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Taking the Plunge: Tips For Buying Your First Home
Buying your first home can be scary. First time homebuyer Andrea Paskert shares her experience on her homebuying process with helpful tips.
Guest Article by Andrea Paskert with @AffordableATX
I kicked open the purple door of the house, as my hands clenched boxes containing my belongings. Plunking down on the floor of the entryway, I burst into fits of laughter and tears. I had just bought my first home, and never been more proud or terrified.
Taking The Plunge into Homeownership
I have always been slightly non-committal when it comes to big topics like my career, where I want to live and the constant waffling between hobbies and interests. Making monumental decisions seems so final and concrete…what if I changed my mind? It was always too scary for me to decide, so I lived a life of flexibility, happily renting an apartment and not planning beyond what I was going to do the upcoming weekend.
In the spring of 2016, everything changed. I was living in a downtown high-rise, spending nearly $3,500 a month on rent, perfectly content throwing my money into the proverbial fire. As my leasing term was winding down, a feeling began to take hold of my heart. Could it be? Could I be ready to “adult” and become a homeowner?
Finding the Perfect Realtor
I was terrified at the thought of making a promise to myself, and Austin, to take on a responsibility that had always seemed to be such a far off notion. In order to feel more comfortable, I enlisted Amanda Beck, a realtor I know and trust, to be my ally and guide through the process. I can’t say enough about feeling comfortable with your realtor through all of the questions, endless emotions and last-minute phone calls. I would have been lost without her friendship.
Any good realtor will take you through the process and help plan for the many steps to come such as financing, setting up tours, insurance, closing costs, and all the details you may not be aware of. For me, I needed to get my finances in order to ensure that I was looking at homes I could afford on my single income. This required me to move investments, analyze bank accounts and beg my parents for a $5,000 gift to help me pull together the twenty percent down payment. While you don’t have to put this much down any longer, you are required to pay mortgage insurance if you don’t, which can cost you more over time.
*Helpful Tip: The financing aspect of homeownership is one of the most talked about steps, as overextending your budget can lead to dire consequences years later. I suggest leading yourself through scenarios like losing a job or taking on another person to live with, where could you truly make the sacrifices to get a bigger or better home? Scouring online articles and mortgage calculators were the easiest way to come up with my budgeted cost, something on the lower end of home prices in Austin.
Finding the Perfect House
Once approved, I laid out fifteen homes that met my criteria of cost (not over my budget), nothing under 1,000 square feet, commute time to my office and a few other non-essentials. Factors like school system and tax rates did not feed into my decision for personal reasons, but these are all points to consider. I used Zillow for most of my home searches as I could manipulate the criteria to eliminate homes I could never afford or neighborhoods too far North or South.
*Helpful Tip: When thinking about location, beyond where you work, ask yourself what are of town do you enjoy the most and want to spend your time in? Are you a downtown dweller that needs to be part of the action? A Domain area fanatic that enjoys being able to shop within minutes of your home? Or would you rather be in Cedar Park or Round Rock with plenty of land but less general activity near the house? It is really up to you.
I recommend continually refining your search as you go in order to be efficient with your time and emotions. After seeing East side homes with tiny windows and dreary living areas, I eliminated additional homes like this from the roster. While you might not know in the beginning, extras like a garage, backyard and guest house will all become more apparent as you go. List out your top priorities and search for those first.
After meandering through bungalows, downtown condos and places in areas I couldn’t pronounce, I felt deflated, defeated and ready to give up. Maybe I couldn’t afford my dream? Maybe I should settle for less? Amanda saw my distress and suggested one last house. It was purple, she said, but talked about it in a way that excited me. Maybe it was the right fit, just quirky enough for my personality.
Pulling into the driveway, I was impressed with the beautiful landscaping and colorful nature of the gated neighborhood, it felt like a true community. When I entered the house, I was taken with how clean and modern the inside was. Just what I was looking for! Curling up the first flight of stairs, I was met with floor to ceiling windows, something the shacks in East Side lacked dearly, and natural light reflecting off the shiny stainless steel appliances in seemingly new condition. In that instant, I looked at Amanda and through my wistful grin told her, “this is it, let’s put in an offer”.
Make Your Offer Stand Out
I felt nervous and excited as we put in my offer to the current homeowners. Would they like my story and pick me to own the property? I couldn’t be sure, but I hoped the photos included with the package would show my personality and encourage them in my direction. There were already multiple competing offers on the home. This is where your agent can really come in to help get you the home of your dreams.
Your agent can work with the seller in order to create a package that might elevate your offer above the others. Compromises can be made like seller costs, who is going to fix certain damage to the house and what is the best timeline for moving out and in. In my case, I was lucky as the seller was moving out of state and needed a very flexible buyer to give them time to move out and store their items in the garage. We negotiated out the fine details and days later, I learned that they accepted my offer.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of getting aligned to buy the home. I needed to get it inspected, buy insurance and go into final negotiations with my agent.
*Helpful Tip: While getting your home inspected is required, I highly recommend getting your foundation inspected by a professional as Texas has a lot of bedrock and foundation problems. Had I done this, I would have saved nearly $7,000 on a fix that I now need to make to the home. This phase is where you have all of the leverage, use it wisely.
Within weeks of endless contractors and appointments at the house, I was at Chase bank, signing papers until my hand cramped with a smile on my face. I had closed on the home and the keys were mine! I popped a bottle of champagne and called my family to share the good news, your daughter is now a bonafide adult. The sense of accomplishment was unreal, I felt powerful in a way that I hadn’t known in the past.
Sitting in the entry with my belongings strewn around me, every feeling of disconnect, fear and anxiety washed away.
I was home.
Andrea Paskert is a blogger with an enthusiasm for Austin life and culture, and living there affordably. Follow her at @AffordableATX