It's a new year, and maybe you've resolved to make this year the one where you reach homeowner status. But, if you're totally new to the idea of homebuying and have no clue where to start your house hunt, that's okay. We're here to help. By reading this, you're already taking the first step. 💪
We've outlined what you can expect when you’re ready to buy your first home -- everything from applying for financing to writing the perfect offer and signing on the dotted line.
Step 1: Get pre-approved
Many aspiring homebuyers start their homebuying journey with going to open houses to get a feel for the market and end up falling in love with a house, only to realize they have no way to legitimately make an offer on it because they're not truly ready to buy. Womp womp.
Looking for houses is the fun part, but unless you've got fat stacks of cash to buy a home with, the real first step if you're serious about homebuying is getting pre-approved for a mortgage.
Getting pre-approved helps you figure out how much you have to spend. To do that, you should find a lender you trust and apply for a pre-approval.
Want to know how to find the right mortgage partner? We've got a super detailed guide to finding your best mortgage lender that you should check out.
Getting pre-approved is more beneficial than getting pre-qualified.
A pre-approval, unlike the similar-sounding pre-qualification, is a guarantee that the bank is willing to grant you a loan for a certain amount of money. These days, they’re considered an essential component to making an offer.
Since the mortgage company will need to vet your finances before they agree to provide you with a loan, it’s best to get this step out of the way before you find your dream home.
Having a maximum loan amount in hand will also help you when it comes to setting a realistic budget for your home search.
Step 2: Make a list of your must-haves
After your financing is in place, it’s time to think about what features you’d like in a home. We’d recommend breaking these down into two separate categories: a must-have list and a secondary wishlist.
First, your must-have list for your house hunt should include any details that you’d be unwilling to buy a home without. Ideally, it will include things like the location or the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
Then, make your wishlist. This set of items should include factors that would be nice to have in a home, but aren’t absolute dealbreakers.
Inevitably, as you tour homes, these lists will evolve as you get a better idea of what's realistic in your house hunt and what you're truly willing to live without.
Step 3: Look at available listings
Once you have a realistic idea of what you can truly afford & are armed with your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, it's time to get your house hunt on.
At this point, you have a few options. You can choose to house hunt on your own, use a traditional real estate agent, or work with a digital homebuying service like Open Listings. Learn more about your homebuying options here.
Whatever path you choose, you can still use your wish list and must-haves to set up a free targeted search for yourself on Open Listings.
Use our search filters to find listings that match your criteria. Then, look over the available options to find the ones that you think might be worth a closer look. If you choose to buy the property with us, you'll also qualify for our commission refund of up to 50% & save thousands in fees.
You’ll receive up-to-date information on when your selected listings are available to be viewed. When the selling agent hosts an open house, you’ll have the ability to walk through, look over the property in-person, and get your questions answered.
Want to know what to look out for on a house tour? Check out open house tips. Hint: it's not ugly paint color.
Step 4: Submit an offer
Once you’ve found a property that you think is ‘the one,’ you’re ready to submit an offer. This process can be nervewracking and exciting, but this is where a good buying agent will come in handy.
A good real estate agent helps you navigate the paperwork, talk to the seller's agent, set realistic expectations offer terms, and help you write an offer that will win the sellers over.
You’ll work together to sort out a variety of factors such as the sale price you’d like to offer, any inspections that you’d like to have performed, your desired-move-in date, and even an offer letter. That way, you can rest assured that you’ve put forth an offer that you can feel about.
At this point, after you submit your offer, it's up to the seller to decide whether or not they'll accept it. If your offer is rejected, don't fret. In hotter, more competitive markets, it's very common for buyers to submit offers for multiple homes before getting an offer accepted.
But, once your offer is accepted -- congratulations! Here's what comes next. If you'd like the deep dive, check out this article we wrote for the Forbes Real Estate Council.
Step 5: Complete your inspections
After the sellers accept your offer, it’s time to move onto the next stage of the process: completing the transaction.
Your first move will be to complete your inspections. You’ll hire qualified professionals to perform any inspections that you elected in your offer - a home inspection, a radon test, or a sewer inspection, for example - and you’ll receive a report for each one. Because we're overachievers, we've compiled a list of 8 inspection missteps to avoid for your extra credit reading.
When you have the reports in hand, you’ll have time to read them over before entering into another round of negotiations.
Based on the information contained in the reports, you’ll have the ability to ask the sellers to perform any necessary repairs, or, if the problems are severe enough, to choose to walk away from the transaction and look for another property.
Step 6: Secure your financing
Next, it’s time to move onto the financial piece of the puzzle. You’ll take the information from your pre-approval and add some details about your specific property to complete a formal mortgage application. Once that information has been submitted, your lender will issue something called a conditional commitment.
As the name suggests, a conditional commitment states that the loan will be issued, as long as certain conditions are satisfied during the course of the transaction.
Usually, these are things like making sure the appraisal exceeds a certain value, ordering a title report, or that you obtain private mortgage insurance. But, it could also include conditions that are specific to your sale such as the condition of the property or the sale of your current home.
Step 7: Gather the important paperwork
Before they’ll issue your loan, mortgage companies require written proof that their conditions have been satisfied.
The exact paperwork that’s required from you will depend on your specific conditions, but these could be things like proof of insurance(s), invoices that show evidence of repairs, or any documentation required to clear the title report. Providing some of this paperwork will be your responsibility, and the rest will fall on the seller.
Depending on your state’s regulations, you’ll either work with a title company or a lawyer to sort out your next steps.
More than likely, they’ll handle the bulk of the legwork, but they’ll work with you to move the process along.
The most important thing, however, is that you make sure to keep copies of any paperwork you receive, so that you have them on hand at closing.
Step 8: Close on your home, and get the keys
Once the big day arrives, all you need to do is show up on-time, bring all the necessary paperwork so that any remaining conditions can be officially cleared, and sign your name on the dotted line.
After the deed has been transferred from the seller’s name and into yours, you’ll be given the keys to your new home.