By age 15, I’d probably been to more open houses than school field trips. My parents moved multiple times when I was growing up and always took me along the house hunting ride with Eileen, our esteemed realtor (and fancy lady) from Century 21.
That experience introduced me to the value of walk-in closets and eat-in kitchens and how to rough estimate the price of a home based on square footage and comparative sales in the neighborhood.
As I grew older, my interest (read: obsession) in real estate furthered. I bought my first home in my early 20s and subscribed to the weekend New York Times, mainly so I could receive the Real Estate section hot off the presses each Saturday morning.
It’s no surprise then that when I began my personal finance podcast So Money, I invited a number of real estate pros onto the show to offer their insights. Over the years, their advice has helped listeners (and me) with real estate transactions and strategizing our next moves.
Here are some of the highlights from my guest conversations that I think are especially useful for first-time buyers.
1. Get your financial ‘passport’ in order
Kathy Braddock, a managing director at William Raveis NYC, urges all first-time buyers to have all their financial ducks in a row before making an offer. “Get your financial passport in order — talking to a bank, talking to a mortgage provider and really figuring out what you can afford,” she says. “Be careful, because you have to take into account all of your lifestyle expenses.”
Sometimes a bank will pre-qualify you for a mortgage that is more than you can afford, Braddock cautions. “If there’s something special you’re saving up for, you need to put those numbers into the equation because the bank or the mortgage company is not going to do that. And you never want to end up being ‘house poor,’ where you don’t have enough money left over to do the things that kind of make your life more interesting or that are special for you.”
2. Focus on your life stage
When is the best time to buy? For home buyers who are looking to settle down in a particular region or area, a recent guest explained that it has less to do with season or whether it’s a “buyer’s market” and more about your current life stage, what you can afford, and your needs.
“I work in strategy for a real estate company and swim every day in the data of what’s going on in the real estate market across the country with mortgage rates and inventory and home prices. My advice to homebuyers is to ignore all of that,” says Eric Chesin, Head of Strategy for Realogy, which owns big real estate brands such as Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and Sotheby’s International Realty, among others.
I recently partnered with the company in its announcement of a new home buying program in collaboration with Amazon called TurnKey. It matches home buyers with top agents who are affiliated with one of Realogy’s trusted real estate brands and upon closing on their home, Amazon delivers a complimentary Amazon Move-In Benefit, which includes $1,000 to $5,000 of Amazon Home Services and fully-installed smart home products.
Adds Chesin, “No matter what economist’s advice you get, there’s no macro answer that will tell you the right answer [of when to buy] locally. And, I just think that, personally, you don’t time life choices by trying to time the market, whether it’s real estate, stocks or anything else. The best thing you can do as a homebuyer is to get the support and advice of a really great real estate agent that knows your local market and can understand what’s right for you.”