Lessons Learned: 6 Tips for Buying Your First Home

Nov 20, 2019

The dust is finally starting to settle on my big move into my first place as a homeowner (jk – dust is still flying everywhere because renovations are def still happening), but thankfully the master bathroom is actually done done, folks.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation.

And by “done done,” I mean not a single thing is hung on the wall or decorative floor covering has been shopped for. But the construction parts are all complete, and I’m mad proud of this project since I designed it all myself.

It’s been a little over two months since I’ve bought my condo and a little over a month since I’ve moved in, and I finally feel like the whirlwind is settling down a bit.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and a shot of my new double vanity.

Now that I have two seconds to think, I’ve got a lot of thoughts, feelings and tips about this whole “home buying” experience, y’all, so I’ve gotten a couple of requests and thought it might be helpful to share a few of the tips I’ve learned in buying my first home…

Tips for Buying Your First Home

1. You do not always need a realtor

I’m told realtors add a lot of value when purchasers are unfamiliar with a neighborhood or are apprehensive about the legal process of transferring title and ownership.

However! If you are familiar with the area in which you’d like to move and/or you’re a lawyer (as a lot of my readers seem to be), you do NOT need a realtor.

To be honest, although my realtor was a very nice gentleman, I do not think he added a ton of value: I had to request changes to the parameters on the MLS to even receive continuous hits, I personally sourced through the MLS listings myself rather than being provided any curated lists of properties to view, at times, I felt like I was introducing my realtor to my desired neighborhood rather than the other way around, I negotiated all of the written documents and I personally reviewed the title work. AND not to be petty (while still being extremely petty), my realtor didn’t even get me a closing gift…

My experience may have been unique, and in my realtor’s defense, he was not a specialist in my desired neighborhood. I signed him on under retainer when I was looking in a different neighborhood (one in which he had sold a house to a good friend), and he came highly recommended. My MISTAKE, however, was continuing to engage this particular realtor as soon as I decided to stop pursuing options in his location(s) of expertise.

To add insult to injury, after my closing, a coworker let me know that he in fact NEVER uses a realtor to close his home sales, and instead, asks the seller for a 3% reduction in the purchase price. CAN. YOU. SAY. GENIUS.

We’re talking tips for buying your first home? Here’s a big one: do not sign on a realtor. You don’t need one. I promise. Instead, negotiate a percentage off your purchase price (since the seller pays for both their and your realtor fees at closing up to 6%). If you ask for 2% off instead, the seller saves 1% and you save also.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and my brushed brass hardware.

2. Get three numbers before making an offer

Once you find a place you like, you’re going to be overcome with lust. You’ll want to run out the door and make an offer before you even get home.

But don’t do that.

Instead, go to your computer and collect the following: (1) the price and date the current owner paid for the property, (2) the number of days the property has been on the market and (3) the comparable selling prices (or “comps”) for the area.

Let’s start with comps (because that’s where you should be starting too). Look for objectively similar properties and check the price they closed for (not the price they are listed at). That will help you get an idea of values in the ‘hood you’re scoping out.

Next, check what the seller bought the property for and how long ago that was. You can find this info on Redfin/Zillow/any of those realty website apps. You should expect a 3% increase in value per year on average, but if the seller is upselling by a very large number and has not made very many improvements, you can assume you’ve got some negotiating power and should NOT offer asking price.

Lastly, if the property has been on the market for 30 days or more, you can also assume that asking price is NOT necessary.

One last note on your offer: real estate agents are there to help guide you through the process, but keep in mind, they also have a vested interest for you to pay a higher purchase price since they are paid a percentage of your purchase price. Be wary of any agent suggesting you give a full ask offer (unless you are in a crazy hot market) as this advice may possibly be self-serving.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and the white quartz countertops.

3. Seller costs can help big time

I was sweating when I realized how much money these folks were expecting me to shell out in one day, y’all. We all know you have to pay the down payment, but most banks also require you to deposit additional sums of money in “escrow” for your taxes and insurance (3 months for each) as further assurance that the funds are available. Then, on top of that, your bank will also charge you a fee to even give you the freaking loan (around 2-3%).

When all was said and done, I needed my down payment x2 in order to actually close. So. Much. Money.

One way to get this number down is to ask the seller to pay “closing costs.” The seller is legally allowed to pay for your closing costs that do NOT include your escrow amounts (so, just those lender fees).

BIG TIP for buying your first home: make sure that your contract for purchase makes clear that any amounts not used for closing costs should be applied as a REDUCTION to your purchase price!! Double check this point. Most form purchase agreements say exactly the opposite (that unused funds get returned to seller as THEIR property). WATCH OUT FOR THIS!! You could get your feelings big time hurt with this mistake.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and the marble shower with rainhead.

4. Negotiate a home warranty

The one giant value add to credit to my realtor is the negotiation of the inclusion of a home warranty insurance plan as a credit from the seller.

A home warranty program insures your major home systems and protects you from giant, unexpected expenses, and if we’re talking tips for buying your first home, I’d consider this a big one.

Y’all know I love insurance. Click here to read about my pet insurance that I fangirl for.

Anyway, there are a few levels of coverage available, so before sending your offer/purchase agreement, be sure to check which package works best for you and include that coverage amount as a credit from the seller.

My home warranty company is American Home Shield, and I’m obsessed. If you follow me on IG, you know that my AC stopped working on the hottest day of the year here in Georgia the day before moving in, but for $75 and a little repairman coordination, I was back and running with AC within a few days.

Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and the detailed herringbone tile floors.

5. Confirm EVERYTHING during the final walk through

Okay, so you negotiate a contract, you get a loan and you make it to the closing table (or pro tip: you make sure you request an e-closing because who shows up to closing tables anymore…)

Before you sign those final documents, there are a few things you MUST MUST confirm during your final walk through. This walk through is NOT just to confirm the place isn’t trashed and the lights are all there, boo boo:

  • All key holes have a matching, working set of keys/electronic fobs to your unit, the front door of the building and any stairwells
  • You have the “master reset codes” to any electronic locks
  • Your garage clicker actually works…
  • Nothing is broken, damaged or missing (ex: if there are built-in closet systems, make sure all drawers and dressers function properly).
Tips for buying a new home include renovations, and this is a peak into my newly completed master bathroom renovation and the large walk-in marble shower.

6. Do renovations ASAP

I find renovations to be so fun – everything is so exciting!! Unless you live there. If you live in the house and are experiencing renovations, it can be a bit of a drag. I have contractors in my house seven days a week starting at 8AM. There is no sleeping in. There are no “chats” with Bae that a 45 year old Grenadian man isn’t listening to.

As much as I love my new place, I can promise I would be way, WAY less likely to sign up for this inconvenience if I was already settled and moved into my place.

One of my biggest tips: if you think you want to start renovating, start getting quote BEFORE you even close. I worked with my contractors, and they came in to begin work as soon as the documents were signed. If I wouldn’t have kept adding project after project, this wonderful team would have already been complete (if I stuck to my original plan to just work on the kitchen).

That being said, if you’re looking into renovating or would like to discuss some renovation options, be sure to head over to the HJN Design Studio, where we specialize in delivering modern yet lived-in interior and exterior spaces as the foundation of our luxury farmhouse aesthetic.

This site is all about self-care and wellness, so what kind of studio would I be running if that wasn’t the central passion and purpose as well?! Go check out our service and package offerings (and make sure to type “HeyJTips20” for 20% off your selection in the Client Intake Questionnaire form).

Ps: peep below for before pictures of this master bathroom (yes, that is a plastic shower floor you see…) and let me know in the comments below what home projects you’re currently working on!

The shower and tub of the original home.
The vanity of the original home.
The one sink present in the original home.

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