|You’ve made up your mind to buy a place of your own. You’ve saved for a down payment and have poured over the local listings for months. Touring open houses is part of your weekend ritual. But months, perhaps years, have passed and you're still in your rental, no closer to being a homeowner than when you started.|
This is not an uncommon scenario. For many first-time homebuyers, pulling the trigger can be a frightening experience. Will you be happy there? Will you like your neighbors? Will you be tied down, house rich and cash poor? What if you lose your job? Will you hate your commute? In short, your fears stem from the unknown.
Conversely, your current home is familiar. You know exactly what to expect. You’ve come to accept its shortcomings whether they are loud neighbors, a leaky ceiling or scant street parking. There are few surprises.
Paolo Forte is the eternal condo-shopper. “I’ve been looking for four years," says the 35-year-old Boston resident. "I have actually seen condos come on the market, sell, and then be resold a second time. While I’ve been waiting, condo prices continue to rise, and I keep spending more money on rent.”
In Betsy Townsend’s 10 years as a Realtor® in Boston’s pricey Beacon Hill, she’s seen everything. “I find that people often hesitate to make the ‘biggest purchase of their life’ because they fear they will make a ‘bad investment’ and pay too much,” she said. “Sometimes people lose site of the fact that they are looking for a place to live instead of just an investment.”
Still, there is hope for anyone like Forte, who has hesitated when they should have been bidding. You are surrounded by family, friends and co-workers who took the leap and are reaping the benefits. Give these steps a try and you could be among them:
Get comfortable with your finances: Anticipate the new costs that you will incur such as taxes, homeowners insurance, utility bills and commuting. This will help determine the maximum price you can spend on a house. Enlisting the help of a financial expert will give you an objective view of your finances. Remember, the first year is the most difficult, after that you will begin receiving tax benefits.
Partner with an agent: Even though the Internet gives you access to endless amounts of market information, don’t be fooled into going it alone. Instead, interview several real estate agents and when you find one you like who listens to you, stick with him. He or she can line up properties to view, answer many of your questions and make connections for you in your new community. Also, agents often have the inside track on a new properties just coming on the market.
Accept some risk: Realize that there is uncertainty in everything, but no matter what happens, you will deal with it. Ask family and friends about their experiences and learn from them. Be sure to keep some cash reserves in the bank as a safety net. And remember, you have homeowner's insurance for a reason.
Fine tune your “must-haves”: Is there a community that you absolutely want to live in? Are you adamant about wanting a garage, a fireplace or a finished basement? Make your list of what’s important to you and look for it. You may find that you are willing to sacrifice one feature, if the rest is fabulous. If you are not crazy about the house, don’t bid. It’s important that you love it at the outset.
Be ready to bid: Regardless of the market, great houses don’t stay on the market long. Sometimes one open house leads to three offers. If you love it, be ready to make your best offer. If you are wavering, ask yourself, “How will I feel if I don’t get this house?” You might just get it, and if not, at least you’ll know you tried.
Reap the reward: Owning a home can be one of the most exciting and satisfying things you’ll ever do in your life. It’s an investment that can pay you personal dividends as well as financial.
For Forte, his new year’s resolution is to pull the trigger on a new home. “I’m finally ready to take the step. I’m tired of standing on the sidelines. I’ve set a deadline and I am ready to bid when I see it. It’s been a long time coming, but I know I am on my way to being a homeowner.”