Buying your first home comes with many big decisions and can be as scary as it is exciting. It’s easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of home shopping and make mistakes that could leave you with buyer’s remorse later.
If this is your first rodeo as a homebuyer or it’s been many years since you last bought a home, knowledge is power. Here are the 14 most common mistakes first-time buyers make — and how to steer clear of these missteps.
1. Looking for a home before applying for a mortgage
Many first-time buyers make the mistake of viewing homes before ever meeting with a mortgage lender. This puts you behind the ball if a home hits the market you love, or you look at homes that you can’t afford.
In many large markets, housing inventory is tight and competition is fierce. You might find yourself willing to stretch your budget to buy a property or lose a property because you aren’t preapproved for a mortgage, says Alfredo Arteaga, a loan officer with Movement Mortgage in Mission Viejo, California.
What to do instead: “Before you fall in love with that gorgeous dream house you’ve been eyeing, be sure to get a fully underwritten preapproval,” Arteaga says. Being preapproved sends the message that you’re a serious buyer whose credit and finances pass muster to successfully get a loan.
2. Talking to only one lender
This one is a biggie. First-time buyers might get a mortgage from the first (and only) lender or bank they talk to, potentially leaving thousands of dollars on the table. The more you shop around, the better basis for comparison you’ll have to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
“A good mortgage loan officer can look at your situation and diagnose any potential roadblocks ahead to give you a clear understanding of your home-buying options,” Arteaga says.
What to do instead: Shop around with at least three different lenders, as well as a mortgage broker. Compare rates, lender fees and loan terms. Don’t discount customer service and lender responsiveness; both play key roles in making the mortgage approval process run smoothly.
3. Buying more house than you can afford
It’s easy to fall in love with homes that might stretch your budget, but overextending yourself can lead to regret and worse later. It can put you at higher risk of losing your home if you fall on tough financial times.
What to do instead: Focus on what monthly payment you can afford rather than fixating on the maximum loan amount you qualify for. Just because you can qualify for a $300,000 loan, that doesn’t mean you can afford the monthly payments that come with it. Factor in your other obligations that don’t show on a credit report when determining how much house you can afford.
4. Moving too fast
Buying a home can be complex, particularly when you get into the weeds of the mortgage process. Rushing the process can cost you later on, says Nick Bush, a Realtor with TowerHill Realty in Rockville, Maryland.
“The biggest mistake that I see [first-time buyers make] is to not plan far enough ahead for their purchase,” Bush says. “This doesn’t allow them to save [for a down payment and closing costs], fix items on their credit report, and debunk some of the myths about the process with a Realtor and lender.”
What to do instead: Map out your home-buying timeline at least a year in advance. Keep in mind it can take months — even years — to repair poor credit and save enough for a sizable down payment. Work on boosting your credit score, paying down debt and saving more money to put you in a stronger position to get preapproved.
5. Draining your savings
Spending all or most of their savings on the down payment and closing costs is one of the biggest mistakes first-time homebuyers make, says Ed Conarchy, a mortgage planner and investment adviser at Cherry Creek Mortgage in Gurnee, Illinois.
“Some people scrape all their money together to make the 20 percent down payment so they don’t have to pay for mortgage insurance, but they are picking the wrong poison because they are left with no savings at all,” Conarchy says.
Homebuyers who put 20 percent or more down don’t have to pay for mortgage insurance when getting a conventional mortgage. That’s usually translated into substantial savings on the monthly mortgage payment. But it’s not worth the risk of living on the edge, Conarchy says.
What to do instead: Aim to have three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. Paying mortgage insurance isn’t ideal, but depleting your emergency or retirement savings to make a large down payment is riskier.