Buying a house is a different experience than, well, pretty much anything else. But by knowing what to expect and taking it one step at a time, you can learn how to buy a house like a pro, even if it’s your first time.
1. Hire a real estate agent.
Finding a good real estate agent is all-benefits, no drawbacks for buyers. It costs you nothing, but will save you so much time—and you’ll have a pro’s know-how throughout the process. Agents have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which gives them first glance at what’s for sale in the neighborhood you want at the price you can afford.
Trulia can also help connect you with a Premier Agent when you click “Request Info” on any property page. Premier Agents are qualified agents who you can trust to work hard for you. You can also ask friends and family or visit a local real estate office. Prepare a list of questions to ask a real estate agent, and interview them before committing.
2. Shop for a mortgage.
Compare mortgage rates online, and look at the types of mortgages available—conventional, FHA, fixed-rate, adjustable rate—understanding the difference between these will help you figure out how to buy a house that’s right for you.
Get mortgage pre-approval. You may have heard of pre-qualification, which gives you a general idea of how much you might be able to borrow. Pre-approval is the next step—a commitment from a lender for the amount that you can borrow. Pre-approval makes you a stronger home buying candidate—one who’s ready to close a deal quickly, which sellers love.
3. Make a list of needs and wants.
Make two lists: one of must-haves and one of nice-to-have items like the Olympic-sized swimming pool you dreamed about as a kid.
On the must-haves include location—walkable to work, in your favorite neighborhood, by good schools, etc.—as well as number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and whatever else you absolutely can’t (or won’t) live without. Your real estate agent can help you decide what items might best fit on which list based on homes in your market.
4. Browse online house listings.
Take out that handy list of needs and wants and start looking around at what’s available. Use Trulia’s filters to quickly find the right listings to explore. For example, if you want your kids to go to a particular school, the school search feature allows you to search for it and find homes within the district for sale.
The goal with online browsing isn’t just to find a potential home, it’s also to make sure what you want, what’s available, and what you can afford all line up. If not, you may need to adjust your wants and needs.
5. Go to house viewings.
Once you start seeing homes you like, call your agent and ask them to start scheduling viewings. And another, and another. Visit as many homes and open houses as you can. You can use the Trulia app to find open houses scheduled near you. The more comparing and contrasting you can do, the more knowledge you have about the market and your options. Ask your agent for advice about how to buy a house that really fits your needs.
6. Make an offer and negotiate.
Once you’re ready to start home buying, it’s offer time. Here’s where you’ll thank yourself for working with a real estate agent. They’ll help you determine the right offer to make for a particular house, including things that go beyond the dollar amount. For instance, offering an accelerated closing date or to buy and lease back to the buyer if they can’t move right away may be a smart move in some situations. When you make an offer on a house, the seller may accept it or counter-offer, and then your agent will help you decide how and if to negotiate. Once you arrive at a deal everyone likes, you’re considered under contract to buy the house.
7. Get your loan approved.
Remember back when you got pre-approved? Pat yourself on the back. Now you just have to finish things up by making it official. Let your lender know you’ve found a house. The lender will order an appraisal and give you a bunch of paperwork to fill out. Your loan now goes through the underwriting process before it’s finally approved.
8. Wait for the appraisal.
One of the ways your lender makes sure you and your house are a good bet is with a home appraisal. This is when someone does a professional evaluation of how much your home is worth. If the appraisal ends up higher than your offer, go celebrate. If it’s not, you may either have to make a larger down payment, get a second opinion, or renegotiate the price. Or you may decide to walk away from the deal.
9. Hire a home inspector.
Being under contract means you can still back out if you learn anything unexpected about the house. And a home inspector is the one who finds any potential surprises. It’ll cost around $300 to $500 for your home inspection, but it’s well worth saving you from buying a house with a major problem. Your agent can often help you find an inspector, or you can go through the American Society of Home Inspectors.
10. Close on your house.
This is the day you get your house keys—but first, you have some serious paperwork to do. You’ll set an appointment for closing on your house, and you’ll need to bring your driver’s license, a cashier’s check for your down payment and closing costs (which range from 2 to 5 percent of the home’s purchase price) — and a lot of patience. You will sign and initial dozens of papers.
But at the end of this meeting, you will be a homeowner. You can take your keys and go home.