Making the leap from renter to homeowner can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help ease your mind when you start the search.
1. Create a wish list
Pinpoint the big picture items you can’t budge on. Are you looking for a condo, a townhouse, a single-family or a multi-family home? How many bedrooms do you need? How far are you willing to commute? Do you need to be in a particular school district?
Next, make a list of features your dream house would ideally have. Is there a specific street or neighborhood you love? Can you survive without central air? Do you want a sprawling backyard for your dogs, or a wraparound porch where you can relax in the evening?
With a list in hand, a real estate agent can help you narrow down properties that fit the bill. “There are so many great houses out there,” says Vince Ciccarelli, a first-time homebuyer in Pennsylvania. “Our real estate agent was critical in educating us, like explaining the best time to buy or how to tell if a basement gets water.”
2. Be picky
Don’t rush through the showing. Bring your list of desired features with you, and evaluate how each property measures up. Does it have enough closet space? Will your favorite couch fit in the living room? Do you love where it’s located?
Weigh the pros and cons, and focus on features that can’t be easily changed. Adding a garage or retrofitting a home with central air can bust your budget. But paint colors and floor coverings can easily be updated.
“I loved the natural light and open floor plan in the townhouse I found,” says Amy Burns, a first-time homebuyer in New Jersey. “So I was willing to overlook its carpeted floors and dated kitchen cabinets. I decided that was cosmetic stuff I could change eventually.”
3. Give yourself time
Start the house-hunting process as early as possible so you don’t feel forced to make a snap decision. It can take time to figure out what you want—and don’t want—in a property. Your dream home might not even be on the market when you first start looking.
When you find a home that feels like it could be the one, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but again, step back and do your homework. Schedule a home inspection. Try to talk to your future neighbors. Revisit at a different time of day. The quiet street you saw on Saturday afternoon could be jam-packed with rush-hour traffic on Monday morning.
“We drove by our house every chance we got. And I would creep at night,” says Amy Mazgajewski, who recently bought her first house in Florida. “It felt quiet and safe. The streets were well-lit, and there were no loud parties or music.”
4. Be patient
Offers can fall through. Inspections can turn up unpleasant surprises. And not every house lives up to the photos in the listing. But the saying is true: When you finally find your dream home, you’ll know.
When you’re dealing with the frustrating parts of house-hunting, keep your eyes on the prize—all the hard work will be worth it when you finally find your dream home.