Living Smart: First-time home buyersí mistakes

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The experience of buying your first home often brings up a lot of emotions. With so many new considerations and complicated processes to navigate, itís easy to get tripped up in details and make costly mistakes.

Read on to learn how to avoid making common first-time buyer missteps.

Donít skip home loan qualification

Once you decide to buy a home, itís tempting to start touring properties right away. Cheryl Grant, Realtor at Keller Williams North in Grand Rapids, Michigan, advises you to resist.

Instead, make your first stop a lending office. Figure out how much you qualify to borrow before wasting your own time and that of a seller, she says. You donít want to sign a contract only to discover the bank wonít loan you the necessary funds.

Know what you can afford

Many first-time buyers fail to budget properly, often confusing what they can afford with what lenders tell them they qualify to borrow. If you havenít yet, make a list of your monthly expenses before settling on a house budget.

"You absolutely should not be looking at homes out of your price range," says Brian Pakulla, a Realtor at Pakulla Professionals Re/Max Advantage Realty in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Doing so could cause you to stretch your finances too thin or make you feel dissatisfied when you do budget and then start to look at homes in your price range, he says.

Donít focus too much on the flaws

Itís fun to dream about the items on your wish list, but some first-time buyers have a hard time compromising to meet their budgets. Donít let outdated features steer you away from a house that otherwise meets your criteria. On the other hand, donít compromise on your must-haves.

"You can always change the cosmetics of a house, but you canít change the view, location or floor plan easily," Pakulla says.

Donít fall blindly in love

You think you find "the one" and immediately develop an emotional connection to it, never mind the leaky roof and creaky floors. You jump to put an offer in, but your real estate agent urges you to reconsider.

At that point, Grant says take heed. Falling head over heels for a home can blind you to its true value or flaws that should be deal-breakers.

Donít wait too long

Todayís housing market is competitive. If you spend too much time debating whether to put in an offer, a quicker buyer may snatch up the house youíve been eyeing.

"Some first-time buyers have a difficult time moving that quickly even if itís a good home in their price range," Grant says. "My job is to explain how fast you need to move in this market, but I donít make people do anything if theyíre not comfortable. I show them the pros and cons and help them make the right decision."

Donít skip the home inspection

Once a seller accepts your offer you may be tempted to fast-forward the process and skip the home inspection, but itís important to know if the house is in solid shape.

Aside from helping to identify any major structural flaws, a home inspection can help you budget for future maintenance issues. Consider it a "new home" orientation, Pakulla says.

"Go through the inspection to understand how your future home operates mechanically," he says. "Itíll have some blemishes, but youíll learn and make sure nothing will be a major pitfall."

Keep resale in mind

It might seem preposterous to think about selling a house you havenít yet purchased, but experts recommend planning ahead. Many buyers donít factor in features that could affect a homeís resale value, like number of bedrooms or whether it has a garage or basement, or if the home will suit their future needs, which is a common mistake.

"So many first-time buyers say they arenít thinking of children now, so school districts arenít a consideration for them," Grant says.

Even if youíre not planning to have children, she says a homeís location within a coveted school district often leads to a higher resale value down the line.

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