Buying a home is often a stressful process, because it is usually the single largest purchase of your life. Even if it isn’t your first house, it’s easy to make a mistake that costs you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here are three common mistakes to avoid.
1. Paying Too Much
This isn’t about over-paying for a particular home. That mistake is tough to make if you will be borrowing to buy. An appraisal will be done, and the lender will probably refuse to lend enough for you to buy an over-priced house.
The common mistake here is following the advice of real estate agents, lenders and even your friends and family, who will often encourage you to buy a more expensive home than you can afford. They may call it an “investment” and claim that real estate always goes up in value, so you should get as much as you can. Of course, recent history shows that home values don’t always go up, and this kind of thinking has a lot of families facing foreclosure now.
Buy what you feel comfortable with. If you can’t easily make the payments, even after a short layoff from work, you may be overextending yourself. And watch out for lenders “solutions” to this problem (see number 2).
2. Trusting Lenders
I am not suggesting that lenders are all out to get you, or that you should look at them suspiciously, but they are not necessarily looking out for your best interest. That’s your job. Their’s is to sell loans. Buying a home normally requires buying a loan too, and as we can see now (2008), many loans are not suitable if you want a secure future. While there are sometimes good reasons for interest-only, adjustable-rate, and zero-down loans, most of the time these should be avoided.
Never mind what a lender recommends or suggests. Ask him only for facts, and do your own math. If the rate on your loan goes from 5% to 10%, what will the payments be? Can you easily afford that? If not, you are taking a risk that may not be justified.
3. Trusting Real Estate Agents
When you are buying a home, the real estate agent who helps you, like the lender, has his own agenda. It isn’t that he or she doesn’t wish you the best, but they wish even more for their own families, so the primary goals is to sell something. Also, unless the agent is explicitly working for you, she has a fiduciary responsibility to work against you if that is what is best for the seller. In other words, if she thinks you will pay more because of a comment you make, she must pass that information on to the home owner.
Even a buyer’s agent can be biased. It is nice to think that they are working for you, but they still only get paid (typically) when a sale is made. That’s a pretty motivation to push you into a home fast, whether or not it’s the best one for you.
Pay attention to whether an agent is really showing you the houses that suit your needs, rather than the ones that he or she would buy. Many real estate agents don’t listen very well, and will show you what they think you want, rather than asking you more questions. They can lead you to buy a house that doesn’t suit your needs or costs more than you want.
One final note about real estate agents: They are not experts on all things. In fact, some are barely an expert on anything. I have met agents who didn’t understand a simple seller-financing offer, and others who suggested that cracks in foundations were “no big deal,” though they knew nothing about construction. Unless an agent has specific experience in an area, take what they say with a grain of salt, and seek out other counsel.
Buying a home that actually is right for you starts with avoiding the three mistakes above.