Beginning to think it’s the right time to buy a home? Don’t make another move without taking this true or false test first. You may not know as much as you think.
By Megan Seling
You’ve been hearing it all your life: Buying your first home is a big deal.
It’s true that the homebuying process can be unfamiliar and overwhelming—especially for first-time buyers—but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Before you get too attached to the idea of homeownership, have an honest conversation with yourself—and your partner if you’re purchasing the home with someone else—by reading through the following 12 statements.
If you can answer “true” to all or most, then congratulations! You’re probably ready! If you find yourself answering “false,” however, you may have more work to do. Read on to learn more about how to better prepare for the task ahead.
What you’ll learn
- 12 important steps you need to take before you buy a home
- How to make a budget to afford your first home
- What’s needed for a sufficient down payment
- How to deal with unexpected hurdles in the homebuying process
- How to find a neighborhood that’s right for you
- How to find a home that fits your current lifestyle
- The hidden costs of homeownership
- The best way to stay organized when buying a home
- What to do after you move in
- Which questions to ask before buying a home
Are you ready to buy your first house? See if you can answer “true” to the following statements.
1. You know your why.
“How do I know I’m ready to buy a house?” It’s a question that pops into every potential homeowner’s mind eventually.
A lot of blogs will tell you that money and financial health are the most important piece of the homebuying puzzle—and it’s true that both are important—but the question many first-timers fail to consider before beginning their journey is, “Why?”
Before you think any further about whether or not you’re ready to buy a house, ask yourself, “Why do I want to buy a house right now?”
Is your family growing and you need more space? Have you found a home in a neighborhood you’ve loved for years and want to invest in your future there? Have you worked hard to save up enough money to make a down payment? Have you figured out that your monthly mortgage payments will cost less than your current rent?
Whatever your reason, write it down. If it’s the neighborhood, write down what you love about it. If your family is growing, write down some of the things you’ll be able to do with a space that better suits your needs.
When things start to feel stressful or shakey, think back to this list. Remind yourself why you’re tackling the paperwork, why you’re learning about all the different kinds of mortgage options. Having confidence in your reason will help you have confidence as you make your way through the process, too.
2. You’ve done the math.
No one should ever entertain the possibility of a large, long-time financial commitment such as buying a home without first taking a close look at their budget. If you haven’t done the math to ensure that a) you can afford to buy a home you’d be happy with and b) buying a home is financially sound, stop right now. Back up. You have some homework to do!
Conducting a financial checkup is actually quite easy so long as you’re prepared. There are 10 different parts of your finances to consider:
- Bank statements
- Monthly expenses
- Extra financial accounts
- Retirement and investment accounts
- Credit score
- Insurance policies
- Tax returns
- Things you can sell
Flyhomes even has a free printable checklist to make organizing each part super easy. Once you have all your materials gathered, you can use a simple spreadsheet application like Excel or Google Sheets to sort out your budget.
Not only will this give you personal peace of mind, but much of this information will be needed further down the road. When applying for a mortgage loan, for example, you’ll need those tax returns and bank statements, and thanks to this step you’ll already have dug them up. Way to go!
3. You have the money for a down payment.
Coming up with a down payment can feel like solving a riddle for first-time homebuyers.
“How much money do I need to put down?” “How do I know my down payment is enough?” “What do I do if I don’t have enough money for a large down payment?” These are the anxiety-inducing questions that have spun through potential homebuyers’ brains like a hamster on a wheel.
It’s long been believed that a sufficient down payment is at least 20% of the price of the home, and that’s a huge chunk of change, especially for a first-time buyer. The good news is the 20% down payment is a myth.
According to the 2021 National Association of REALTORS Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, the current median down payment in the U.S. is just 12%.
There are pros and cons to both a high down payment and a low down payment, many of which are spelled out in more detail here. Don’t panic if your savings account isn’t bursting at the seams. Read up on your options and find a number that works for you.
4. You have familiarized yourself with the homebuying process from start to finish.
You’ve done the math, you’ve read up on your different mortgage options, you’ve learned what you need to do to make a strong offer on a home and you are, in fact, ready to buy a home. Maybe you’ve even attended a few open houses and saved some favorite listings. That’s the fun part!
But—there’s always a but—have you thought about what comes after you make an offer? Do you know what happens during the closing process? Are you aware of some of the common hurdles such as a low appraisal, a bidding war, or a listing agent who goes MIA?
Think of it this way: You wouldn’t jump into the ocean without first taking a few swimming lessons in a pool, right? Get familiar with the process, from beginning to end, even if the finish line feels hopelessly far away at this point. The good news is, you’ve already gotten a good start—you’re here, you’re learning. You can do this.
5. You have familiarized yourself with the neighborhood.
If you’re looking to buy in your current neighborhood, chances are you already know it’s a good fit for long-term living. The neighborhood, and how much you enjoy your time there, might even be one of your reasons for wanting to stay. (Don’t forget to add that to your why as mentioned above!)
However, if you’re buying a home for other reasons, and still aren’t sure where to live, the search can start to feel a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Break it down into bite-sized chunks. Start by dedicating one day each weekend to exploring one different neighborhood in your desired area. Check out local shops, restaurants, and parks, and get a feel for how close residential areas are to schools, grocery stores, bus lines, and other services you may use on a day-to-day basis.
Pop into a few open houses, too. It’s never too early to look and the host should be able to answer any questions you have about the area. Doing this will give you a better idea of whether or not you’d be able to find something within your budget in a given neighborhood.
As Flyhomes states in this list of homebuying tips for first-time buyers, “you can make improvements to a home, but you can’t change the neighborhood!”
6. Owning a home fits your current lifestyle.
There’s no way around it: buying a home is a commitment, and whether or not that commitment fits into your current lifestyle isn’t just a matter of being able to afford it. You also want to make sure homeownership doesn’t interfere with your day-to-day life.
Do you really want to buy a great home if you have to drive an extra two hours each day to get there? How enjoyable will that new condo be if you have to constantly work overtime to afford it?
Think about your routine, commute,how you like to spend your free time, and what you’re willing to give up. Can you afford a home that will still allow you those pleasures? Will taking the leap now improve your life? Or are you rushing into this decision for some other reason, like wanting to take advantage of what you perceive to be a buyers’ market?
Don’t let the market—or any other outside source for that matter—make this decision for you. Trust your gut. If now doesn’t feel like the right time you may be better off waiting a bit longer.
7. Owning a home fits your five-year plan.
OK, so you feel confident that owning a home fits your lifestyle now. Have you thought about where you’ll be in the next five years? What might change in your life? And how would those changes impact where and how you live?
Life is unpredictable and, of course, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow let alone in five years. Still, ask yourself where you want to be in five years.
Maybe you’ve always loved the idea of living aboard for a year or two. Maybe you’ve long dreamed about going back to school. Maybe your family will grow.
Does buying a home today fit into your hopes for tomorrow?
8. You can fix a leaky faucet.
Appliances break. Faucets drip. Roofs leak. You won’t have to fix all of those issues yourself, necessarily, but you will have to hire someone who can, and any long-time homeowner will tell you that finding a trustworthy repair person and ensuring the work gets done in a timely, affordable manner can be quite the task.
Keeping an emergency fund in your budget is a good way to be prepared for unexpected issues such as these, and you can also look into different types of insurance that will protect you and your home from certain issues such as fire damage, flooding, and more.
Still, if you find you’d rather have your landlord deal with the big stuff, maybe put off homebuying a little longer.
9. You’re prepared for unexpected costs.
Having your budget sorted down to the dollar may feel like an accomplishment, but unless you also have some wiggle room worked into those numbers, your whole system could shatter to bits with just one surprise cost and homebuying can come with some surprises.
When purchasing a home, you’re not just buying the home itself. It’s possible you’ll also have to pay for a home inspection, closing costs, taxes, insurance, and utilities, which could include everything from water, gas, and electricity to trash and recycling.
Beyond the period of time surrounding your actual home purchase, homes just have things that can break and cost money to fix (see aforementioned leaky faucet).
Have a contingency plan in place for when the unexpected happens. Added costs will only result in added stress.
10. You have established a solid support system.
You do not have to make this big life decision alone.
Just as you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your broker or real estate agent questions—that’s what they’re there for!—you also shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to benefit from people in your life who’ve successfully made their way through the homebuying maze.
Friends, family, coworkers, and even pals you interact with on social media can provide an abundance of knowledge. The offer to buy someone a cocktail or a cup of coffee can go a long way when looking to pick their brain for tips and advice.
While you chat, ask them if they’d be willing to help out should you hit any bumps along the way, too— you’ll feel better knowing you have someone you can trust just a phone call away, and chances are they’ll be happy to put their hard-earned lessons to good use.
11. You’ve thought about what comes next.
Whether you’re renting or buying, moving can be a stressful whirlwind with a to-do list that seems to get longer by the minute. Now, while your brain is still fresh, make a list of all the tasks that will come after closing and file it away for later.
You’ll need home insurance, for starters, but you may also want to consider additional coverage for earthquakes, fire, and/or flooding, depending on where you live.
You’ll have to get the home set up with any community services—garbage, compost, recycling—and technical services such as internet and cable. Now’s the time to think about what seasonal and annual inspections or services the home may need, too, from termites and lawncare to chimney sweeping and HVAC maintenance.
Thankfully, Flyhomes also has this handy checklist, which you can print and file away for move-in day. Your future self will thank you.
12. You’re ready to do the work.
Bored? Eyes glazing over from terms like “pre-underwriting,” “jumbo loan,” and “contingent?” If just learning the ins and outs of first-time home buying is making your head spin, it may not be the best time for such a big decision. All this not-entirely-fun-but-important homework is necessary—the knowledge you gain now could be what keeps you from getting stuck with a money pit of a house or a debilitating high-interest loan!
If you’re ready to buy a house, you’re ready to embrace the challenge. Lean on your support system. Remember why you’re doing this. As the first item on this list points out, if you have a good enough reason why it’ll make it easier to find a way.
There’s always more to learn
People are constantly Googling “tips for first-time home buyers” for good reason—buying a home is one of the biggest, most expensive decisions you’ll make in your lifetime. How do you know when you’re ready to buy a house? For many, the process is an exercise in patience and organization. There is a lot of information out there that will guide you in the right direction, so long as you keep an open mind.
Ask questions, read articles from trustworthy resources, and talk to friends, family, and coworkers who’ve recently gone through the homebuying process. If you’ve done all your homework, the final test will be a lot easier. Maybe even fun!
About the author: Megan Seling is an author and journalist who has been writing about music, culture and politics for more than 20 years for outlets including The Stranger, Nashville Scene, Rookie, Paste, and more. She currently lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband, Robby, and their dog, Johnny Waffles.