Since moving to Charleston in May, Jason and I have had a blast discovering our new city while also searching for our first home! When we first decided to leave New York, one of our major goals was to embrace a more balanced way of life while also getting more bang for our buck.
Since setting foot on South Carolina soil, we have seen countless properties and researched every neighborhood in search of our first home. Throughout it all, our main objective has been to find a great house with tons of potential that we can add our own stamp to - all while maintaining the rich historical integrity of an older home and this lovely city.
Needless to say, this is no small feat, especially in a city growing as quickly as Charleston. Just in the past three months we have seen house after house sell within days (sometimes hours!) of being listed.
All-in-all, our search has taken us through some scary fixer-uppers, some gorgeous updated homes and some properties with amazing potential that would work better for someone else. We even got so far as having our offer accepted on a house only to have the contract fall through due to some undisclosed issues with the home.
Regardless of the ups and downs this search has provided, or the fact that it has been down right frustrating at times, we couldn't be more excited to become first time home buyers. The craziest part of all is that after having lived in New York in a 1 bedroom apartment (for nearly 6 years!) it seems unreal that we could soon have more than 500 square feet - what will we do with all the space?!
Anyway, despite not finding our home (yet), I have learned a ton throughout this process and thought it might help some of you. Whether you're house hunting too or are just dreaming of starting the process, I hope these tips will help you navigate the confusing world of home buying. Before we jump into the tips though, I have to say that these are just the 5 things that have helped me but you should always consult a professional and do what works the best for you.
5 Must-Read Tips For First Time Home Buyers
Set A Budget & A Wish List
When you decide to buy a home, the first thing I would recommend is to set a budget and make your wish list. After doing this and researching the homes available in your price range you may discover that compromises need to be made.
At this point it is important to honestly re-evaluate what you want in a home. Would it be nice to have 4 bedrooms, an updated gourmet kitchen and a great backyard? Sure, but for most of us (and certainly for me!) compromises will have to be made.
For example, for Jason and I it is very important for us to purchase a home downtown that has some history and age to it. While we could more easily achieve a larger home in one of the surrounding boroughs of Charleston, we really want to be in the center of it all and have the great restaurants, parks and historic King Street within walking distance. Also, we aren't interested in newer homes so we decided early on to compromise on space in favor of location and history.
Another thing to keep in mind when working with your budget, is to get a pre-approval from your lender so you know exactly (or at least close to it) how much you can afford. This is especially important when searching for a home that may need renovations or cosmetic updates to suit your taste.
Sure, a home may be listed for an attractive price but once you tour it and realize that it will need a new roof, new plumbing, foundation work etc, the price skyrockets into a territory way beyond your means. Just remember, the last thing you want for your introduction to home ownership is a money pit.
Research, Research, Research
This takes us to my next tip - research, research research. Due to the high demand of homes downtown and the nature of older homes in general (typically smaller rooms, no walk-in closets etc), massive amounts of space only come with a very steep price tag or intensive renovations that require deep pockets.
While searching for homes in our price range we quickly noticed that we knew very little about how much a new roof, or new plumping would cost. To remedy this and make ourselves more knowledgable home buyers, we researched like crazy! We spoke with friends, family, local experts and even fellow Charleston home buyers to gather as much information as possible. The beauty of the internet is that most things are only a click away and with a little bit of time you can gather estimates for making changes to a home.
In line with this point, I would also recommend that you over estimate how much certain changes (large and small) will cost. That way you can honestly evaluate a home for the worst case scenario and not unintentionally sign up for a total gut job that far exceeds your means.
In the nature of research, I also recommend becoming very familiar with your city, the housing market on a macro level and what each neighborhood has to offer.
For example, throughout our search Jason and I have familiarized ourselves with the varying neighborhoods and have narrowed in on the desirable areas, the up-and-coming areas, and the areas that aren't up-and-coming yet but will be soon - helloooo investors. This research has also helped us determine which neighborhoods may be a better investment simply because they are undergoing block wide renovations and each house seems to sell for slightly more than the last.
Sign Up For Realty Search Engines
My next tip is to sign up for any and all realty search engines. With nearly everything available online these days it is no surprise that you can easily peruse housing listings from your phone with the likes of Trulia.com, Zillow.com, Redfin.com, Realtor.com, Estately.com and more.
Once you have your budget, wish list and location locked down you can sign up for one or all of these sights, create a profile with your details, and you will be alerted the moment a new house is listed. This real-time approach to realty is especially helpful if you're house hunting in a competitive market like we are. Being alerted to new listings the moment they happen will help you beat the competition, or at the very least meet it half-way.
For example, a few weeks ago we received a notification that a house matching our criteria had been listed so we drove out to take a look and scheduled a walk-through. Unfortunately, so had everyone else, and within hours of being listed the home had been sold for cash to an investor!
While this instance is certainly an unusual one, my point is that you need every edge you can get in a competitive market, and sites like Zillow and Redfin help you familiarize yourself with current listings and what past listings have gone for in your desired area.
Pick A Realtor (Or Don't)
In line with signing up for these realty engines, you should also settle on a realtor - or don't! Depending on your needs, sites like Redfin.com even offer a cash back incentive if you hire one of their realtors. If that approach works for you, then I encourage you to go that route. If you would rather take a more conventional approach, then finding a realtor that you trust and can rely on is a must.
For this step in the process I recommend consulting with friends and family who have purchased homes in your area and see who they worked with - maybe they can recommend someone and save you the leg work of vetting realtors yourself.
My final tip for house hunting is to be flexible. Regardless of obstacles the process brings, I would encourage you to stay optimistic throughout it all, and be flexible to change. For example, you wouldn't want to put a damper on this exciting time by getting hung up on having a walk-in closet.
Instead, try to focus on the bigger picture and make reasonable accommodations as the market changes, your needs change and you become more knowledgable. Yes the process has ups and downs but ultimately buying a home is one of the most exciting things you can do. For me it signals positive change and growth, and Jason and I are incredibly excited to be starting this new chapter in our life together.
At the end of the day, I feel incredibly fortunate that we're able to buy a home at all, and I have vowed to enjoy every second of the process.