What day is it? What time is it? I’ve had no concept of time the past few days as we’ve worked nonstop to get settled into the first home of our own. The move went smoothly, but unpacking and finding a place for everything is the hardest part. Luckily, we have the best family and friends. They’re making the overwhelming task a lot easier!
It feels amazing to be in our house (still crazy to call it ours!) after months of searching and then waiting. The homebuying process was frustrating at times, but went relatively smoothly for us. The house we bought was actually the very first one we saw. We drove past it with my parents one day and fell in love with its curb appeal. The bungalow looked even more amazing inside. It was listed out of our ideal price range at the beginning of our search, but the price dropped significantly as the weeks went on and we knew it was a sign the place was meant to be ours!
We learned a lot during the search and buying process — some things we wish we would have known from the beginning. I’m far from an expert, but I thought I’d share a few tips for other first-time homebuyers now that I’ve been through the process.
1. Do your research before starting your search.
James and I started talking about buying a home in Bloomington last year when we decided this is a community we would like to stay in for a while. But, we weren’t quite sure if we were ready financially to take the plunge. Before contacting a realtor or a lender, I signed up for a free homebuying class through the City of Bloomington. The class met for several hours on two Saturdays and walked me through everything from starting the search to properly maintaining a home. There are also grants available to help with downpayment costs for graduates of the course who meet the income restrictions. I walked away knowing much more about the process and feeling optimistic about our prospects.
2. Shop around for realtors and lenders.
There are two things that will make the buying process a whole lot easier: a good lender and a great realtor. We chose to work with an Indiana-based mortgage lender and were really happy with their services. They gave us a competitive rate and promptly answered the long list of questions we sent their way. I suggest calling around to a couple of local realtors and setting up in-person meetings before deciding on one. That will give you the opportunity to get to know the realtor and how he/she works. It’s crucial to have a realtor you feel comfortable with and who prioritizes your needs.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
This is something I struggled with during the process, but it’s so important. If you can’t afford a house, don’t go see the place. If the houses you’re seeing aren’t what you’re looking for, tell your realtor. Buying a home is a huge decision and an enormous financial commitment. That means it’s important to be honest with yourself and your realtor. Don’t feel bad about asking to see dozens of properties or constantly e-mailing back and forth.
4. Make a list of must-haves.
Whether you’re buying a house on your own or with someone else, it’s crucial to have a list of what you absolutely need to have in a house. It’s easy to fall in love with places quickly, but you don’t want to be seduced by how a house looks if it won’t be functional for your lifestyle. James and I sat down and made a list of what we both needed in a house and then a second list of features we wanted but that weren’t essential. As we saw more houses and learned more about the local market, our list of priorities changed. We decided we were willing to sacrifice space if it meant living walking distance to downtown.
5. Be prepared to act quickly.
We were shocked to find out just how competitive the home market is in Bloomington. We actually made offers on four houses before landing on our dream home and in some cases we were outbid with cash offers or didn’t act quickly enough. Our frustrations sparked a story at work and it made me feel a bit better to learn we weren’t alone. The number of homes on the market is extremely low, which means buyers don’t have time to go home and mull it over for long before making an offer. If a house comes on the market that you’re interested in, see it as quickly as possible. There were several properties we were interested in that sold before we even got a chance to step foot inside. Once you do find a home that meets all of your criteria and you love it, make an offer. If you don’t, it will likely be gone soon.