Published November 19, 2012
| Zillow, Leonard Baron
As a first-time real estate buyer, you probably have no idea how the overall purchasing process works or how to make sure you’re making a smart decision to purchase. And you’ll probably be very surprised to learn how much work it really is just to buy a home. To get you started in the right direction, and this is just a start, here are a few tips that you should consider.
Get lender-qualified and find a good real estate agent
To start off, you should get qualified by a lender to see what price range you can realistically afford and interview some real estate agents to find the right person to represent you in your transaction.
Once you’re qualified and have your price range estimate in hand, you’ll be able to spend your time shopping in neighborhoods that you can afford. But remember: Just because the bank says you can qualify for a certain amount, that doesn’t mean you should spend that amount. Make sure you can actually afford the monthly payment, along with all your other bills.
For real estate sales professionals, you should get referrals for a full-time agent or broker who sells at least five or more properties per year and is well-educated on the process and location where you plan to live. You should call references, check that the agent’s state sales license is up to date and interview them to make sure you’ll be comfortable working with them.
Make sure you plan to be a long-term owner
Once you know your price range and have looked at some properties, it’s time to make sure that you believe you can find a property that you will own for a minimum of five years. If your price range doesn’t match where you want to live, you’d be better off staying a renter and saving some additional money until you can afford where you want to live. This is because an owner really doesn’t earn any equity, on average, in a property for at least five years. That’s the general breakeven point, and you really need to shoot for longer than that as an ownership strategy. The truth is, long-term real estate ownership can be a great way to earn wealth, but short-term ownership usually will diminish your wealth.
Buying property is probably the most complex, riskiest and expensive thing you will ever do. Do your homework: Talk to real estate owners, go to first-time buyer seminars, check out online material and read some books to learn what to avoid in the buying process. The more you educate yourself, the better the chances that when things go wrong — and they will go wrong — they will only be minor issues, not major headaches.
Find a nice affordable property
The real gems in real estate are the nice, decent shape, moderately priced, boring houses, town homes and condominiums that are within your budget. Most buyers stretch to purchase the most expensive property they can afford. What if you lose your job? How about saving some of your money for retirement? You want your home to be an asset you can afford, not a liability that leaves you with no additional funds over the cost of homeownership. Also, skip the fixers, prize properties or anything that sounds too good to be true: Those always end up having issues, and owners realize, after the fact, that the deal they thought they were getting really was just too good to be true!
Take your time
Realistically it should take you six months or longer to buy a nice quality property that will add to your long-term wealth. Make sure you have a full understanding of what the marketplace has to offer in your price range and that you know what you’re doing.
Those are a few tips to get you started in the right direction. Real estate is buyer beware, so try to make sure you’re one of the buyers who is “aware” of how to make quality wealth-building real estate decisions. Down the road you’ll pat yourself on the back when things work out well.
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Leonard Baron is America’s Real Estate Professor® .-His unbiased, neutral and inexpensive “Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101” textbook teaches potential real estate buyers how to make smart and safe purchase decisions. He is a San Diego State University Lecturer, blogs at Zillow.com and loves kicking the tires of a good piece of dirt! More at ProfessorBaron.com.