Open house

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Buying your first home is likely one of the most memorable events of your adult life. You have scrimped and saved and now it’s finally time to buy. But what should you expect when you actually go through the process? Like many other rites of passage, your expectations of what may happen could be a little different than the reality. To prepare you for your first-time home buying experience, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Really understand the finances

First-time buyers are excited about looking for homes and don’t often take enough time to understand all the financial aspects of buying a home. You should understand exactly how much you can afford before you fall in love with a home, so that you know whether you will be able to purchase it.

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According to Ross Armstrong, a real estate agent in Newport Beach, “buyers will start the process at the 'viewing property' stage instead of first getting the financials in place. A dream home can be found in the perfect location after weeks/months of searching, only to find out that home on that street is way out of your price range. I try to get all my clients to have the financial discussion ASAP.”

2. See the potential in each home

Everyone wants their dream home, but let’s be honest—not all of us can afford each and every item on our wish lists. It’s crucial to be flexible when looking for a home for the first time. Chances are that it’s not going to tick every item on your box, but you can try to get as close as possible.

This is why it’s important to be able to see the true potential in a space. Do you detest those bright orange walls? While the walls may be eyesores now, it’s nothing that a couple of coats of paint won’t fix. Do you hate the wood paneling? Figure out how to tear it down or just embrace it by decorating in a cabin-like style. The point is to not write off a home because of little flaws that can be easily fixed—especially if it’s in your price range.

3. Pick an agent who will teach and guide you

As a buyer, one of your most valuable tools in your toolbox is your real estate agent. This is the person you will go to for advice and the person that you will be emailing online listings to nonstop. Your real estate agent is someone you will be relying on for expert knowledge, which is why you should be sure to pick someone who can guide you through this experience in a way that educates you.

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“Most first time buyers think the process will take a few weeks and their buying power is considerably more than it actually is. I always stress the importance of a great agent who adds value and explains the process rather than merely opening doors and collecting a commission check. In my experience, the agent is key to making sure the buyers move through the entire process as smoothly as possible,” Armstrong says.

4. Hire a good home inspector

In addition to your real estate agent, your home inspector is one of the biggest assets throughout the home-buying process. This is especially true if you are interested in buying a “fixer-upper,” which is a lower-priced home that needs a lot of high-cost repairs or remodeling to fix it up.

A home inspector is going to give you an unbiased opinion on how much deferred maintenance repair work (if any) the home requires and what it might cost to address. You can use this information to decrease your bid on a home or simply to prepare for how much you may need to spend once the house is yours.

5. Do your research and get organized

Though your real estate agent will undoubtedly be crucial in guiding you through the home purchase process, be sure that you are also doing your homework. Before you go to meet with the agent, familiarize yourself with basic knowledge about common real estate terms, how a mortgage works, what a lender looks for, etc. -- and have all of your financial documents in order. You don’t want to walk in completely unprepared when you talk to the real estate agent.

“Do as much home research as possible prior to engaging an agent. Use the agent for referrals. Have your credit organized and your financials on hand so the lender can review them quickly,” Armstrong says. “I work closely with the lender on all my deals and there has to be good communication between both agents and lender to make sure loan contingency removal does not become an issue.”

6. Living in a large city often means sacrificing space

It’s no secret that living in a metropolitan area can get expensive. Everything from food to real estate can be priced significantly higher than in the suburbs or rural areas. When you are purchasing in a large city, you will most likely not have the amount of space that you envisioned in your first home.

However, city living has its advantages. While you may not have guest rooms or a spacious kitchen, you will probably be close to high quality entertainment and dining options. Some people even view a smaller living space as a positive because it prevents them from accumulating a lot of things they don’t need. Of course, if you find that you need more space for your kids (or yourself), then you might consider moving outside the city to get a little more bang for your buck.

7. Make sure you have enough of a down payment

Whether you are buying a house for the first time or not, the amount of your down payment will be a big determinant of how much home you can afford. If you find that many of the homes in your area are out of reach without a higher down payment, or if you want to reserve cash for other investments, you should check out the Unison HomeBuyer program from


Buying a home for the first time is a challenging and exciting time. Just be sure to do your research and learn as much about the process as you can, so you can tackle everything proactively and feel confident throughout your home search. Before you know it you’ll be moving into your new home.

Posted by Jane Doe on
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That's true that you are close to entertainment and dining in urban areas whereas you have more space in less metropolitan areas. My husband and I want to find a good place to live with our two kids. We'll have to figure out what we value more and find some real estate.

Posted by Amanda Drew on Friday, September 29th, 2017 at 9:50pm

My husband and I really want to buy our first home within the next couple of years, and so I really appreciate your tip about having enough to make a down payment. However, how much is the typical down payment? If we could know that, then we'd know how to adjust our budget so that we could save for it.

Posted by Katie on Friday, September 29th, 2017 at 10:31pm

I like what you said about choosing a real estate agent with expert knowledge so they can guide you. My fiance and I want to buy a house after we marry, but we're worried that we'll end up spending more than we should. If we get an agent who can guide us, maybe we can avoid making mistakes.

Posted by Hannah Schroeder on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 at 9:24pm

My favorite part of your article is when you talked about how you should take enough time to understand all the financial aspects of buying a home. For me, buying a house is a big step that will dictate your financial status in the future. I believe that you should consider everything about your finances before deciding to buy a particular house. If I were to buy a house in the future, I'd make sure to consider your tips.

Posted by Samantha Pamela Wilson on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 at 11:28pm

I couldn't agree more when you mentioned hiring a home inspector if you plan to buy a house for the first time. A home inspector would be able to provide you with expert advice and recommendation regarding the property you plan to purchase. He can even give you an estimate or quote of how much it would cost to repair the house, if necessary. This way, you would have an idea if the house you're planning to buy is indeed worth your investment. If I were to purchase my own property, I would make sure to take this into account. Thanks.

Posted by Bobby Saint on Friday, December 1st, 2017 at 9:24pm

My husband and I are planning on getting a new home and we are wondering how we should go about it. So I appreciate your tip to hire a great home inspector since that will make sure that our bid is perfectly fit for the house. We will definitely be hiring a home inspector before we even start looking at new homes.

Posted by Ashley Turns on Monday, December 4th, 2017 at 7:34pm

I like that you talked about how you must choose a knowledgeable real estate agent that can guide you all throughout the process of buying a house. My parents are looking to buy a house, and it's important for me to help them find a real estate agent that can help them at every stage of the buying process. For me, hiring a knowledgeable real estate agent can make sure a smooth and hassle-free transaction for my parents. He can also be the best expert that can guide my parents in choosing the best home for them that will fit their needs and wants. I will make sure to consider all your tips.

Posted by Sharon Wilson Smith on Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 at 9:46pm

The best part of your article for me is when you talked about the importance of choosing a real estate agent that can provide guidance all throughout the buying process while educating you. My sister is looking to buy a house. Since this is her first time, it's important for her to hire a real estate agent that can help her at every stage of the purchase. It will be beneficial for my sister to find a knowledgeable and experienced real estate agent who can make the process smooth. I will make sure to share your blog with my sister so she can get some tips.

Posted by Bea Shenectady on Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 at 12:31am

I like how you mentioned how critical it is to get a home inspector when buying a house. My husband and I are going to be purchasing our first home, and we want to make sure we make the right choice. We'll definitely get an inspector so we know of any issues before signing anything.

Posted by Lillian Schaeffer on Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 at 3:31pm

My sister and her husband are looking to buy their first home. I appreciate the advice that they really do need to have a sizable down payment for their first home if they want their desired home. It is also good to think about how much you'll still want to keep so that if you need to renovate the home, you still have a reserve.

Posted by Moira Blythe on Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 at 12:31pm

It's our first time, and I have gotten the advice to go for a fixer-upper like you mention. I will make sure to get a home inspector down here. I never thought to have that done! That'll give us a good idea of what kind of money we need to set aside for the house.

Posted by Greco on Monday, March 26th, 2018 at 2:24pm

I'm so glad you mention the importance of picking an agent that you can count on to coach you through the process. Like you said, a great real estate agent is one of the best tools you can have in your toolbox when house hunting. It would be great to walk away from your first home buying experience feeling more educated on understanding of what it takes to find the perfect home.

Posted by Georgia B on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 4:31pm

Thank you for this advice for first time home buyers. I'm glad that you mentioned you shouldn't write off a home is there are little flaws in it that can be easily fixed. It seems important to still discern what an easy repair will be versus a more complex one.

Posted by Taylor Bishop on Monday, November 5th, 2018 at 8:47am

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