Three Things Buyers Should Know When Shopping For Their First Home

Real Estate

Beatrice is the Consumer Trends Expert for Opendoor

Buying a home will likely be one of the biggest and most important purchases you make during your lifetime, and it’s still part of the American dream. Investing in a home can also be a smart way for younger generations to build wealth over time.

Over the last year, we’ve seen interest rates drop to historic lows, making it possible for many people across the country to buy a home earlier than planned. And while you might be willing to make big compromises to score a home you love in a hot real estate market, there are a few important things I wish all first-time home buyers knew while looking for their first property.

1. Home and termite inspections are critical, even in a hot market.

While you might win a bidding war or save money in the near term by skipping a home or termite inspection, having them done is a smart move that can save you from making an expensive mistake. Once your offer is officially accepted, schedule a general inspection and a termite inspection as soon as you can.

With the general inspection, an inspector will visit your property and spend a few hours looking at key areas of your home. These include the roof, foundation and even smaller items like cracked tile or leaky faucets. Your inspector may recommend a specialist if they see issues with something more specific, like a fireplace or the swimming pool system. 

Though sellers may reveal termite damage upfront, an inspection is the only way to know how extensive the issue may be. While significant termite damage can be terrifying and costly to fix, having an inspection done is typically inexpensive. In addition to reporting on the state of the home and any problems, your inspector can also share preventative treatments to keep termites away in the future.

2. Don’t panic when you receive your inspection reports.

Though it’s daunting to think about uncovering a list of items that need attention after making an offer on a home you love, first-time buyers should remember that all inspections turn up a long list of issues — and it’s important not to panic. 

The purpose of having a home inspection is to show you the condition of the home and eliminate any surprises before you’re the owner. Typically, most items are minor and aren’t costly to maintain. And some might not require immediate repair. For example, I often see inspectors recommend changing the A/C filter. This is incredibly easy to do yourself, and it only costs about $10 to buy a new filter. If there are bigger problems on your report, I suggest working with a professional who can help you understand what needs to be fixed and how much it will cost.

If the inspection turns up results you’re not happy with, or if you can no longer afford to pay for the home and its necessary repairs, you can choose to renegotiate your offer or walk away. Major red flags such as mold, structural problems or other expensive issues may indicate it’s a good idea to move on. You should also pay close attention to the real estate deal-breakers and anything that presents a risk to your health or safety.

3. Your lender will help you navigate the appraisal process.

Much like with home inspections, many first-time home buyers are unfamiliar with appraisals and how to navigate them. While mortgage lenders require an appraiser to visit the home, they’ll also work with you closely during that part of the process. Having a home appraised is a quick process. The appraiser will only spend a short amount of time inside the home. Following their visit, they’ll complete the appraisal by comparing similar homes in the neighborhood. 

Your appraiser may find that the home is worth exactly what you’ve offered, or even more than what you’ve offered. In these cases, nothing will change and you’ll be set to continue moving forward with your home purchase as planned. In the event that the home is appraised for less than you’ve offered, you’ll be asked to pay the difference between the appraised value and your offer price as a cash down payment to the seller at closing. 

If you can’t afford to pay the difference, you can choose to cancel your purchase. Alternatively, you can also try to work with the sellers to negotiate the price. Your third option is an appraisal rebuttal, or asking for a correction on value. It’s important to remember that appraisals are an art, rather than science, and the exact value of a home is difficult to define. I had my current home appraised by two different appraisers within a week, and they each came up with very different values. Consulting with your agent can help provide you with clarity on the best next step.

Buying your first home is a major purchase. Working closely with industry professionals — from your agent and lender to inspectors and appraisers — will help you avoid costly repairs and financial errors. This will not only save you unnecessary stress but also set you up for happiness in your new home later on.


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