1. Location, location, location: The saying is popular because in real estate, it is the most important thing to consider. You not only want to think about where it is you want to live right now, but where you will want to live in the future. When Mr. B and I bought our house, we didn't think kids were going to be in the picture so we didn't even look at school ratings around us. Now it is something we will have to consider in a few years, and most likely it will mean a move for us. If you want to live in one house for a long time, check out all the details, even if they don't apply to you right now. Also, think about how your location is going to appreciate over time. We chose to buy in an "up and coming" neighborhood, and it has paid off for us big time in the two and half years we have owned our home.
2. Educate yourself: Once you have a general idea of where it is you want to live, start doing your research. Download an app (I use Zip Realty) and check it on a regular basis to see what homes are listed, what the prices are, and what the condition of the homes is. It's a good idea to start this research well before you are actually planning on buying so you have realistic expectations going in.
3. Make a wish list:...but be willing to compromise. It is important to know what you want, but it is also important to know that you are not going to find everything you want in one house. Be flexible, especially on the things that you have the power to change. For example, you might want a house with all hardwood floors, but you find a home that fits your other needs...with wall-to-wall carpet. Carpet can be replaced pretty easily so don't let that stop you from buying your dream home. Things that are harder to change like number of bedrooms or square footage you can be a little firmer on, but don't let one thing on your wish list keep you from making an offer on a home.
4. Set a realistic budget: Find someone you can trust (ask your parents or friends who own homes for referrals) to help you figure out exactly how much you can afford to spend. Keep in mind when you use online tools that they typically don't include expenses like taxes and insurance that often get added in to your monthly mortgage payment. Don't become house poor! Stick to your budget and be firm.
5. Find a good agent: Find a real estate agent that you mesh with and that you can trust. Again, you can ask friends and family for referrals. We moved to an area where we didn't know anyone who lived there. We met our real estate agent at an open house, immediately clicked with him and have only worked with him since then. Trust your instincts, but also do your homework and check out the references of whomever you choose. One thing we really love about our agent is that he lives in our neighborhood (literally three streets away from where we ended up buying) so he knew from experience what he was talking about.
6. Try on a lot of dresses: I say this often: Buying a house is like buying a wedding dress; you must try one more than one! It's not uncommon to fall in love with the first house you see (we did), but you MUST check out other properties before you commit. See what else is out there before you decide for sure. We ended up putting in an offer on the first house we saw, but that was after checking out several other listings first. Once we had seen what else was out there, we knew for sure our place was the house for us.
7. Be patient: Buying a house can be stressful. Be patient, and try not to argue with your spouse too much. You will find the right place, even if it takes a while. Pretty soon, this will be you...
...holding the keys to your brand new home!