I’ve never had more fun washing walls or tearing out carpet.
When it’s your own home, energy doubles. “You’ll like doing this when it’s your own home,” my dad always said, when I was knee-deep in a home project as a kid. It’s completely true.
On Monday, I closed on the sale of my first home. While I am 36, I was clueless about buying a home — where to look, what I can afford, what are the deal breakers. Hundreds of emails and dozens of home visits later, I now own a pale yellow house in Grand Blanc Township with a nice garage and double lot.
I thought my perspective on the process as a beginner might be helpful for prospective first-time homebuyers.
Budgets are sobering
You’ll need a budget to know if it’s even the right time to look for a house. My brother-in-law set me up with a spreadsheet. I learned that at the time, I could not afford a home. Had I just jumped in without a budget, I would have been in trouble. Eventually, I was able to pay down debt and save enough for closing costs, making me legitimately ready to afford a house.
Budgets are liberating
Once your budget is mapped, you can see what payment you can afford. I arrived at a maximum home price of $70,000, depending on the area. Remember, the monthly payment isn’t just the mortgage and interest — it will include local taxes and home insurance. It helps to research home insurance rates, taxes, water fees and an average utility bill when arriving at a house payment.
Before you look at a house, shop around for a mortgage company. You’ll hopefully be pre-approved for a certain limit, which will make it easier to put an offer in on a home. Keep in mind, just because they might lend it, doesn’t mean you can afford it.
Find a Realtor — or not
If you are financially ready to buy a home, it’s time to meet a Realtor. If you’re not, you might stick to open houses to check out homes in areas you’re interested in, until you’re really ready. You can also just call listing agents for homes you’re interested in, but it’s nice to have a Realtor on your side who is willing to do research for you.
You have the funds — where should you look?
Your budget will dictate where you can buy a home. I wanted to be as close to Fenton or Holly for my job as possible, but the market was too expensive. After a lot of home visits and research, I found that the right combination of market stability, water, taxes and auto insurance rates existed in portions of Flint Township that matched my budget for an adequate home. Finding a balance between budget, location and features can be difficult.
Enlist handyman/woman help
I felt better looking at homes with my dad, or girlfriend’s dad; their technical expertise helped see things I might miss.
When home searching, make a list of features and stick with them
Your Realtor can open a web portal to see homes for sale, often before they hit public sites like zillow.com. Search by area and price to narrow the listings. I decided that I would be renting a room for the short-term to save on expenses, so the home would need to have three bedrooms to include an office. I also wanted a garage and a basement (who doesn’t?).
Throw out the list if you need to
My Realtor suggested that sometimes it’s better to have a two-bedroom home in a ‘better’ neighborhood, or a two-bedroom home that is more move-in ready. I decided to drop the three bedroom, and basement requirements. Immediately a home within my budget, and closer to work popped up in my search. As it turns out, it had several attributes that more than made up for having a slab foundation and only two bedrooms. We looked at it that weekend, and made an offer that Sunday, which was accepted.
Look for a future column about purchasing and closing on a home.