Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a House

A key is attached to a wooden door in a house.

There’s a lot that goes into buying a property—especially if it’s your first time. Hidden costs like land transfer tax, legal fees, and home inspection can add up. Plus, you have to consider where you want to live, what kind of house you can afford, and how much maintenance it might need. All of these factors can be tough to juggle at once and even tougher to manage later on if you’re not prepared. Here’s a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before buying a house, from start to finish.

Determining Your Budget

Before you start your house hunt, you’ll need to know how much you can afford to spend. This number is determined by a few different factors.

1. Your current financial situation

Your income, debts, and current expenses will all play a role in how much you can afford to spend on a house. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you can handle so that you’re not stretching your finances too thin. These factors will also impact your ability to get a loan. Lenders will want to see that you have a comfortable margin between your current debts and your future housing costs.

2. The type of mortgage you qualify for

There are a two main types of mortgages:

  • Fixed-Rate: With a fixed-rate mortgage, your interest rate will stay the same for the duration of your loan. This type of mortgage is ideal if you plan on staying in your home for a long time and don’t want your payments to increase over time.
  • Adjustable-Rate: An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) has an interest rate that changes over time. These mortgages usually start with a lower interest rate than fixed-rate mortgages, but that rate can increase or decrease depending on the market.
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If you’re unsure how long you’ll stay in your home, an ARM might be a good option since it gives you the flexibility to sell if rates go up. Just be aware that your payments could increase if rates rise.

3. Your down payment

The down payment is the amount of money you’ll put towards the purchase of your home. The higher your down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage payments will be. Don’t forget that you’ll need to have enough saved up for other upfront costs as well.

How to Sell Your Home

There are a few different ways to go about selling your home. The most popular method is to work with a real estate agent. Real estate agents are professionals who will help you list your home, market it to buyers, and negotiate the sale. Working with an agent comes with a few different costs:

  • Commission: Most agents work on commission, which is a percentage of the final sale price. The standard commission is 5-6%, but it may be negotiable depending on the agent.
  • Marketing Costs: Your agent will also likely charge for marketing your home, which can include things like open houses, flyers, and MLS listings.

For a more hands-off approach, you could also list your home yourself. This is known as “For Sale By Owner” or FSBO. Selling your home without an agent will save you on commission, but it’s important to be aware of the extra work that will be required on your part. You’ll be responsible for marketing your home, negotiating with buyers, and handling all the paperwork yourself.

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If you’re not sure you’re up for the task, you could also consider working with a flat-fee real estate agent. These agents will list your home on the MLS for a set fee, rather than commission. This can be a good option if you want some professional help but don’t want to break the bank.

Escrow and Closing Costs

Once you’ve found a buyer, you’ll need to go through the escrow process. This is when a neutral third party (usually a lawyer or title company) holds onto the funds from the sale until everything is finalized. The buyer will also need to pay for things like a home inspection, appraisal, and loan origination fees. These are all closing costs that can add up to several thousand dollars.

The buyer will also need to pay for homeowner’s insurance and, in some cases, property taxes. These costs will be added to their monthly mortgage payments. You will also need to pay prorated taxes when buying a house—these are the taxes that have been paid for the current year but have not yet been used.

For example, if you’re buying a house in October, you would need to pay for the portion of taxes that have already been paid from January-September, as well as the taxes for the rest of the year.

Hidden Costs of Owning a Home

Once you’ve bought your home, there are a few more costs to be aware of:

  • Homeowners’ Association (HOA) Fees: If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA, you’ll be required to pay monthly or annual dues. These dues go towards the upkeep of common areas, like pools and playgrounds.
  • Maintenance and Repairs: As a homeowner, you’ll be responsible for all the maintenance and repairs on your home. This can include things like painting, fixing leaks, and landscape upkeep.
  • Utilities: You’ll also be responsible for paying for all the utilities on your property, like water, electricity, trash service, and internet. In many cases, renters are also liable for these costs, but as a homeowner, you’ll be solely responsible.
  • Property Taxes: Property taxes are typically paid through your mortgage, but you may have to pay them yourself, depending on your loan.
  • Homeowners’ Insurance: Homeowners’ insurance is required if you have a mortgage. It protects your home in the event of damage or theft.
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Buying a home is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you have the financial means and are ready for the commitment, it can be a very rewarding experience. Just be sure to do your research and work with a qualified professional to avoid any major pitfalls.

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