So, you're in the market for buying your first house. Good for you! Purchasing your first home can be exhilarating, but it might be a bit intimidating, too. After all, this is almost certainly the biggest financial move you’ve made thus far. But we can help. Here are seven key factors that can boost your know-how and confidence on your exciting journey toward home ownership.
Understand Your Monthly Costs
When setting your monthly housing budget, it's a smart move to include every potential expense into your final equation, not just the sale price and mortgage. Property taxes, insurance premiums, utility bills, and other recurring costs can fluctuate considerably between houses, so make sure you know what to expect.
Beyond what you can afford, consider the long-term financial commitment: A higher-taxed home in disrepair will require a continuing commitment from you that could place considerable strain on your finances. Conversely, a more expensive, well-maintained house that has lower taxes and fewer anticipated repair costs might be more financially beneficial in the long run.
Also explore how homes with smart features like energy-efficient windows, home security, and solar panels might lower ongoing energy and insurance costs.
Keep Your Eye on Interest Rates
The impact of interest rates will depend on the type of mortgage you get. If you choose a floating-rate mortgage, for instance, the size of your mortgage payments could fluctuate alongside interest rates. However, with a fixed-rate mortgage, your rate is locked in, regardless of which direction interest rates move.
Small differences in the interest rate you are able to secure can quickly add up: For example, over five years a 4.125% interest rate will save you more than $4,400 compared to a mortgage rate a half-point higher. It’s worth considering interest rates to ensure you choose an appropriate mortgage when you’re ready to buy. But don’t rush to buy a house you’re unsure of, lower interest rate or not.
Commute Times Are Key
A first home is as much a lifestyle decision as a financial one, so consider the time it will take you to commute to work as well as the price tag. Test-drive or test-ride mass transit along the route you would take to work during commuting hours. And be sure you’ll have transportation available if you work odd hours.
Get Educated about Local Schools
For homeowners with young children and those planning to become parents, school quality is an important consideration when choosing a home. Keep in mind, though, that school rankings aren't always the best measure of performance, given that they can quickly change. Instead, look at the school budget history of towns you’re interested in to see whether residents have historically prioritized funding for education. You can find neighborhood statistics at www.city-data.com.
Check Out Local Community Life
Maybe you're into live music, the theater, or occasional fun nights out on the town. Or, perhaps you're super civic-minded and like to participate in activities that enhance and boost communities. Whatever your passionate about, look for your community’s website and social media pages to discover what activities it offers.
Take Noise Levels into Account
Before you buy, make “listening visits” for trucks and trains — especially later at night or early in the morning, when sound carries farther. The more you know about noise levels ahead of time, the more informed you'll be about your potential purchase.
Get an Experienced Real Estate 'Advocate'
Consider enlisting the help of an experienced professional to represent your interests. An exclusive buyer agent will add an extra expense, but he or she will bring the expertise to maneuver a complex real estate market and ensure you make a smart purchase. You can find an exclusive buyer agent through the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA), which represents only buyers.
Buying your first home is about the journey and the destination. Take the time you need to do what’s best for you and your family, plan ahead, and, above all, have fun exploring this new phase of your future. You’ll be happy you did!