• If a property has three flaws with no feasible solution, don’t buy it.
  • It never hurts to let the sellers know how much you love their home.
  • Always ask for more than you expect, and when the seller counters your offer with what you really expect, accept and walk away the winner. It’s not about who has the last say.

First-time homebuyers can easily be caught off guard by unexpected surprises. Here are 21 tips that will quickly get homebuyers up to speed and ready for a successful house hunt.

1. Money

Getting preapproved for a home loan can take some time for even the most organized person. Meet with a lender early, and gather the documents you will need so that the process is smooth when you are ready to buy.

2. Insurance

You will need to line up homeowners insurance. It doesn’t hurt to start shopping early if you know the general type of property you will be purchasing. Carriers specialize in different types of properties, so make sure to compare rates.

3. The hunt

House hunting is the fun part, but it can quickly become overwhelming, especially in a hot market where properties sell quickly. Most buyers start hunting online, and then they reach out to an agent when they are ready to start touring homes.

4. Search sites

Each site has different strengths, and you will likely find a few favorites. Zillow maps out property lines, and realtor.com has a nice app that shows you houses for sale nearby. Relola.com shares the insights of agents who have already been inside the houses and has a Q&A section.

5. Open houses

Open houses are a great way to learn about the market. If you are going to make an offer, be sure you visit the property at another time when you can have some alone time with it. Open houses can be noisy and active, which can divert your attention from things like road noise or carpet stains.

6. Find a great agent

You can find agents online, on Yelp, on search sites and by referral. Agents should stand out based on their knowledge and expertise, not just because they pay for a lot of advertising space. Having a great agent will ensure the success of your transaction and give you peace of mind. Make sure you interview a few, and pick the best fit.

Don’t just select the first friendly face you meet at an open house. If you feel you made the wrong choice at some point, it’s OK to thank them politely for their time and let them know you have decided to work with someone else.

7. Check out the neighborhood

You’re not just buying a house; you’re also committing to the neighbors, the block and general surroundings. Don’t buy the nicest house on the block. It won’t appreciate as well as the dump down the street.

8. Be open-minded

Homebuying always involves compromise. If you have your heart set on a craftsman, don’t avoid visiting mid-century homes. You never know how all the pieces will fall together, so be open to unexpected good surprises.

9. Don’t be intimidated

It’s easy to feel outsmarted when you embark on the journey toward homeownership. There is no shame in not knowing how it all works. Ask everyone questions! The pros have been down this path numerous times and are more than happy to share their expertise.

10. Three wrongs don’t make a right

Three wrongs don’t make a right — it’s a basic rule. If a property has three flaws with no feasible solution, don’t buy it. For example, a house with freeway noise, a steeply sloped lot and no off-street parking should be avoided.

11. Staging

Plain and simple — staging works. Staged homes sell faster and for more money. Don’t let this prevent you from buying one, but know that the unstaged house might be a hidden bargain.

Look beyond the pretty furniture and pay attention to the floor plan, moldings and the other aspects that will remain when the staging is removed.

12. Buyer burn-out

House hunting can become overwhelming, especially in a hot market. You might find yourself writing offer after offer without success. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the market, rather than settling for the wrong house or paying too much, give yourself a break and restart the hunt when you feel ready.

13. Writing an offer

When you are ready to write an offer, review comparable sales and determine what you feel is fair regarding price and terms. Your agent will be a great guide in helping to determine a winning strategy.

14. Fixtures

Fixtures are anything attached permanently to the property including lights, faucets and built-in microwaves. Appliances that are simply plugged in, free-standing hot tubs and that pretty potted lemon tree by the door are not fixtures and not necessarily included in the sale.

If you want them, make sure you write it into the contract. It might look like that washing machine isn’t going anywhere, but it’s not a fixture — it can grow legs.

15. Love letter

It never hurts to let the sellers know how much you love their home. Writing a letter of appreciation for the improvements they have made and the care given to the property as well as your vision for how you will live in it can inspire them to pick you if there are multiple offers.

16. Negotiations

It might be hard to stomach, but if you strategically negotiate to let the other side win, you will walk away the true winner. Always ask for more than you expect, and when the seller counters your offer with what you really expect, accept and walk away the winner. It’s not about who has the last say.

17. Inspections

Invest in home inspections so that you know what you are getting into. If undisclosed adverse conditions are discovered, it’s appropriate to ask the seller to lower the price accordingly.

I don’t recommend asking the seller to perform the repairs. They have no incentive to do more than the basics because they won’t be living with the results.

18. Closing costs

It’s not just the down payment you need to save up for, but also all the added closing costs. Transfer tax, escrow fees and prepaid interest have caught many first-time homebuyers off guard. Ask your agent or lender for a complete list of the costs for your area.

19. Closing

Many buyers expect they will sign the closing paperwork on the same day they will get the keys for their new home. Although this true in a few states, in general, you will sign paperwork as much as a week before the actual closing date.

20. Moving

Make a list of everything you need to do in advance. Here are a few good ones: Start packing — it takes eons. Book your mover ASAP.

Shut down your utilities in your old home and start them up in your new one. Change your address for all your bills, and don’t forget the DMV.

Put in a change of address with USPS. One final word of wisdom — move your clothes on their hangers. You’ll thank me later.

21. Donate

Bonus tip: If you have extra food you don’t want to move, you can donate it to the food bank. Move for Hunger is a non-profit that will pick up your food and deliver it to local food banks.

Heather Sittig Jackson is the CEO & co-founder of Relola. You can follow her on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Email Heather Sittig Jackson.

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