Is buying a home on your 2017 "to do" list?

Happy New Year! Now that the dust of the holidays has settled, have you been thinking about what 2017 has in store for you and making plans for the year ahead? Is a new home in your future? Perhaps you're thinking you'd like to buy a new (or your first) home, but don't know where to start. And perhaps you're thinking that this spring, you'll dive and make it happen.

Let me start by saying that come spring, the market starts heating up and the competition will, too. Also know that getting ready to buy, including choosing a lender and getting a loan pre-qualification, can take time, so your best bet is to start early. You might find you have everything in order come spring, or you'll be ready to hit the market sooner that many other spring buyers and find your home that much faster!

Looking back to when my husband and I bought our first home, there was so much we didn't know. Information we didn't have at the time could have made the process that much easier, so I want to share some of those tidbits with you.

(1) Start with a qualified real estate agent that you feel a connection with and trust.

It's no secret that there are literally hundreds of agents you can work with. This is likely going to be your biggest financial transaction which makes it important that you select an agent you are comfortable with, and who has the skills and experience needed to guide you through the process. It's a good idea to check Zillow for agent reviews or ask the agent for references you can call. Stating off on the right foot is a crucial first step.

(2) Determine your budget.

You can't search for a home if you don't know your budget. It's crucial that you connect with a lender who can assess your finances and pre-qualify you for a loan. Not only do you need to know how much you can afford, the pre-qualification process will help you understand how much of a down payment you will need (SPOILER ALERT: it's not necessarily 20%), make you aware of any credit cleanup you may need to take care of, and start you off on the right foot looking at homes that are in your budget. Sellers will expect to see your pre-qualification letter as part of your offer; it assures them that you've started the process and will be able to afford the home. Your real estate agent will be able to give you lender references based on your needs.

(3) Start the search.

With your trusted agent and your pre-approval in hand, you'll be ready to start viewing homes. Your agent will review your needs - from the "must-haves" to the "would likes" and the "dealbreakers". Together, you can choose the homes that meet your criteria and budget. You'll both scour the internet for potential matches, and your agent will have access to the MLS (the FIRST place listings can be found). The average home buyer tours eight homes before making a decision on "the one".

(4) Make it yours.

Once you've identified a home, you will work with your agent to review comps (comparable homes) and evaluate the asking price. This will help you determine your offer, and you will also need to discuss and determine other details such as how much earnest money to put down, your inspection contingency time frame, and much more. Your agent will walk you through the details. From there, there are likely to be negotiations. Once a contract is agreed upon and accepted, there will be a flurry of to-dos, including an inspection (and likely subsequent negotiations based on the inspection), loan applications, appraisal, and signatures, signatures, signatures. It'll be a good thing you started out with an agent you connect with and trust, because it can get overwhelming, but with the right representative on your side, you'll get through and soon receive the keys to your new home.

The preceding advice is pretty high-level and meant to give you a starting point (HINT: pick a good agent). Once you've made that crucial first decision, she will be able to guide you the rest of the way.

As an Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®), I am the agent you need! Please let me know if you have any questions. I can be reached at (360) 647-8049. I look forward to helping you find your new home!