takes forever to get a response from your bank
Foreclosures are still out there, but don’t forget — the real estate market is booming, and banks are taking their sweet time in getting back to buyers who are negotiating bids. As much as you want to jump on that dream home and get the deed in your name, it’s probably not going to happen right away. De Vivo explains, “Brokers in Florida aren’t sure what is going on, but the asset managers of bank owned properties are taking up to two weeks to respond to offers and price negotiations. Perhaps it’s the sudden inundation of offers on their properties or maybe banks are pulling back on personnel in their REO (Real Estate Owned by the Bank) departments.”
She adds, “Whatever it is, don’t be surprised if you are waiting for a response.”
5. It takes forever to get a response from the seller
Wouldn’t anyone be excited to get an offer on their house? What’s taking them so long to respond? In the real estate world, no news can still be good news — a seller and/or their real estate agent may simply be too busy to get back to you. Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski, author of the award-winning humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box, cautions, “Don’t freak out like I did. I recall saying to my husband, ‘How could they not accept our contract? We’re making a fair deal! Ugh. They’re going to reject us, and we’ll never get a home that’s as good as this one ever again!’ Um, turns out that they did accept our bid; they were just busy with family-related stuff.”
“Don’t automatically think that silence means no. It may simply mean that one of the seller’s kids got the chicken pox, Mom was called away on business and Dad is home trying to watch an infant while getting another child to basketball practice,” says Wojciechowski.
6. It takes forever to close
Banks dragging their heels are just part of the problem. You also have to factor in communication between the buyers’ and sellers’ agents, inspection time, requests for repairs and the filing of paperwork. If you don’t know how long it takes to buy a house from start to finish, the process can seem like an eternity. Danchik estimates, “Expect the purchase process to take 2-3 months. This is the time it takes from when an offer is accepted to the date of the closing.”
“The length of time will also depend on if the purchaser is applying for a mortgage or not,” she adds.