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First Time Home Buyer Checklist - 8 Steps for Success

Bet you never thought creating your estate plan should be part of a first time home buyer checklist! We'll show you why it's a must.

Buying a home is a huge accomplishment, and for many the completion of a lifelong goal. But, as exciting as this process is it is also a confusing, scary time for many individuals. That’s because there is a lot of variability when it comes to buying a home, and with the popularity of the internet there is an information overload regarding the topic. All of this combined with the financial hurdles associated with homeownership can make the process of buying your first home seem daunting.

 That’s where our first time home buyer checklist comes in. We aim to make buying your first home as straightforward and simple as possible. Saving a downpayment, choosing a location, and picking up the keys will all be your job -- but we want to help you along with the process. The following information should walk you through each step you need to take to buy your first home. Keep reading to learn: 

What Do I Need for My First House? 

The only thing you need for certain to buy a house is a down payment and loan approval -- however, there are numerous other factors to consider before making this commitment. When it comes to your finances, you will likely want to be in a place of stability. This means you have a regular income, some savings, and a job you can picture yourself in for a while. You will likely also need a solid credit score and funds available for a down payment. These variables are crucial in determining whether you are able to purchase your first home, though there are some other factors that should come into play. 

Buying your first home is a big commitment, so it is also important to consider your personal goals before getting started. Ask yourself where you want to live and put roots down, and how long you see yourself there. Consider what amenities you want in a home, and if you are ready for the responsibilities of taking care of a property yourself. These questions can take time to answer, especially if you are making the decision with your spouse or family in mind. 

Also try to remember that houses are bought and sold all the time, and you can move in the future if your plans change. While the home buying process can be complicated, it can be helpful to remember as you consider buying your first home. 

Before You Get Started + Tips for Success for First Time Home Buyers

It can be helpful to remember that there is not a set point in time when you have to buy a home -- and you can become a first time home buyer at any age. However, if you feel like you are ready to get started the following tips will help: 

  • Start saving early: Start saving up money as soon as you decide you want to become a homeowner, this will one day become your down payment. 

  • Pay down debt: Paying off outstanding debt is a great way to help secure more favorable loan terms once you begin the approval process. 

  • Strengthen your credit: Look for ways to improve your credit score before applying for a loan, as this is one of the first things lenders will look at when evaluating your application. 

  • Determine what you want: Consider what features and amenities you want in your first home, and research target price ranges based on your goals and finances. 

  • Scout locations of interest: Visit any towns or neighborhoods you are considering buying a home in, this will help you set your budget. 

  • Take your time: Don’t be afraid to take your time working through the above steps, buying a home is a big commitment and should not be taken lightly. 

Checklist for Buying Your First Home

Our first time home buyer checklist will tell you everything you need to know before purchasing a property. There are several financial and personal considerations to make as you navigate the home buying process. Read through each of the following action items listed below as you start your journey:

  1. Set your budget

  2. Get pre-approved for a loan

  3. Begin the search for your new home

  4. Find a real estate agent

  5. Submit your offer (or offers)

  6. Get a home inspection and appraisal

  7. Close the sale

  8. Create (or update) your Estate Plan

1. Set your budget

The budget for your first home should be determined by looking at a few different factors. First, consider how much you have saved as a down payment. Generally speaking, home buyers should try to aim for 20 percent of the purchase price as a down payment -- as this will allow them to avoid paying mortgage insurance on their home loan. 

After considering your savings, you should also look at your income, job security, credit score, and preferred lender. You can then plug this information into a home loan calculator online. This will give you a better idea of your monthly mortgage payment options, and in turn help you identify a target price range for your first home. 

2. Get pre-approved for a loan

Once you have a strong understanding of your financial situation and preferred budget, it is time to start meeting with lenders. You will typically need to bring statements and proof of income to apply for a home loan. Be sure to ask a lot of questions at this time to ensure you are aware of the details of the mortgage. 

Don’t be afraid to shop around as you meet with lenders. In fact, this is the best way to ensure you secure a favorable interest rate and the best loan terms. When you finally find a lender you are comfortable with, request a pre-approval letter so you can begin looking for houses. 

3. Begin the search for your first home

Begin looking for property listings in your preferred neighborhoods with the help of online listing sites like Zillow or Redfin. These will help you narrow down by the amenities you are looking for, and give you a better idea of how many properties are on the market in your area. 

This is also a good time to start getting organized. While you likely already have your financial documents in one place, it is a good idea to keep a list or spreadsheet of properties you are interested in. Organization will help you efficiently navigate the home buying process, and will prepare you for working with an agent in the future. 

4. Find a real-estate agent

After you have an idea of what you are looking for, it’s time to start the fun part: viewing houses. Reach out to some local real estate agents in your area and set up a time to talk about your home search. Write down a list of questions you have about the market and share what you are looking for in a home. Use these conversations to find someone you are comfortable working with before moving forward. 

Decide which agent you want to work with and begin touring properties in your area. Remember that they are there to help guide you through any step of the home buying process. Their expertise should help you set up viewings, identify new listings, and ultimately negotiate the purchase of your first home. 

5. Submit your offer(s)

When you finally find your ideal first home, it’s time to submit an offer. An official offer will typically include your pre-approval letter, the price you are willing to pay, an expiration date for the offer, and any closing details you are able to provide. You will also pay an earnest money amount to show the seller you are serious about the offer, this is typically one to two percent of the home’s value. 

Unfortunately, the first offer you submit will not always be accepted. It could take a few back and forth negotiations to secure the home, or in some cases you may even lose the property to another eager buyer. The most important tip for surviving this nerve wracking portion of the home buying process is to be patient and trust your real estate agent. 

6. Get a home inspection and appraisal 

Congratulations on your offer being accepted, you are only a few short steps away from becoming a homeowner! This part of the process will involve quite a bit of paperwork as you get the property appraised and inspected. No matter how excited you are about becoming a homeowner, remember to not skip over this step in the process. 

A home inspection and appraisal should reveal any potential discrepancies in the list price of the home, or any repairs that need to be made. Depending on the findings, you may be able to renegotiate the sale of the home at this point in time. This includes requesting any repairs from the sellers or in some cases lowering the sale price. 

7. Close the sale

Closing refers to the final paperwork and legal processes of purchasing a home. During this portion of the sale you will likely finalize your home loan and purchase agreement, and submit the down payment for the home. There may be additional costs at this time, such as administrative fees, inspection costs or title transfer fees. Once you close the property, the previous owners typically have a move out timeline before you get the keys to your first home. 

8. Create (or update) your estate plan

The final step of purchasing your first home is to either create or update your Estate Plan to reflect your new asset. In doing so, you can ensure your hard-earned property is passed down to a loved one after your death. This can allow your property to stay in the family and can help your loved ones avoid going to probate court to obtain the property. 

Depending on the value of your new home, you may also need to consider adding a Trust to your Estate Plan at this time. A Trust is generally recommended when you have assets totaling over $200,000 -- which in many cases includes a home. Trusts can help reduce your overall Estate taxes, provide added control over the asset in question, and even help protect your beneficiaries. 

While you may be tired of doing paperwork at this point in the home buying process, an Estate Plan can be completed in a surprisingly short amount of time. With the help of our team at Trust & Will, you can complete all aspects of the process from the comfort of your own home. After you complete all of the work of purchasing your first home, it is a good idea to take one additional step to protect it. 

Buying your first house is a big achievement -- and it will take a lot of work to get there. However, with the right amount of planning and preparation it can be done. Start saving early, improve your credit, and consider what you want in a home. These steps will allow you to lay the groundwork for your first home -- and will help immensely as you begin reviewing your financing options. Follow our first time home buyer checklist as you navigate the process of buying a home, and don’t forget to protect your new asset with an updated Estate Plan.