10 Rookie Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

Get the most from your purchase by sidestepping these costly pitfalls.

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5. Not using professional help

Sure, it's possible to go out and buy a home without the aid of a professional real estate agent. But think about how much time and stress a good agent can save you. For starters, Realtors have access to all the homes on the market through the multiple listing service, or MLS, plus all the ones that are under contract and have been sold. A specialist has time to sift through all of these listings, says Boss, and make the appointments to show you the houses, create comparative market analyses to determine proper pricing, and meet with necessary inspectors. Real estate agents also can help buyers traverse a taxing, 70-page legal contract. "I would want someone who is going to look out for my interests first and foremost," says Boss. "Someone who knows the contracts, who has experience negotiating, and who can walk me through the entire process smoothly—step by step—and make sure I get the house that's right for me."

6. Picking your real estate agent and lender blindly

"One of the mistakes a lot of people make is finding a Realtor they aren't comfortable with," says Boss. Begin your search at the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, a nonprofit that represents buyers. Or ask relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers for referrals.

First-time home buyers, Boss says, are generally more time-consuming than the average buyer and require more attention. A good real estate agent will be friendly and accommodating, show only homes that fit your parameters, and help you with strategies during the bidding process—but never pressure you into something you're not comfortable with. "It's important that the Realtor be experienced with first-time buyers, understand their wants and needs, and be able to connect with them well," says Boss.

Similarly, the buyers should feel at ease with and have complete confidence in their mortgage lender, and they should fully discuss and understand their financing options with that lender. "Don't apologize for asking questions," says Vanderwell, who stresses the importance of knowing what you're getting into. "There's a pretty substantial chunk of people who are in really rough straits right now and would not have been had they done their homework."

7. Thinking you'll get everything on your "wish list"

Another mistake people make is being too close-minded while searching for their home, says Boss. He suggests sitting down with your real estate broker before searching for a home and creating a need/want list. Some of the items you might want to include as "must haves" or deal breakers are the towns you'd want to live in, square footage, or accessibility to transportation. The second part of the list would be things you don't necessarily need but wish to have, such as a garage, new kitchen appliances, or an extra room for an office. "As you search for your home, you may realize there are certain parameters you really want or don't want," says Boss. "Understand that a certain amount of flexibility is essential." Your aim is to be able to afford everything you need—as well as some items you want—all while staying within a long-term budget.

8. Not keeping your feelings in check before hiring a home inspector

You've already chosen the perfect paint color to match your living room set. But hold on: Before you start picking out accent pillows for your sofa, you need to bring in a home inspector to check the safety of your potential new home. Inspectors will evaluate the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the home and will give you the approximate price of repairs that may be needed. They will examine everything from the electrical system, water heater, and HVAC system to the foundation and floors.

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Buyers should find and hire their own inspector—independent of the real estate broker—to ensure there isn't a conflict of interest. When you make your offer, make sure the seller is aware that your offer is contingent on the house passing inspection. You can also add a clause to the contract stating that the seller will pay up to a certain amount for any repairs required as a result of the inspection.