Congratulations! You’re excited for married life, including your first house. It’s a big commitment to make together. With some effort and the right list of important tips, you can make the process of buying your first home together a lot easier.
1. Get a good real estate agent
Not a part-timer, not your cousin out of state, but a buyer’s agent with experience in the market where you’re looking. Buying a house without an agent means extra work and missing out on the help and expertise your agent provides:
- Your agent knows you, your family and its unique needs, and how you’re feeling right now about your search and priorities.
- A realtor, trained and licensed in this work, has faster, more complete access to listings, sets up showings for you, can spot any red flags, and knows the right questions to ask.
- Your agent’s fees are paid by the seller, not by you, so these services are free.
- He has a Rolodex of contractors he’s worked with before and can recommend.
- Agents are practiced negotiators who understand seller, lender, and contract lingo in the documents you sign.
2. Do your research and know your priorities
There are many criteria to consider when house hunting. Figure out what the deal-breakers are, where you can compromise, and what isn’t important. Share this list with your spouse, so you can iron out any disagreements before the Open Houses. Things to consider and discuss:
- House size and lot size (and cleaning and landscape care)
- House design, including number of bedrooms and baths, “green” features, open concept, etc.
- The neighborhood, including appearance, demographics, commute to work, school quality, local taxes, crime statistics, local amenities, and nearby traffic
- The condition of the house, “turn-key” or “fixer-upper,” or somewhere in between
- Research the house’s building, maintenance, and renovation history (know what you’re getting “behind the scenes”)
- Decide on a type of mortgage. If you’re settling down for decades, a Fixed Rate Mortgage may be right, but if it’s a starter home, an adjustable-rate mortgage may be smarter
3. Know Your (Actual) Financial Situation
This is no time to forget about costs you’ll be responsible for or to gloss over personal finances. You need to be sure what is required, and what resources you both have. Things to work on:
- Understand both spouses’ credit scores, student loans, other debts, earning potential for the future, and goals for your money. How much do you owe already, and how quickly do you want to pay it off? Do you plan to have children, or for one partner not to work full-time? Do you need funds to start a new business or get a degree?
- If you have any credit problems, fix them before you apply to lenders for financing.
- Have enough savings for a 20% down payment on a house. It will lower your monthly payments and get you better financing.
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage so that you know what homes are in your price range, and so sellers will take you seriously. Remember, you don’t have to take everything you qualify for: exercise wisdom and be realistic.
- Go mortgage shopping. Compare multiple banks and credit unions, and explore reliable online options. If you have trouble qualifying, investigate loans from the Federal Housing Administration. They’re more reasonable, demand high standards from sellers, and make the difference for a lot of first-timers.
- Don’t forget about closing costs, HOA fees, taxes, and other amounts you will owe.