I work with first time home buyers quite often and most are intimidated (to say the least) by the home buying process. Here's a little secret: it's really not that hard. Do your homework beforehand, choose a Realtor (like me!) and a lender you can trust and then, barring something strange happening, you'll likely go from renter to homeowner with as little stress as possible.
This is part I of my series on how to do just that: Chattanooga Real Estate 101
1. Unless you have the purchase price of a house hidden in your mattress, you are going to need to get your credit in order. Click here for more information about how to do this. Start on this at least 3-4 months before you are going to be looking to buy. You often will find errors on your credit report that can take a while to be corrected. You don't want to be scrambling to fix these things while a mortgage broker is staring you in the eye.
2. Make a list of "must-haves," "like-to-haves," & "must-not-haves." Do you have a Great Dane, an Irish Wolfhound, a Husky and a Chocolate Lab? You're probably going to have to have a fenced yard. If, however, Fido is a Pomeranian, that fenced yard might be nice to have but not essential.
3. Think about what areas you might like to live in. Interested in a historic home? Check out some of my blog posts about Chattanooga's historic neighborhoods. Consider where you work, where your kids go to school (or where you'd like them to), what amenities you want close by, what kind of vibe you'd like your new neighborhood to have, etc. Your must-haves & must-not-haves will factor into this. If your main concern is wooded privacy and room to spread out you probably shouldn't be looking in Highland Park. If, on the other hand, you want to be in the middle of Chattanooga's nightlife, a Market Street condo might be the way to go.If you don't know anything about Chattanooga or its real estate market, a good Realtor (like me!) can help you narrow down your search.
4. Think about what your budget should be. In this case, think of it in terms of a monthly payment, not a purchase amount (we'll get to that part later). Don't try to decide the most you want to pay, decide what you are comfortable paying each month. Are you going to be cooking steaks in your new kitchen or throwing ramen noodles in the microwave? You also need to realize that the monthly payment on the loan isn't going to be your only expense. There will also be property taxes, home owner's insurance (sometimes called hazard insurance), mortgage insurance if you aren't putting down a 20% down payment, not to mention potential repairs. Budget tip: Looking outside the city limits can sometimes stretch your dollars because you won't be paying city property taxes.
5. See, this isn't that hard so far! Your next step is to find a Realtor - luckily, if you're in the metro Chattanooga/NW Georgia area you can go ahead and check this one off your list by going here. If you live in Kalamazoo, you've got some looking to do. What should you be looking for? Number one: someone who answers the phone. I know it sounds simple but you would be surprised how hard it can be to get someone to return a call. Number two: someone who knows the area. Number three: someone who isn't the name on the sign sitting in the yard of a house you think you might like. Chances are, unless it is a limited service listing like some of mine, that person is working for the seller. It usually doesn't cost you anything more to have your own agent looking out for your best interests so why not make sure you have your own representation?
Stay tuned for Part II of Chattanooga Real Estate 101...