DIY Home Advice

Adulting: Millennials Guide to Buying Your First Home

August 12, 2016

everything you need to know about buying your first home

Do you ever feel like 12 years in school and 4 years at college prepared you for practically nothing (or at least nothing practical)?

Well, my friend, be prepared to have a whole bunch of useful knowledge dumped on you.

This will be my first adulting guide out of many that will prepare you for adulthood. This home buying guide consists of 6 parts:
-Should you buy a home?
-What kind of house should you buy?
-What to look for in a great realtor?
-How much does it cost to buy a house (and how to get pre-approved for a mortgage)?
-What to look for in a home?
-You found a home, now what?

Warning: This is a very lengthy guide to buying your first home. You might want to pin, tweet or share on Facebook so you have this guide to come back to when you’re ready to start going through the home buying process. (I also very much appreciate the shares!)

Disclaimer: This guide is based on my experience and what I’ve been told by parents, realtors, friends etc. It may not be 100% accurate so please ask questions and confirm with your realtor and lender. I do try my best to give you as much helpful information as possible. Please read and use the following information with discretion and at your own risk.

Part 1: Should you buy a home?

This is the first and biggest hurdle most millennials face when they consider buying a home. Is it worth it? I asked it too. Here’s what it came down to:

We were paying $1100 a month (not including utilities). That money was essentially being thrown down the garbage (ie not being put into equity).

What is equity: Your monetary value. That includes lands, stocks, IRA, jewelry, and, yes, your home.

In order to determine whether it is worth buying a home you have to figure out how much money you would be wasting per month compared to renting.

monthly costs of owning a home vs renting

Rough Home Cost Breakdown
(Based on a $200,000 home and 5% down payment, which will probably be the max cost you can afford as a first time home owner.)

Principle and Interest (monthly at 3.5% interest rate): $831/month starting out but will go down as you chip away at the principle of the loan.
Home Insurance (monthly): $50 (you most likely have to pay a renter’s insurance anyways so this really cancels each other out but I’ve included it in the total anyways.)
Mortgage Insurance (monthly/optional): $90 (we’ll talk more about this later but there is a good chance you’ll have to pay this for your first home until you’ve put in 20% equity in the house.)
Property Taxes (monthly): $250 (will vary on location, size of property, age of house)
Total Wasted Money: $640
Total Monthly Cost: $1221

These numbers will depend on the type of loan you get and the amount of your down payment. The monthly ‘waste’ would be about $640. You will be able to do tax deductions to earn that property tax back.

Just with these numbers you see that I waste less buying a home then I would renting, even though I would be paying more per month. And the longer I am in a house the smaller my cost gets. That’s why most people would suggest not buying a house unless you know you will be in the area for at least 5 years.

However, you’ll also have to keep in mind your down payment and closing cost, which will be a one-time upfront cost around $16,000 (seller often pays a good portion of closing costs).

So, if you do plan to stay put then, yes, buy a home. However, don’t feel pressured to buy a home if the cons outweigh the pros. We decided to buy a home and stay put because 1) we were close to my husband’s family which would be great when we start having kids, 2) I love my job and 3) we really wanted to get a Bernese Mountain dog, which most landlords won’t allow.

Part 2: Getting familiar with the housing market. What kind of house should you buy.

Even if you’re slightly entertaining the thought of buying a home, you should 1) begin putting money aside for the down payment and closing cost and 2) download Trulia or Zillow (free apps to find homes) or visit the sites online.

You’ll also want to start building credit. Dwayne had school loans which helps build up your credit score when you keep up with payments. Me on the otherhand, graduated without loans thanks to my parents and scholarships BUT this is a huge disadvantage when it comes to credit scores. Not ever having debt is actually a BAD THING for your credit score and can seriously hurt your chances of getting a good interest rate on your mortgage. My parents also knew that so when I bought my car off of my parents they had me take out a loan to pay them (even though I could have paid it in full). I took out a 8-month loan and paid it off in 4 months to help build my credit. I also took out several credit cards over the last two years (that I didn’t have to pay a fee for) and used them occasionally and paid them off in full every month and on time.

If your credit score is bad, get an advisor (a free oneßthey exist) to help you improve it PRONTO. One more note on preparing for a home, if you are in college or younger I strongly suggest:
1) Talk to your bank about getting a free credit card which they usually have for college students.
2) Start a Roth IRA. This goes hand in hand with my first point in this section about putting money aside for a down payment. Roth IRA’s have a higher interest rate (well, depending what stock you put it in…) so that as your money is sitting in the bank waiting for you to find a good home it is actually earning money. Now I suggest a ROTH IRA since you can take it out to buy your FIRST home without a penalty fee (ONLY YOUR FIRST HOME though). You will have to pay taxes on any money earned but it is usually minimal. Of course, you could also leave it in there till your retirement age…

how much does it cost to buy a home

Ok, back to the beginning stages of buying a home!

Looking through houses online will get you a good idea of:
1) What you can afford
2) How quickly homes are going off the market
3) Best areas to find a home (both apps show taxes, schools, etc)

As you start to get more familiar with what houses look like and what’s realistic, make a list of Must-Haves that you need in a house. This is also a good time to think about what type of home would be best: townhome, condo or single family home. Townhomes and condos make great first-time homes since they will be significantly cheaper than single family homes.

Biggest complaints people have against condos and townhomes: 1) HOA fees and bylaws (which sometimes single family homes also have depending on the community), 2) shared walls so not as private, 3) you don’t own your yard and 4) some say they can be more difficult to sell (but after talking to my realtor friends, that’s actually a myth for the most part).

However, condos and townhomes also have their upsides: 1) they are cheap (remember, your goal for your first home is to just start building equity…which means you need to be able to easily pay it off), 2) you don’t have any yard work or snow shoveling (wohoo…seriously a big plus if you’re busy and wouldn’t have time for it anyways), and 3) communities often come with pools, nice landscaping and a gym.

At the very least, be open minded about buying any of these options and go see a home in each category, you never know what jumps out at you.

Another area you need to consider is whether you should build a new home or renovate. For a first time home, I wouldn’t suggest building a new home (not even a modular one). Here’s why: 1) building a home can take a long time (6 months min), 2) you may not really know what you want in a home yet, and 3) taxes for a new home are unbelievably high. Let’s say a house was built in 1989, taxes are going to be around $1300/year BUT if that same house you built today the taxes would be $5600/year. (These are totally hypothetical numbers but I think you get the point.)

is renovating a home a good idea, doggy in window says it's better than buying a new home

Now, renovating an old home won’t raise your taxes (as long as you don’t add an inground pool or additional square footage to your house). However, on top of the mortgage for buying the home you’ll need to get a renovating loan if you need extra money for the renovation. And, of course, renovating takes time and could be WAY more expensive than what you originally planned. If you’re scrappy and a DIYer, then you might just be able to DIY your home over the course of several months (HA let’s be realistic… years).

Finally, I want to touch on the resale value of the home. Yes, you need to consider selling when buying.

Homes with the best resale value are usually 3 bed/2 bath. You’ll want to make sure the home is in a good area and not surrounded by junky neighbors. You can always renovate inside your property lines but you can’t change the properties surrounding your’s. Schools are also an important factor to look at when buying a home. Both Trulia and Zillow will tell you the grade of the school and how the test scores hold up to other schools in the area. Even if you don’t have kids, this might be an important factor for the family looking to buy your home when you do decide to sell later down the road. Also look at the taxes for the area. You might notice that areas with really good schools have really high taxes.

Part 3: What to look for in a great realtor.

For first time home buyers, finding a trustworthy realtor who can help coach you through the process and knows the area is critical.

A good realtor will:
1) Make sure you can actually afford the homes you are looking at. They will ask you to see how much income you are making, minus your normal monthly expenses and make sure you have over the amount needed to afford the monthly payment (principle, interest, taxes, insurance=PITI) for your home. Your PITI should not be more than 25% of your income.
2) Get your feedback on a few homes on the market so they can have a good understanding of what you are wanting in your home.
3) Send you homes IMMEDIATELY as they get on the market (the home we bought never even got onto Trulia and Zillow so don’t assume all homes are placed on those platforms).
4) Show you homes you’re interested in and give you feedback on red flags or unseen expenses.
5) After you find your future home, they should walk you through the paperwork and what needs to be done before the house becomes yours.
6) They will advise you on what they would recommend for a bid for the house and they will make the offer to the seller.

Since my dad served in the military, we originally went with a realtor that was assigned to us through USAA (a military bank). There were several perks of going with that specific realtor but after seeing a few houses with her, we decided to change realtors (yes you can do that!) since the only thing she did was open the door for us to see the house. We wanted a realtor to really coach us through the process and share knowledge about how to take care of a home etc. After getting several recommendations we decided to go with Robin Stoner from Regional Realty in Millersburg, PA and we’re SO GLAD we changed!

Not only did Robin sit down with us immediately after we called for 3 hours talking about our budget, what we wanted in the house and scheduled out several go-sees of houses she found that might work for us, but Robin is also just the sweetest person and so much fun to be around. She is pretty much the brain power behind this post. We learned so much from her regarding buying a home. She is also someone that we completely trusted, which is critical in finding a great realtor.

best realtor in Harrisburg and Millersburg PA - Robin Stoner

Our realtor Robin Stoner (aka Fiona from Shrek) and me (aka Queen Elsa). I did a princess party for her niece.

Ok back to buying a house.

When it comes to switching realtors, you should know that most realtors will have you sign a consumer notice that discloses their relationship with you (buyer agent, seller agent or dual agent which means they are both the buyer agent and seller agent). It also means you have to go with them as an agent if you decide to buy a house they showed you. A good realtor won’t make you sign this till you decide that you do want to buy a house they showed you. I’ve also heard of some realtors making their clients sign an agreement that says if they become your buyer agent you have to go with them to buy any house (even if you found it yourself). This agreement is a sneaky way of getting you stuck with your realtor (usually for a certain set up time). Be wary of signing anything like that!

One other thing you should know about realtors: How they get paid. The majority of times, they get paid from the seller a portion of the house sale (usually 3%). This means as a buyer you shouldn’t have to pay them anything. However, bigger realtor companies will charge what they call a broker transaction fee. This fee is around $300. There is a way around paying this fee! Tell them you’re shopping around for realtors and you will most likely find one that says they will waive the fee for you. Now if you want a particular realtor, you tell them you’ll go with them if they would waive the fee like the other realtor did. Usually, they will.

Lesson #1 for Adulting: It doesn’t hurt to ask (most of the time). Sign up for my adulting newsletter for more tips!

Part 4: How much does it cost to buy a house and how to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Before you start to look for a house you should get pre-qualified for a mortgage loan. Banks will automatically approve you for WAY MORE than what you should actually be spending. We were approved for $270K but after running the numbers ourselves we found we really could only comfortably afford $200K and that was on the high end!

Many homes will require a pre-qualification letter saying you can afford a home under a certain range before the realtor will take you to go see it.

Keep in mind this is your first home, you are getting into it to build up your equity so that you can afford a bigger house later. As my realtor explained it: Sure the bank says you can afford steak but according to your spending habits you really can only afford chicken. Don’t tempt yourself by looking at steak, just focus on chicken.

There are several different types of mortgage loans. Remember the numbers in this guide are ROUGH and may not be accurate for your location, bank or by the time you get around to reading this guide. Below is a list of the main ones:

Conventional: The main type of loan for mortgages. You can usually find your best rate with a conventional loan but it may require a bigger down payment. Since each bank or lender will give you different rates and PMI rates (monthly mortgage insurance), I strongly advise to shop around. Tell the lender you are shopping around for the best rate and they will be eager to give you a better rate or something in return to stay with them (like lender’s credit or a cheaper origination fee—we’ll talk about these below). If you can’t pay 20% down payment on the home, you will have to pay a PMI. However, it’s usually cheaper than FHA’s PMI and it goes away after you have 20% put into the home’s equity (whether that be in paying off the loan OR by investing in your house to make it worth more).

FHA: This is the loan that most banks will recommend for first time homeowners because it requires the minimum down payment of 3% of the mortgage. But you do have to pay an upfront fee that’s part of the monthly mortgage insurance and a monthly fee, which is required for the life of the loan. Seems to me, FHA loans are a huge big bank scam targeted at young home buyers who don’t know any better.

USDA: This loan is technically to help encourage people to get into farming and agriculture but even if you don’t plan to farm on your land, you can still get this loan if your home is within the areas that allow it. Good part about USDA loans is they don’t require a down payment BUT they do have a fee that is added to your mortgage. Meaning if you buy a home at $200K, your loan amount will be $204K and that $4K goes to the bank for allowing you to use this loan. So if you can put down 3% of the home’s cost then do it and save yourself the $4K (which ends up being more like $5K with interest by the time you pay it). You would still have to pay the PMI for this loan as well.

PHFA: Another loan for those who can’t afford a conventional loan. However, for this one, you and your spouse have to be making less than $70K (or just about, you can make more if you have a kid) in order to qualify. The government offers a home buying course with this loan and by taking it they will give you around $1000 (varies by year) towards your down payment. The great part of this loan is that you don’t have to pay the PMI.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the loan types and the different rates I got from different banks (notice I didn’t even ask for FHA):

loan options for first time home buyer

SHOP AROUND! Try to bargain with the lender. Here’s what it boiled down to for us. We were originally going to go with USAA’s special conventional loan that allows us to not pay a PMI (monthly mortgage insurance) and just have a slightly higher interest rate. Even a small percentage point up can have a big financial impact though (1% interest rate for $200K=$2000). We found it was worth having the PMI (as long as it was under $130/month) if we could be just 1% lower on the interest rate. This will especially pay off in the long run since the PMI will stop after you have 20% equity in the house. (At least for conventional loans, this is not the case for FHA. You would have to refinance, which costs around $3,000, just to get rid of that PMI.)

When shopping around, in addition to asking for the rate and PMI, don’t forget to ask about:
-Origination fee (typical $970)
-Appraisal fee (typical $450)
-Any deals for lender’s credit (Lender’s credit is an amount of money they will put towards closing cost, usually it will be just enough to cover your origination fee. This is a great bargaining chip to squeeze as much as you can out of the lender.)
-If any points will be taken, or if you can pay in points to get a lower rate (to be honest, points aren’t something I know a lot about so here’s a link you can learn more from.)

We ended up choosing Mid Penn Bank and here’s why:

  • They responded to our emails and phone calls within 24 hours. Having a quick response time is critical for buying a home since many aspects are bent on quickly negotiating and closing the deal. Local is better since you want someone you can harass meet in person.
  • They either met or beat any deals the other banks offered. They did this by offering to lower the origination fee (usually $970 for other banks but Mid Penn said they would do $670) and give us the best interest rate out of all the banks. (Of course, they were able to give us a lower rate because they got a higher credit score report then what the other banks pulled. See below.)
  • Not sure if this one will apply to you but I found that different banks somehow got different credit scores. Supposedly your credit score shouldn’t vary that much unless you are not keeping up with loan payments or you recently took out a loan or credit card. However, each bank I went to pulled a different credit number (three banks pulled my credit within weeks of each other). Quick note about credit scores, the bank will usually use the middle score out of the three (there are three companies who will report your credit score). If you are married, they will take the lower middle score out of both of you. The typical cut off score for getting a discounted interest rate is 740. So let’s say your partner’s middle score is 780 but your score is 739…sorry but you didn’t make the cut! Your 739 will be the deciding factor on what interest rate you get. I asked one of the bank advisors I was talking to why all the banks got different scores…he said it was complicated :/ Anyways, Mid Penn Bank reported back with a score of 741, right above the cut off for the lower interest rate –phewwww!

While trying to determine how much of a down payment you can afford, don’t forget to calculate how much money you need for closing costs. Download this pdf to view the typical cost estimate for buying a home. Remember, these are rough costs. Your numbers will depend on the time you are buying a home, how much the home is, and location.

Okay, so I know your brain is probably about to explode. To help diffuse it, here are some funny memes about buying a home.


How to Buy a House – As Told by Memes

Great, now let’s get back to actually helpful information.

Part 5: What to look for in a home?

Hopefully, your realtor knows what to look for in a good home. When you first go to see a home, just take a once over to make sure it has the bones of the home you would like. There’s no point being detailed going over a home if you know it’s not a contender anyways.

Take a look at your neighbors and the community: Is it clean or do you have junky neighbors (could hurt your resale value)? Would you need to pay a HOA fee (home owners association)?

Walk through the house making sure it has your Musts-Haves and notice any major work you would need to do to make the home livable for you.

When you get in the car to go to your next home, write down on the back of the MLS sheet (which is the home disclosure your realtor will give you when you go see the home) the pros, cons, and your rating (1 horrible to 10 perfect). Do this for every house you go see.

Once you have a home that you think might be the one for you, ask your realtor to schedule another showing. Yes, go twice! You will miss things on that first showing and excitement will cloud your judgment.

On the second showing, here’s a list of things you should check:

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  • Go through the MLS sheet and see what problem areas you should be looking into and make a note to ask about them to the inspector when that time comes.
  • Go to the electrical box. What’s the brand? Is it at least 200amps? When was it installed? If you think you may want to put in more outlets, does it have room for more?
  • Are the outlets around the house 3 pronged? They may look 3-pronged but if it’s over 2 decades old, get the outlets checked since many homes may disguise a 2-prong with a 3-prong cover.
  • Is there a GFCI outlet in the kitchen?
  • Go outside and check the roof shingles (bring a camera that you can zoom up and take a picture to see it). Are they curling? Does it look worn? Are the gutters slightly slanted on the house so water runs down? Is the chimney ventless? If the house has a brick covering, are there cracks in the mortar joints?
  • If you can, pop your head up in the attach and use a flashlight to see how the wood looks and if you can see the amount of insulation up there.
  • If possible, go underneath sinks and bathrooms to see if there are any water marks.
  • Turn on AC, go outside to see if warm air is coming out of the heat exchanger.
  • Fill up every sink. What’s the water pressure like? Does it get warm quickly? Once the sink is hallway full, unplug it and keep the water running. Go underneath the sink where the pipes are and feel around to see if you feel wetness anywhere.
  • Look on the ceiling for cracks or water marks.
  • Look for problem areas of where there might be flooding (usually a problem in basements).
  • Check the deck. Poke it with your nails, is it soft? Will it need redone when you move in?
  • How easy will the yard be to take care of? Are the trees big and messy?
  • Do you have a good cell service in the home?

If the home has a private sewer or water, there are a whole host of other questions you should ask! At a first glance, where the private sewer is located, does the grass look greener than the rest of the yard? It will be critical to get an inspector to thoroughly run all tests on the sewer and water systems.

Part 6: Buying your first home!

Congratulations! You’ve found the home you are going to buy…hopefully! A lot can go down in between now and the closing day (when you sign the contract and the sellers hand over the keys). So keep your hopes in perspective.

The first step is to send over a proposal. This is really where your realtor should help. They’ll do market research to see what the other houses in the area went for so that you can be sure you’re not overpaying in that neighborhood. Your realtor will also walk you through the numbers one more time making sure you can pay both the closing cost and your monthly PITI. I spent 2-3 hours at my realtor’s office going over the numbers and listening to her explain each document so I understood what we were signing and our rights.

Before you put in your proposal, you’ll want to get a firm interest rate (if possible) from the bank you chose to be your mortgage lender. Usually your realtor will want to put down your loan amount, the bank, your down payment, and what loan type you will be using. (USDA and FHA have special home regulations the seller will have to meet before you can get the loan for the house…this can cause some contention with the seller if they have to do a lot.) This can still easily change after the seller agrees to your proposal. Your realtor will just need to send over an addendum.

Since we decided to bid on the house the first week it was on the market (we didn’t want to lose it), we missed out on being able to really bargain down the price (sellers of houses that have been on the market over 6 months are more willing to bargain down the cost, especially if they had to move right away and therefore have two mortgages). The house was also in great shape so there wasn’t any large home improvement costs that we could use as a bargaining chip. Your realtor should advise you on what you can bargain down and they will develop a strategy so you get some kind of benefit.

We decided to offer $195K and 3% of closing cost to be covered by the seller. That means the seller will pay 3% of the price of the house towards the closing costs. If you do decide to ask for 3% of closing costs from the seller, make sure the type of loan you get allows it. Ask your lender if up to 3% closing cost is allowed with the type of loan you want before sending over this offer to the seller.

The seller will counter offer. In our case, they said $198 and $2,000 towards closing costs. Then we counter offered with we will pay full price but they have to pay $5,000 towards closing costs. Getting closing costs was important for us since we didn’t have THAT much money saved up in the bank. They accepted!

Now comes the paperwork. Make sure you have access to a printer and scanner to easily send signed documents to your realtor or mortgage lender.

Usually you’ll have 14 days (depends how many days you add to the proposal) to get the house inspected and to send over any requests for repairs.

During this time you’ll need to:
1) Get a home inspection.
DON’T SKIP THIS STEP! Unless you are a home inspector or residential construction worker and can check/test everything for yourself before buying the place, you will need to invest in at the very least a basic home inspection, termite inspection, radon inspection (if it has a basement), and sewage and well inspection (if it has private sewer and water). It’s also critical to actually be there for the inspection to learn what you should be checking on an annual basis in your new home. This will be a very educational time for new home owners to learn about the upkeep of your home. Shout out to our very helpful home inspector Russel from Home Spec. Sign up for my free adulting newsletter, to get my future guide on how to take care of your home.
2) Meet with your lender. They should go over all the paperwork and explain everything. You will need to bring your driver’s license, last 3 paystubs from your job, W2s from the last two tax years, and statements from the last 2 months from all bank accounts. They will check that you have enough money in your bank accounts to cover closing costs and the down payment. This means if you are getting gifts from family towards a home or liquefying your Roth IRA for your down payment you’ll need to do it either before or immediately after you talk with your lender. Your lender will get your credit score reports and call your employer to make sure you are employed there and aren’t going to be fired in the next few months.

This process usually takes 60-90 days. If you are in a hurry, ask your lender how long it takes to underwrite your mortgage and if it would be ready for your desired closing date. Since we went with a local bank we were able to get it ready in 45 days.

Once you hear back from the inspector, you and your realtor will need to discuss what you plan to send over to the seller for repairs. There will be repairs that are suggested and then items that are defective and must be repaired or the price lowered so the buyers can take care of it.

The realtor will send a revised proposal requesting for the things that were defective to be repaired.

You’ll want to get these repaired (if possible) before the bank’s appraiser comes by. This is critical if you requested for wet spots or mold on the ceiling to be painted over with stain blocking paint. If an appraiser sees the stains they might request for an inspector to come through (even if you already had a home inspection), which could cost you more money.

You will need a lawyer to handle the closing but hopefully your realtor has a good recommendation.

guide to buying your first home - hang out spot

Afterwards, it’s smooth sailing till your closing date. A quick note on closing dates: Try to get a closing date towards the end of the month (ours was August 30th). There is a fee (taxes) you’ll have to pay the first month you’re in the house and by closing towards the end of the month it will be minimal. It also ensures that you don’t need to pro-rate your rent.

Before closing, make sure you ask the sellers any other questions you may have about the house. Realtors typically don’t like you talking directly with the sellers so you may need to send a list of questions to your realtor who will give it to the seller’s agent so they can give it to the sellers.

Have a question about buying a home or would like to add your 2 cents? Would love to hear from you in the comments or share with me on our Facebook page!

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