For most people, a home is the largest purchase they’ll ever make, so choosing the wrong property can have disastrous implications for their wallets and well-being. Still, many homeowners feel a strong sense of pride in putting their mark on the property, building equity and having a place to truly call their own. Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time buyer, here’s a look at seven homebuying mistakes to avoid.
1. Using the wrong real estate agent. Just because your sister’s college roommate’s friend just got a real estate license doesn’t mean she’s the right agent for you. San Francisco real estate agent Herman Chan suggests vetting agents and looking for someone who does real estate full time and knows the local inventory. “You can lose an offer if you’re not responsive in a couple of hours,” he says. Request the agent’s sales data, and find out how he or she communicates. Chan recommends asking questions like these to gauge the agent’s tech-savyness: “Is it OK if I text you? Is it OK to DocuSign things? If I can’t make an open house on Sunday, can you shoot me a video?” If you prefer to check texts and emails on your phone, you may not want an agent who insists on faxing contracts.
2. Shopping before you get preapproved. Before you get serious about buying real estate, find out how much mortgage you qualify for and get a preapproval letter from your lender. “If you fall in love [with a property], write that offer and then find out you can’t afford it, it’s an emotional roller coaster you can’t afford,” Chan says. Many agents won’t even take buyers to showings until they have a preapproval letter for that very reason.
3. Maxing out your spending power. Qualifying for a half-million dollar mortgage does not mean you should buy a McMansion. Jon Sterling, regional sales manager for Chase International Real Estate in Lake Tahoe, Calif., says he’s seen people, especially first-time buyers, make this mistake. “It’s wiser to be a little more conservative,” he adds. Homeowners have additional expenses such as property taxes, condo fees and maintenance that renters do not, so some first-time buyers fail to budget for these extra costs and assume they can afford a monthly mortgage equivalent to the rent they paid. “If you buy into a [homeowners association], you don’t know what their future plans are,” Sterling says. If, for instance, a storm rips the roof off the clubhouse or the association decides to upgrade the common areas, you may get hit with a special assessment to cover those costs. For these unexpected situations, it’s a good idea to keep a cash reserve on hand. Some dual-income couples choose to qualify based on just one income to give themselves a financial buffer.
4. Taking advice from outsiders. Parents, relatives or friends who haven’t bought property in the local market may not understand local pricing and market conditions. Parents or in-laws who own houses in the suburbs may also have unrealistic expectations about what the equivalent amount of money buys in the city. “Be careful about people that are giving you advice from across the country,” Sterling says. When parents are gifting money for a down payment, their input may be necessary, so Sterling tries to show properties only when “all the decision-makers are in the car.”
5. Skipping the inspection. Home inspections can help alert potential buyers to problems such as structural issues, faulty wiring and other problems a layperson probably wouldn’t spot. But if you’re in a market that moves quickly, you might be tempted to skip an inspection to make the offer more appealing, Sterling says. Insisting on an inspection might slow the process, but as he points out, “any seller that is going to knock you out because of that is probably hiding something anyway. You’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, [so you want] to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.”
6. Overdoing contingencies. While home inspections are recommended, Michael Alderfer, a Washington, D.C., agent with the national real estate brokerage Redfin, says some homebuyers include so many inspection-related contingencies that it can scare off the seller and his or her agent. “Some buyers are nervous, so they’re looking for extra ways to change their mind and walk away,” he says. “You can write a competitive offer without all these extra things and leave yourself a couple of ways to get out.” He suggests talking to your agent before submitting the offer, so you’ll feel confident your interests are protected.
7. Getting too attached to one property. In competitive markets, you may have to put in offers on several properties before one is accepted. Alderfer says some buyers get so infatuated with one property that a rejected offer hits them hard. “It’s OK to feel anxious, but you need to be able to fall in and out of love during a home search,” he says. “If you find a home that you think is perfect for you and you don’t get it, you can’t stay down too long. You have to recognize that wasn’t the house for you.”