Ask the Agent: What should I expect as a first time home buyer?

by Dan Lesniak

Buying a home for the first time can be challenging, especially in the competitive Arlington, VA, real estate market. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at first, but the right real estate agent will help you feel in control. The process is geared towards helping buyers understand what they’re buying, how much they’re spending, and providing options for remedying issues. This is even more so true now with the new transaction guidelines enacted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There are a few items that many first time buyers overlook which I’ve outlined here.

When starting the home search, it’s important to use the four main criteria to narrow down your search in the Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland real estate market. There’s tons of inventory, so if you have broad search criteria, you can get bogged down in an onslaught of listings to review online. The four main points to consider: Location (Location, Location…), Price, Home Type, and Features.

Location is very important. Sometimes, buyers are searching for a good deal, or don’t have a set list of other criteria so they drift from one area to the next searching for something that amazes them. Choosing the neighborhood where you want to have a 30 year mortgage, even if you don’t plan to live there for 30 years, is the most important step you can take in helping yourself feel less overwhelmed.

A recent survey by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that more than half of buyers did not shop around for a mortgage. While you may have been with your bank for many years and experienced excellent service, you should still shop around for the best mortgage loan programs you can find for your situation. A good lender will give you what you ask for when you walk in. A great lender will identify your needs and provide you with options and information to make the best decision, even if that isn’t necessarily with them. If you’re real estate agent suggests a lender or mortgage company, take the time to speak with them. Many times you can get as much info such as sample rates and down payment programs without having to run your credit. People will spend hours looking at dozens and dozens of listings online, but settle for the first mortgage they see. A smart first time home buyer walks in to the first home they see with a pre-approval letter in hand. A pre-qualification simply states that you passed a basic credit check. A pre-approval evaluates your credit, income, debt, and assets to provide you with a clear picture of your buying power.

Next, decide if you want a condo, townhouse, or single family home. This decision depends on whether you’re looking for your forever home or or an investment in a condo that you can live in now and use as a rental income property later.

Finally, decide what features are most important to you: granite countertops and hardwood floors, or quartz countertops and carpet? A large, landscaped lot, or low maintenance turf? This is the fun part where you get to decide how you want to live! Try to look past the furnishings in the home when you tour it and focus on the structure. It’s more important for you to love the floor plan because that would be very expensive for you to change. This also depends on whether you plan to do a few minor updates, like painting or replacing carpet, or if you are looking for a “fixer-upper,” where you buy an older home and put in a new kitchen, bathrooms, and maybe an addition.

By addressing some of these topics with your agent before you see your first home, you will feel much more in control of your search for your dream home.

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