Between rising prices, tough loan limits, and massive competition among other eager would-be buyers, it can seem like an impossible feat to purchase your first home. Homes in first-time buyer ranges are highly coveted and stories abound of buyers having made offers on numerous homes, only to be shut out time and again by multiple offers that drive prices up and out of their budget. But, there are ways you can put yourself ahead, even if the situation seems desperate.
Work with a good REALTOR®
Everyone has a real estate agent in their neighborhood or in their family or friend group (or all three!). And, while you would undoubtedly love to give business to someone you know and care for, you have to balance your sense of loyalty against your goal. This may not be the time to entrust your financial future to a brand-new agent or one who simply dabbles in the industry in his or her spare time. You’ll likely need a seasoned agent to buy your first home, especially if you’re looking in an area where the market is highly competitive. An agent with extensive experience and good industry relationships can help find you homes that may not be listed yet and then negotiate a winning offer.
Get that preapproval
It goes without saying today that you need a preapproval to buy a house. Many real estate agents won’t even take clients out to tour homes unless they have received their preapproval amount from a lender. Even if you are just casually looking, make sure you talk to a lender before you head out on a househunt. You don’t want to fall in love with something and lose out on owning it because someone else was already preapproved and you first had to start pulling your paperwork together. Nor do you want to fall in love with a house that’s out of your budget because you didn’t know what your purchasing power was.
Talk to landlords
If there are rental homes in your target area (and there probably are!), you might have an opportunity to buy a home that isn’t even on the market yet—and might not be listed for sale anytime soon. Your real estate agent should be able to locate some homes and initiate a conversation about the potential of purchasing. Some rental home owners may want to sell but be reluctant to take the steps to update the home and get it on the market. You may be able to slide right in there, which would be a win-win!
Consider a home that needs work
You might have better luck buying a home that isn’t updated and/or staged because they can tend to stay on the market longer. But, a home that’s a real fixer-upper can be a great buy thanks to the 203(k) loan, which packages the home loan and money for needed repairs.
“An FHA 203k loan allows you to borrow money, using only one loan, for both home improvement and a home purchase,” said The Balance. “203k loans are guaranteed by the FHA, which means lenders take less risk when offering this loan. As a result, it’s easier to get approved (especially with a lower interest rate).”
There are a number of improvements that can be made with a 203(k) loan, including bathroom and kitchen remodels, additions, HVAC, plumbing, and flooring, but if you’re looking to add a pool, you’ll have to do that on your own dime. “Luxury improvements” are not allowed under the terms of the loan.
Look just outside your target neighborhood
In the city of Frisco, TX, a suburb of Dallas and one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, home prices have climbed to levels that can put even the smallest and oldest homes out of reach for many first-time buyers. In the adjacent city of Little Elm, however, home prices are lower – even though it’s also a desirable, growing city—and many of the neighborhoods feed into the preferred Frisco ISD schools. For young families that are looking to get their foot in the door and make sure their kids have access to great schools, looking just outside your target neighborhood can be a great way to go.