No two sources necessarily agree on the first homebuying steps you should take. But many have a similar checklist, at least. Here’s what I did and why it may not work for you.
If you search Google for the proper order of first homebuying steps, you’ll find a variety of lists.
I found one at Zillow that says you should first find out what your credit score is. That’s good advice, but I didn’t have to do that; I regularly monitor my credit score. So I knew going in what that was.
Zillow’s next step is to figure out what kind of house you can afford. I agree that this is an important step.
But that’s not how I did it.
I figured out where I wanted to be. The home I ended up buying is less than a mile from my old apartment. I knew I wanted to stay in the area I already lived in because it was closer to work. Some of my co-workers face a 30-minute commute or more. I knew that wasn’t for me. Here in Charleston, if your commute relies on interstates or major arteries, one crash can turn a 20-minute commute into a 45-minute drive.
I hate battling traffic.
My commute from the new place, on a normal day, is about 90 seconds. I’ll take that any day.
I found out about the community I’m now in during a promotional shoot about 10 years ago. My boss at that time knew someone who lived here. I liked the feel of the place right away. So in the back of my head, I made note of the community.
I did look at a few other places nearby over the past year or so, so I had an idea of other areas.
But nothing I saw made me like another area more than that first one.
So for me, the first step was to find the where.
You might want to figure out the ‘how much’ first.
Most financial institutions and realtors might tell you that your first homebuying step should be to figure out how much you can afford. I knew what I could afford: I wanted to keep it close to my rent payment.
I stayed in the same apartment for almost 14 years. When I moved here, I couldn’t have found a mortgage for the amount of rent I paid in an area I’d want to be in. But over the years, my rent slowly climbed by more than 50%.
At some point, I guess I realized that I was paying what could be a mortgage and getting no ownership out of it. That’s when I decided to explore buying a home instead.
I tried several different websites when I started looking for potential places I’d be interested in. I found Redfin to be one of the best to help me figure out the real cost of a mortgage.
Redfin listed the place I bought, but a Redfin agent didn’t represent the seller. My buyer’s agent wasn’t with Redfin, either.
But I liked that site. It would project an estimated mortgage payment, including any other costs you might not expect.
When you buy a home, you will quickly discover there are a lot of costs you didn’t expect. I’ll address those in a future post.
In the meantime, make figuring out what you think you can pay to be one of your first homebuying steps. Start with whatever you’re paying for rent. Then look for a site like Redfin that will compute an estimated monthly payment based on your down payment and monthly costs. You’ll quickly get a sense for what’s within your range.
Just know upfront: You may not like what you find.
Make a list of three or four communities you think you’d like. Then drive through those areas. See if the fancy real estate listing photos match what you see in person. (They usually don’t.) Check them out if you can at different times of the day — maybe the morning, midday or nighttime, and weekdays and weekends. You want a feel for what the community’s really like.
I narrowed it down to three areas that interested me.
I got lucky when there was suddenly an opening in my top choice.
But because I knew what I could afford going in, that helped me know it was time to take it a step further.
More on that in a future post!