Embarking on the journey of buying your first home as a new couple can be both exciting and overwhelming. It’s a significant milestone that marks the beginning of a new chapter in your lives. I know first-hand that navigating the complex real-estate market requires careful planning and consideration. Here, I’ll provide seven essential tips to help couples make informed decisions when deciding to look for their dream home.
1. Establish open and honest communication
Buying a home together requires open and honest communication between partners. Discuss your expectations, preferences, and long-term goals in private. It may reveal some differences on what you each expect. Do you want a rustic cabin up in the mountains away from everyone like in Mount Tremper or Olivebridge while your partner wants a nice colonial in a village like Saugerties, New Paltz or Woodstock?. Make sure to address concerns and resolve conflicts early on to avoid unnecessary stress during the homebuying process.
Though I had given that advice to a couple I worked with last year, they were apparently too busy to take the time to do so. It was very uncomfortable for me and became a bit embarrassing for them during their conflicts with questions like did they need a garage and does every bedroom need a closet. In my experience, couples have a much more enjoyable experience together if they have had that important open and honest conversation prior to looking at houses.
2. Determine your budget and stick to it
Evaluate your combined financial situation and create a realistic budget that includes not just the down payment but also closing costs, property taxes, and other home ownership expenses. Call several lenders to find out what mortgage products they have available that would meet your needs. Get a pre-qualification letter or a pre-approval letter from a lender.
That budgeting process will help determine how much you can afford It is part of the documentation needed when submitting an offer on a home. Many local banks and credit unions in the Hudson Valley provide excellent mortgage products. Choosing a local bank in the basic area where you want to make a home purchase is not necessary or required, but it can be to your advantage. Up here in these magical mountains there are many different types of homes with different types of operating systems. A lender who understands and is familiar with the uniqueness of homes in our region can be helpful.
Having a local lender on the pre-qualification letter is a benefit when you’re submitting an offer. A couple I recently worked had a prequalification letter for $250,000. but kept wanting to see those priced around $300,000. It was their hope that they would be able to somehow have a much lower offer accepted. That’s not realistic in the current market. They were spinning their wheels getting excited about homes they could not afford. In order for them to have success in their home-buying efforts, they had to get real! Once they did, finding a home became a breeze.
3. Define your needs and wants
Sit down together and make a list of your needs and wants in a home, the must-haves versus the would-likes. Consider factors such as the current market, location, size of home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, proximity to amenities, acreage, and potential for future growth. Prioritize these features to help narrow down your search and ensure you’re on the same page when it comes to the property you’re both looking for.
These choices may change over the course of your search, as each time you tour a home you learn more about each other’s wants and needs. What fun! Ulster County has so many different terrain, geography, and living environments to choose from. My strong suggestion is not to be too rigid with that list you both created. Be willing and open to seeing outside the box when it comes to a home’s environment and neighborhood. Doing so will also help define your wants versus needs more clearly. A couple I worked with several years ago never did that, and a year later they were still looking for a house to buy.
4. Research the market and be realistic
Take the time to research the real-estate market in the locations in which you’re interested. Look at recent sales data, property values, and trends. This information, available online, will help you understand market conditions and determine a fair offer for a home you can imagine yourself living in. Knowledge is power!
The real-estate market Upstate was upended during the pandemic. The combination of lots of people wanting to relocate out of the city area mixed with little inventory created a very competitive market for buyers.
This rush has definitely slowed. Having your pre-qualification letter in place, knowing who your mortgage lender will be, having your tax returns from previous years on hand, paystubs, etc. will ensure you can be a competitive force when comes time to submit an offer. Be sure to be realistic about the current market prices.
I bought my first home in 1983. a 2000-square-foot two-story house with pool, cabana, balcony, woodstove, fireplace and full finished basement, for $178,000 with an eight percent mortgage. Things were very different then. Now that same house goes for at least $500,000. Prices reflect whatever the market will bear. You need a person whom you can trust to help advise you. A person experienced in the real-estate market can assist you by revealing all the factors that determine value of a home.
5. Engage a trusted real-estate agent
Choosing a reliable and experienced agent is especially important in the home-buying process of first-time homebuyers. Find an agent who is a good listener and responsive to your questions and concerns, one who has working knowledge of the area and local market. A buyer’s agent can offer a number of local resources such as a list of attorneys, inspectors, etc. A good buyer’s agent will guide you through the entire process from start to finish, provide expert advice and assistance, and be a savvy negotiator on your behalf.
Buyer’s agents typically receives their commission at the closing from the seller, but are required to be loyal and devoted to you, the buyer. Your privacy, financial situation, pricing strategies, and other personal information that may affect negotiations are all kept in confidence. Buyer agents are required to disclose all material defects in the house and disclose any information gained while speaking with the selling agent that can affect the outcome of your pending deal.
Your loyalty to one buyer’s agent regardless of whether you are contracted with them is also important. It shows you value their time and respect their work. I will not work with a buyer who is using several agents in the same area. Your loyalty to me ignites my passion for what I do, and then I give it my all. My goal is to help you find the right home, no matter how long it takes, based on all you have learned about yourself and each other.
6. Conduct thorough inspections
Before making an offer, schedule a home inspection. Your buyer’s agent can recommend several for you to call. A professional inspector will assess the property’s condition, conduct various tests, identify potential material defects and necessary repairs, and then provides a full report with photos. This step is crucial in both the negotiation process and ultimately avoiding costly surprises.
An inspection typically is a contingency when submitting an offer on a home. If the inspection proves there are too many defects and repairs needed, you can withdraw your offer. If the inspection proves the house is sound with few defects and little need for repairs, you can move forward with much more knowledge..
7. Be patient and open-minded
Finding the perfect home may take time, so it’s essential to be patient throughout the process. Stay open-minded. Be willing to compromise on some features if necessary. Remember that your first home might not be your forever home, but a starting point for building equity, credit, and memories.
One couple I am currently working with realized after looking at several homes at the top end of their price range and being outbid that they needed to look at the lower end of their price range, meaning that the homes they would be looking at would likely need some upgrading and renovations. Once they were open to this reality, they found a home they really liked, and are now on their way to making that purchase.
Francesca Ortolano works as a real-estate salesperson for Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties in Mount Tremper.