30+ Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

This week I had the opportunity to talk to a small group of first time homebuyers. In preparing, I asked social media, “What one piece of advice would you give a first-time homebuyer?”

The answers – from clients (recent and not), friends, and good real estate professionals – were outstanding. I’m grateful for their sharing. I thought about highlighting one or two or ranking them in order from best to not-quite-best, but each is the best piece in its own category.

How does one rank these? They’re all really important – and these aren’t even a third of the great advice offered.

- Buy below your means

- Profits are made when purchasing a house not selling

- ignore HGTV

- Pay attention to the things that really matter (layout, size, neighborhood, etc.); don’t focus on aesthetics like paint color and appliances that can be changed.

Have savings after you close; cash solves a lot of future problems

- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you’re worried they’ll make you sound dumb.

There are a lot more after the break.

Some of the notes I used to prepare and speak: (naturally, in writing this post, I was able to find and references stories I’ve written over the past 9 years)

- When to start? I’d say to engage with a good Realtor and lender about 9-18 months before you’re aiming to close. Take time to learn the area, the market, your life patterns, growth and development patterns. Read all that you can.

- Rent first.

- Always visit the area around your house before you buy – at multiple times of day on multiple days.

- Questions a Realtor can’t answer (related: Big data and civil rights. Also:

- Questions to ask your prospective Buyers Agent (My advice: don’t hire a part-timer) Also: Why hiring family may be a bad idea.

- How to search for homes without a Realtor (in Charlottesville)

- Assembling the team. How your Realtor helps assemble the necessary A-Team.

- Work with a local lender. These are the two I tend to recommend the most.

- How to choose the right buyers agent (hint: it’s sort of like dating)

- I highly recommend reading RealCentralVA and, if you’re interested in Crozet, RealCrozetVA. But at the very least, please do subscribe to my monthly note, in which I summarize the best posts from the previous month, among other original stories. In fact, the quote I read during the talk from a buyer client was published in my monthly note.

And because I’m writing this post purely as advice from a real estate professional, my name is Jim Duncan. I’m a real estate agent. I’m a partner at Nest Realty in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Call or email me anytime with questions – even ones you think are dumb.



And what do I mean by “sometimes homeownership can suck?”

When the water heater blows at 2 in the morning or a derecho rips off shingles, there’s no landlord to call. But …

When you’re a homeowner, you can paint the walls whatever color you want – with no one else’s permission. And that’s valuable.

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  • Mark

    I would add that it’s worth your while to look at “dated’ houses that other buyers ignore. There is value to be found in places like this, or in homes where the lazy realtor took his.her own photos with a smartphone. 50% of other buyers see those listings and move on.
    But you can cool and freeze food in an almond/bisque refrigerator, and you can slice up apples on a Formica countertop. Save $50,000 on the purchase because it’s “dated,” spend $25,000 updating your kitchen if you can’t live without granite and stainless, and you’ve saved yourself $25,000.
    My family and I have lived happily in our “dated” house for 4 years now, painting and updating as time and budget allow. We paid about $40-50k less than its appraised value. That’s a few hundred bucks a month to put toward pedestal sinks and the like. I don’t like the old vinyl kitchen floor, but I can name ten things I love about the house for each little thing I don’t like.