Deciding to buy a home comes with its own unique set of pressures. Oftentimes seen as a seal of adulthood, an acceptance of permanence, and perhaps most importantly, it also means that you're about to spend a large sum of money. Therefore, it makes sense that no one wants to go about it in a casual way.
"This is one of the biggest purchases people will ever make," says Marie Hoffman, co-owner of The Hoffman Murphy Real Estate Team in L.A.
For the last 12 years, Hoffman has been selling everything from starter homes, luxury retreats, and investment properties alongside her business partner, Susan Murphy. She knows that four walls and a roof come with much more strings than they let on, which is why she always emphasizes the importance of being an educated buyer.
"In creating a road map of what's important and learning expectations of what's available, a buyer can be educated," Hoffman says. "An educated buyer is a successful buyer, and one who understands that this is a team sport. Winning the perfect home is the result of a highly trained real estate team and an educated, team-playing buyer."
About 64 percent of Americans are homeowners, according to the U.S. Census, and if you're a first-time buyer, the market has shown to be particularly cumbersome. To ensure you're handling these hurdles, first calculate a comfortable down payment and a reasonable mortgage. Then, as Hoffman notes, choose a realtor who knows the local market well.
"Using your cousin or an out-of-area agent is guaranteeing failure. Instead, meet a local lender in person and get a full pre-approval. It's also crucial to find out how many buyers a local team has found a perfect home for," she says. For Hoffman, that number is more than 3,000.
Once you ace those tests, the next step is harder: honesty. Hoffman notes that part of her road map includes answering questions that will give the buyer and realtor an idea of what a house hunt should entail.
Below, Hoffman shares the 10 questions you should always ask yourself before buying a home, which will hopefully alleviate some of the pressures associated with this big decision.
1. "Why is buying a home important to me?"
"You should have two reasons for why it will support your happiness and two reasons for how it will support your short and long-term goals," Hoffman says. "Finding out the true reasons for why you want to buy a home will help you navigate its challenges later on. When things get tough, it's good to check in on the 'big why' of buying."
2. "Am I planning on living in the area for three to 10 years?"
"Markets change. Prices go up and down. If you buy a home with a short-term plan, you may find that your home is worth less than what you paid for it," she says. "Remember, real estate is a long-term investment."
3. "Can I afford the payment on the home?"
"Although lenders are not handing out money as easily as they did in 2006, it's very important to know that you can afford your house payment and live your life in other areas."
4. "Can I afford the payment if one of the buying parties can't?"
"Sometimes homes are purchased with two incomes," Hoffman adds. "But then there are instances when one person wants to stay home to take care of children. If the other person has an increasing salary potential, that's fine. You do want to think about the future."
5. "What are the top 10 most important things I must have in a home?"
"If there are two people buying the home, write your answers down separately, starting with your absolute must-haves," Hoffman explains. "Sometimes it's assumed that your partner wants the same things that you do, but putting together a list separately can give both parties and the realtor a clear picture of what the perfect home will have for both of you."
6. "Am I the 'fixer-upper' type?"
"With all the 'flipping houses' shows out there, some buyers think that they should have the bandwidth to do the same," she says. "The truth is that an additional $100,000 on your purchase price is about $300 more in payments. If you work long hours and don't have a handy bone in your body, you might be better off buying a more fixed-up home."
7. "Who are all of the decision makers, and can they actually see the home?"
"There are times when parents may be helping out children with their down payment," she says. "The parents may live in an area where a 5,000-square-foot home is $400,000—and they can't fathom California prices. Meanwhile, their child finds the perfect home in California, and they call up Mom and Dad. If the parents haven't been part of the process, they can refuse to move forward. It's always better to have the parents in on the education process as early as possible."
8. "How often do I like to communicate with my realtor and what's the best way to do so?"
"People can get frustrated by this process, and that's usually a function of expectations," Hoffman says. "Your agent should know how you like to check in and by what method—text, email, or phone. The biggest complaints we hear from clients who have worked with other agents is that their agent did not communicate with them in the way they wanted."
9. "Am I willing to sell my home before finding a new one?"
"This question is for a buyer who has a home to sell before purchasing another," she continues. "It can be a very frustrating experience to be out-bid by another buyer who doesn't have the contingency of selling their home. You want to be in the most powerful position possible to purchase your new home, and that entails having your home in escrow with all contingencies removed, or even better, having the money in the bank."
10. "Am I ready to find the perfect home on the first or second day of looking?"
"People often think that looking for a long time is right thing to do," she says. "If you are working with a highly trained team, then your agent will only show you homes that fit your needs. Finding a home on the first or second day happens half of the time, and it's easier to celebrate if people know this from the start!"
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