Advice From a First-Time Homebuyer

My Next Move: Since My Divorce

When it comes time to purchase your first home, plenty of professionals out there can give you guidance and advice--real-estate agents, attorneys, lenders, and inspectors, to name just a few. But one of the best ways to learn about the home-buying experience is to talk to somebody who's been through the process.

Somebody, for example, like Gary Parker.

Parker, a first-time homeowner, bought his house this past summer. The government's first time home buyer tax credit was the signal to him that the time was finally right. "There was a deadline coming up, and I made it just in time."

Along the way, he learned some valuable lessons about how to make a first-time home purchase go smoothly. What Works Now sat down with him in his new living room to find out how he handled the steps along the way and what advice he'd give to fellow first-timers.
Get preapproved for a mortgage
Before Parker even started looking at homes, he decided to get preapproved for a loan. "I actually found it incredibly helpful for two reasons," he says. "One, it signaled to the sellers that I was serious buyer and I was getting ready to make a move. And second, it really helped me to understand what kind of home I could afford and what would fit within my budget."

Parker chose a 30-year fixed rate loan to take advantage of today's historically low mortgage rates. "I wanted to make sure that I got that really low interest rate," he says, "and locked it in for a long time."

Find the right real estate agent
If Parker has one regret about his home-buying experience, it's that he didn't start working with a real-estate agent sooner. When he finally did, the process of house-hunting got a whole lot easier.

"My agent was a friend of mine," Parker says. "I only wish that I had reached out to him a long time before I did. He was able to point me in the direction me to the neighborhoods that I should consider, and he had access to listings that weren't necessarily posted online. So with his help I was able to really move the process quickly."

Many first time homebuyers are amazed by how long it can take to find the right place. "I must have gone to over 50 open houses," Parker says. "But it was worth the time invested. You really want to make sure that the home you're purchasing is just that--a home. The second I walked into my new place, I knew that was it, that I was home."

Know what's on your wish list
Even before Parker started his search, he had a list of things he was looking for. The first was a place that was move-in ready. "I didn't want to have to do any work before I got there," he says.

Second was a view--"something that I could just look out onto and daydream." Third--and, he says, most important--was a neighborhood where his mother and six-year-old niece could wander around and feel comfortable. The area he settled on, with parks, bike paths, and access to public transportation, perfectly fit the bill.

Be prepared for the occasional obstacle
Even transactions that proceed smoothly still run into the occasional obstacle. In Parker's case, he had a difficulty working with the seller. "She really slowed things down and took her time returning calls and paperwork," he says. "And on the day of the closing, she tried to negotiate additional money." Luckily, his agent was able to take charge of the situation and got the deal closed.

Is there anything Parker would do differently if he were to start the process all over again?

"The one thing that I would have done differently is that I would have hired my broker sooner," he says. "He really helped with every part of this process."

Now that you've heard a homeowner's first-hand experience, you should have some great insights on what to expect when you buy your first home.

Interested in learning more about the home buying process? Here are some AOL real estate guides that can help:

Can Fixer-Uppers Work for First Timers?
Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make
Real Estate Appraisals 101
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