Buying your first home is both exciting and scary! You can’t wait to hang up photos, paint the kitchen, and arrange your furniture just right. But there is so much going on during the home buying process that it can be overwhelming, and it becomes easy to make rookie mistakes. What better to help you avoid rookie homebuyer mistakes than to hear tips from dozens of homebuyers who’ve been through it? This is the ultimate list of crowdsourced tips for first time homebuyers!
We hope with these tips for first time homebuyers (from more experienced homebuyers) will help you take on the home buying process with confidence. These tips will help you help you pick a better house, at the best time, and get your financing all aligned!
To gather the following tips, I asked homeowners in my social media network this question:
The result is an amazing variety of tips that will ensure you walk into the home buying process as a well-seasoned pro!
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Financing and Finances
63+ Tips for First Time Homebuyers
Realtor Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“When we built our house we worked directly with the builder’s realtor instead of contacting our own trusted realtor who probably could have worked out more deals for us. Not sure why we never thought of it during the building process, but definitely something we look back on and regret!”
“We went with a realtor who was used by a family member without doing any research, and he was terrible! We should have done more research and interviewed others.”
“Be very thorough in finding a realtor that will advocate for you and do what’s in your best interest. Our realtor was so lazy after we signed with them. They didn’t find houses for us, waited for us to request showings, etc. We found our house, found a home inspector, did our own comps. They offered no help or guidance during negotiations. It was awful. When you sign with a realtor (yes, you have to do this), they are contractually entitled to the realtor fees from any home purchase during the contract period, even if you don’t use them and try to purchase directly. They got like $7k and did nothing! I wish we hadn’t signed with a realtor at all.”
“Know that realtors have a conflict of interest. They can and will help you a lot (and I still recommend having one), but you have to advocate for yourself. They benefit from a quick sale at the highest price possible (since they are paid on commission) even if that’s not what’s best for you.”
Final thoughts: Realtors can be an extremely valuable part of the home buying process, and there are many good reasons to hire a realtor. However, it’s true that licensed realtors will require you to sign a contract that you intend to purchase your home with them as your realtor (Exclusive Buyer-Broker Contract). This ensures that people don’t drop realtors at the last minute to avoid paying fees. But the result is that switching realtors is not always easy. Contracts can last from a few weeks to even years, and they are entitled to a commission/realtor fees for any home you purchase during the length of the contract.
When you are buying a home, it’s not uncommon for the buyer and the seller to have their own realtors. Each is entitled to a commission. Often, but not always, the seller pays for both the selling realtor’s fees and and buying realtor’s fees (meaning it doesn’t cost the buyers anything to use a realtor). However, this is not always the case, it depends on the terms of the contract and the state. The realtor fees are significant- usually running around 6% of the purchase price of the home, with 3% going to the seller’s realtor and 3% going to the buyer’s realtor. On a $300,000 home purchase, that’s a total of $18,000 in realtor fees! That’s why it’s extremely important to get a realtor that you like and trust, and don’t be afraid to make them work for you and advocate for you as you deserve their time and attention.
If you are a buyer, interview several realtors and ask them a lot of questions. You may even want to ask them for some recent references. Go with your gut on who you like the most, who is the most responsive, and who has the most experience in your area before you sign a contract.
Financing and Financial Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“I wish we would have done more research on government discounts and deals for first time homebuyers!”
“The biggest mistake I made when purchasing my home was getting downpayment assistance. We had the money but my lender suggested it saying we could then keep our money to do upgrades on the house. 5 years later and we still have those loans!”
“Don’t do anything weird with your finances or have any weird transactions for like 6 months prior to closing and especially during the time it takes to close. It can mess up the loan process.”
“Buy off season if you can! We live in a very competitive market but it tends to slow down significantly in the winter. We put in an offer on our house the day after Christmas at $12k below asking and it was accepted. The downside of buying during the slow season is there are often fewer houses to choose from. But it’s almost impossible to buy in our neighborhood in the spring and summer unless you have cash to be competitive with.”
“I should have saved an Emergency Fund first! I put all my savings into the downpayment.”
“I wish I had known that some lenders (such as the VA) will only mortgage the appraisal price. So if the appraisal comes in lower than listing/offer cost (and the seller will not lower the sale price), you are financially responsible for the difference up front, or you have to withdraw your offer.”
“We should have put more money into the downpayment. We paid Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for three years.”
“The first house we bought didn’t appraise high enough, and so we couldn’t get financing and we had to drop the purchase price down. The sellers were salty and at closing they backed out of a bunch of things in the contract, e.g. leaving the natural gas grill. We were uncomfortable and didn’t fight at the time. Lesson learned: don’t back down.”
“You need to have a home maintenance fund after you buy a home, even if the home is new or newer!”
“I wish we would’ve had the guts to ask for a lower price.”
“I didn’t know that interest rates were negotiable! They are!”
-Hannah, New Jersey
“We should have asked the sellers about the average monthly cost of utilities for budget purposes!”
“Buy within your budget, not what the lender tells you that you qualify for!”
“Have money in savings! I didn’t know the cost to maintain a home (even if it’s in decent shape). It should have it’s own line item in the budget!”
-Julia, New York
“Make sure to plan for unexpected expenses: good faith money, paint, garbage cans, cleaning supplies, utility deposits, moving. The costs really add up!”
Final thoughts: Make sure you are buying a home you can afford. Think not only about the total cost of the home and what you can qualify for with financing, but about the monthly payment and if it’s realistic for your family’s finances. Seek out the best interest rates, negotiate and be assertive whenever possible, and make sure you have some savings ready for after closing. It’s not if things will come up, it’s when. Also, be sure to do research on government grants, loans, and programs for first-time homebuyers both federally and by state!
House Selection Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“Drive through the neighborhood several times and at different times of day. The first house we bought was awesome but the neighbors were terrible. There were so many vehicles lined up parked along the street when everyone got home from work that sometimes we couldn’t get in our driveway. Kids would leave their bikes in the middle of the street. It made us want to move in just two years.”
“Buy in your dream location. You can always change a house or a yard but you can’t change where it’s at. We bought a house that didn’t have my dream interior, but is in an awesome neighborhood/location. Now five years later housing prices here have gone way up, and there is no way we could afford to move into this area if we didn’t already own in it. I’m so glad we didn’t settle for a starter home in a less desirable area.”
“I wish we had bought new! We are dealing with a lot of repairs in our home. We would have saved money had we just built new.”
“One mistake I feel I made in buying my current home was buying before the neighborhood was completed. I just do not love the look of the finished neighborhood. It is a very small neighborhood with just one road and all the houses look exactly the same. Now that the neighborhood is established I don’t think I would have wanted to live here if I drove through it now.”
-Missy, South Carolina
“Our second house we bought sight unseen because we were relocating. I do not recommend doing that. The smell was horrendous and there was dog hair everywhere. It took weeks to clean.”
-Amy, South Carolina
“We bought the nicest house on the block, which is no bueno. If you buy the worst house on the block, you have the chance to improve it and it can go way up in value. Plus, the nicer neighborhood will help keep your home’s value as high as possible. If it’s not your forever home, buy a simple home and add a little sweat equity so it will go up in value.”
“Know yourself and your spouse. Do not buy a fixer-upper thinking you’ll do all the work yourselves if you don’t have the skills, or the one who has the skills never finishes projects! If you think that could be you, plan and budget to hire someone to do the work or buy a newer house.”
“Do more research into property taxes. If we lived a quarter of a mile down the road, we would be in a different county and paying thousands less per year in property taxes, while still in great school districts.”
“Find out how assessment of property value can change when the property changes owners. In our state, if a house is owned by the same person, property taxes can only go up a small percentage per year. Once the house is sold, the house can be evaluated for actual worth. Our mortgage went up by $300 a month because of a giant property tax increase we were never told to expect. It sucked.”
“I wish we had gotten a larger mud room/laundry room. We live on a working farm so I’ve found that space to be essential.”
“We didn’t think about storage and closet space when we were buying our last home. We just looked at how pretty the open concept was. As a result, there are no closets on the main level of the house! It was a nightmare with two kids. We got really creative!”
“I had the option to buy a smaller, newer house for $20k more than a bigger, older house. I went with the older house because I wanted the bigger one, and ended up spending $40k on renovations and fixes. I would not to it again. The peace of mind that comes with living in a house that doesn’t require a ton of renovations and work is worth the extra money in my opinion.”
“I wish we had paid more attention to what we didn’t like. We were in such a hot market, we didn’t have time to think about it or sleep on our decision. Now we have terrible light, electrical, peeling floors, and a super busy street.”
-Towanda, North Carolina
“Judge the house based on its cleanliness. It shows how the current owners cared for the house.”
“Don’t settle for anything you don’t absolutely love.”
“We’ve bought two houses with no pantries and it drives me crazy! Both houses also didn’t have any hall closets. So silly.”
“We should have moved the staging furniture to look at the floor under the couch (and the walls behind furniture). Turns out there had been significant water damage and we had to replace the whole floor after the fact. The inspectors don’t move furniture either, so be thorough.”
“We went from city water to a well and didn’t account for pumping/backups or the sulfur smell. We put in a new air filtration system to help with the smell ($1600), but it didn’t completely eliminate the problem.”
-Brianna, New York
Final thoughts: Home preferences vary so widely so there really isn’t a right or wrong answer here. Try to enjoy the process of picking your new home and think long and hard about what you want before you go for it! It’s a big decision!
Inspection Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“If you have the option, be physically present when the inspector does the inspection. You can ask questions and get a lot of issues clarified by a professional this way. Makes it easy to decide what you want to ask the seller to fix v. what you’re willing fix yourself after you move in.”
“When buying our second home I wish we weren’t so eager. I allowed things to go unfixed after inspection for fear of losing the house. It would have been better for us to have negotiated fixing of windows, fireplace, etc. than to just let those things go by. I live in a competitive market so we just didn’t want to lose this particular house after so many months of searching.”
“We knew the sellers and trusted them, so we decided to forego the inspection. We have kicked ourselves hundreds of times!”
“Shop around for inspectors. I went with who my realtor advised and there was quite a bit that should have been looked as and it wasn’t even noted.”
“When buying a new build, don’t let them bully you during the punch list process (the project closeout portion of the construction process in which a contractor prepares a document that lists any work that has not been completed, or not been completed correctly). We’ve bought two new builds, both were opposite experiences. First one gave me the tape and told me to mark everything I was unhappy with, they even helped. Second house they wouldn’t give me the stickers to mark problem areas, they hovered, they questioned and gave excuses of why the blemish ‘was supposed to be that way.’ If the super didn’t write it in the initial walkthrough, they wouldn’t cover it after closing. It’s so important to stand your ground on a new build and check everything thoroughly.”
“I wish I’d gotten a home inspection done. Someone talked me out of it, but looking back, I really wish I’d done in.”
“I should have had a professional come and do a home inspection. They would have seen the major mold problem in the basement.”
“I highly recommend getting a separate HVAC inspection! If we would have, we could have saved $11,000 right off the bat. It really set us back as first time homebuyers when our air conditioning broke and was not repairable due to the age of the home.”
Final thoughts: Get a home inspection! They only cost between $300-$500 and can save you thousands of dollars in future repairs, or allow you to walk away from a home that has too many problems. It’s also a good idea to shop around for experienced and reputable inspectors and be present for the inspection if possible.
Remember that you as the buyer can ask the sellers to repair certain items before closing. These requested repairs are written into the sale contract, and both parties must agree to the requests. Once that’s done, the sellers must complete the requested repairs before closing. Be thorough in your final walkthrough, checking one-by-one that each repair was completed satisfactorily. Don’t let anyone rush you, be thorough and take your time.
Closing Process Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“I wish we would have asked that the propane tank was filled before we closed! We live in a rural area. It’s a 100 gallon tank so to fill it costs about $700-800.”
“I wish we would have asked for a credit/discount based on the age of our heat pump (it was 18 years old).”
-Summer, North Carolina
“Make sure you get a move-out deep clean from the sellers in writing! When we moved into our new house, the carpets were a mess, everything was gross. There was even old food in the oven.”
“Research the property taxes ahead of time. Double check all your closing documents. Our closing documents had the wrong amount listed for property taxes. Then when they came due, we didn’t have enough in ESCROW. We ended up owing a bunch of money.”
“We should have been so much more thorough during our final walkthrough! When you buy a house, there is usually a time right before closing when you re-walk the house and make sure the seller has fixed and repaired the things you requested in the contract. When we did our final walkthrough, our realtor was in a rush, so we were in a rush, and we missed a bunch of things the seller hadn’t fixed (like a hole in a glass window!) that they were supposed to. We discovered everything after we moved in and it was a nightmare to fix. We should have scheduled the final walkthrough during a time when we could take our time and go through each requested repair one-by-one.”
“I wish we would have been harder on the sellers to fix things that came up in the inspection. They were nice people who chose us over more worthy offers because we were first time homebuyers, but there were problems we should have pushed to have fixed.”
“I wish we would have hired cleaners to come in and deep clean the house before we moved in, or put it in the closing contract.”
“One thing we didn’t know until after the whole buying process was over is that we could have chosen a different title company. We didn’t know that we could shop around for title companies and negotiate our fees. We could have saved some money and that was a bummer.”
Final thoughts: Everything is negotiable, so don’t be afraid to negotiate hard in your favor! There are so many things that can be written into the final sale contract from leaving appliances and furniture, to getting a professional house cleaning, to home repairs. Take your time during the closing process. Don’t let the people around you make you feel rushed. Stand your ground and be assertive when needed.
Miscellaneous Tips for First Time Homebuyers
“We should have measured some of the spaces to make sure our furniture would fit!”
-Lacy, North Dakota
“I wish we would have paid attention to the north facing driveway in our cold climate. The ice never melts”
“We should have ensured that they removed all excess paint cans before closing. We had at least 60 full paint cans left from the previous owner and almost none of them matched the current house colors. Disposing of them properly through hazardous waste cost money and we were limited to only 5 cans per month. It was a huge hassle.”
-Lacy, North Dakota
“I wish I would have asked what was planted and where. We bought in the winter in Colorado, so had zero idea about what the landscaping actually looked like and inadvertently messed some things up that I wouldn’t have touched if I had known they were there.”
“I wish we would have done all the painting in the first weeks before we moved our stuff in!”
“When we built our house, we chose not to add a fourth bedroom since we only had two kids. Welp, a pregnancy later . . . we wish we had built the house with the fourth bedroom. The cost to add it on now is $30k more than if we had added originally.”
“I wish we’d had a deeper understanding of the HOA- fees, board, rules, etc.”
“I added my parents to my mortgage since I was super young (and I got a better interest rate that way). I didn’t realize at the time that I would need to pay lawyer fees and such to have their names removed later.”
“Get the one year home warranty in case anything breaks right after you move in.”
“I wish I would have done more research on home warranties and the differences between building and buying an existing structure.”
Conclusion About These Crowdsourced Tips for First Time Homebuyers
If there’s anything I learned from all the tips for first time homebuyers from seasoned homebuyers, it’s that the home buying process is never going to be perfect! And also, no house is perfect either! However, I hope that these tips gave you some ideas to make your first home buying process as smooth as possible. Hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes that we did.
Good luck buying your first home. It’s such an exciting milestone!
Which of these tips for first time homebuyers did you find the most helpful? Let me know in the comments below.
This article is for education purposes only. I’ve included some people’s opinions in this article for you to learn from. I have attempted to include factual sources wherever possible, but some facts in this article may vary from location to location.