Of all the big financial decisions your kids will make once they’re on their own, buying a home may be at the top of the list.
It may be the most stressful and financially painful too. After all, a first-time homebuyer needs a grasp of contracts, mortgage rates, credit reports, insurance and property taxes. Then there are issues such as curb appeal, insulation, pipes, wiring, the quality of the roof and maybe even homeowner association bylaws.
Making a serious mistake can turn your dream house into a money pit.
Although I’m no expert, I’ve been through the homebuying grind several times, including a couple with my kids. So I know how much of an eye-opener the whole experience can be for a first-timer.
If one of your kids is itching to join the homeowner ranks this spring, here are my tips and observations — with the caveat that this list is far from comprehensive.
▪ Hire a professional real estate agent. An agent has the expertise, and in the event something goes wrong, the agent has the full weight and resources of a real estate company to help you out.
The one time I did not use a real estate agent, I regretted it.
▪ Get the house inspected by someone who comes highly recommended. It could be an inspector recommended by your real estate agent, but not necessarily. Even if the inspection costs several hundred dollars, it will be money well spent. The inspector can help you understand what’s a big deal and what’s not. And if it’s a big deal that the seller won’t fix, don’t move another step toward closing.
▪ Be cautious about buying a “flip house,” in which the seller has bought the property with the intent of dramatically renovating and putting it on the market — sometimes in a matter of days and weeks — to make a quick return on the investment.
If you’re looking at one of these redo projects, ask the sellers if they have ever actually lived there, whether this was their first flip or if there are other examples of their work you could tour. What’s their expertise — design, decorating, construction?
▪ Focus on the guts of the house, the stuff you normally don’t see. While new cabinets, appliances and stained hardwood floors are alluring, look at the pipes, insulation and wiring, and check the water pressure. When was the roof replaced? Was the siding installed properly? Are the windows sealed?
▪ Think about caring for the house, inside and out. For example, if you don’t have time to mow a lawn and don’t want to pay someone to take care of it, then you probably don’t want to buy a house with a large yard.
▪ Don’t fill the new digs with furniture immediately. Many first-time buyers feel the need to decorate and add furniture in every room. Take your time and have a spending plan.
▪ Don’t max out your savings and impair your cash flow between the down payment and the monthly mortgage. I don’t care whether you’re in a new home or a fixer-upper, at some point you will need to deal with potentially costly repairs. Expect the unexpected.
▪ Don’t buy from friends. While buying from someone you know may seem reassuring, don’t bank on that relationship counting for anything if there’s a problem with the house.
The final piece of advice: Learn from your mistakes. Unless you’re planning on staying in that first home the rest of your life, there will be other opportunities.
I’ve barely scratched the surface, right? That’s why I’d like to hear your suggestions for first-time homebuyers and share them in a future column. There’s so much ground to cover.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879