10 Essential Tips for First-Time Homebuyers


3 people sitting behind cardoard boxes


Moving out of your parents' house is a significant milestone in anyone's life. The sense of freedom mixed with a dash of trepidation can be overwhelming. But as you transition from a shared family space into your own apartment in Surrey, there are crucial factors to consider.

Here's what you need to know first before getting your very own apartment: this guide provides ten essential tips every first-time homebuyer must know to navigate the competitive real estate market successfully.


Budgeting Matters

Knowing how much you can afford is the cornerstone for any successful home-buying journey. Establishing a budget is about understanding the comprehensive picture of homeownership costs, from closing costs to homeowners insurance.

  • Setting Your Price Range: Begin by calculating all your current monthly expenses, excluding rent, and then subtract that from your monthly income. What remains will give you a rough idea of your price range for monthly mortgage payments.
  • Hidden Costs: These include closing costs, which are fees you pay at the end of the real estate transaction and can range from 2% to 5% of the home's purchase price. Homeowners insurance is another often-forgotten factor that needs to be budgeted for.
  • Always Have a Buffer: Prices can change rapidly, and bidding wars are not uncommon, especially in sought-after areas. It's always a good idea to have a budget buffer to allow you some wiggle room in case you find a home slightly above your initial price range but within your buffer limit.


Save for a Down Payment

A down payment is often considered one of the biggest hurdles for first-time homebuyers. While it might seem like just another box to tick off your checklist, a substantial down payment has several advantages, such as lower monthly mortgage payments and better mortgage rates from lenders.

  • How Much Should You Save?: Typically, a down payment ranges from 3.5% to 20% of the home's purchase price. The exact amount varies depending on the mortgage options available and the policies of your mortgage lender.
  • Creating a Savings Plan: The first step towards building your down payment is creating a dedicated savings plan. Open a separate savings account and contribute a fixed amount regularly. Consider using automatic transfers to make the process more streamlined.
  • Down Payment's Impact on Monthly Mortgage Payments: One point that cannot be stressed enough is how a larger down payment positively affects your monthly mortgage payments. It not only reduces the principal amount but also decreases the interest accrued over the lifetime of the loan.


Check Your Credit Score

The first step in understanding your credit score is to get a credit report. There are various online services where you can request a free annual credit report. This report will detail your financial history, outstanding debts, and overall creditworthiness.


Understanding the Numbers

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. Generally speaking, a score above 700 is considered good, while anything above 750 is excellent.

Scores between 600 and 700 are fair, and anything below that could use improvement. Knowing where you stand helps you understand what kinds of mortgage options may be available to you.


How to Improve Your Credit Score

If your score is on the lower end, don't panic. There are multiple ways to improve it:

  • Pay off any outstanding debts.
  • Keep your credit card balances low.
  • Don't open new credit accounts before applying for a mortgage.
  • Make sure to pay all your bills on time.


Research Mortgage Options

Mortgage options differ based on interest rates, term lengths, and flexibility, among other factors. Knowing the pros and cons of each will help you make an informed decision in a competitive real estate market.


Fixed-rate vs. Adjustable-rate Mortgages

  • Fixed-rate Mortgages: With a fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly mortgage payments and interest rate stay the same for the entire loan term. This predictability makes budgeting easier but often comes at the cost of a slightly higher interest rate.
  • Adjustable-rate Mortgages (ARMs): The interest rates in ARMs change over time, usually starting low and then adjusting after a set period.


Government-backed Loans

There are various government programs aimed at helping first-time homebuyers:

  • FHA Loans: Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, these loans require a smaller down payment and are more forgiving of lower credit scores.
  • VA Loans: If you're a veteran or active-duty military, you may qualify for a mortgage backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which usually requires no down payment.


Pre-Approval for a Loan

Obtaining a mortgage preapproval gives you an undeniable advantage in a competitive market where sellers are keen on closing deals swiftly.

  • Pre-Approval Process: The pre-approval process begins with a thorough evaluation by a mortgage lender. You'll need to provide various documents, including proof of income, employment verification, and a detailed look at your credit report. This is where your work on improving your credit score really pays off.
  • Pre-Approvals vs. Pre-Qualifications: Don't confuse pre-approvals with pre-qualifications. A pre-qualification is an initial evaluation of your financial standing, giving you an estimate of how much you might be approved for. While this is a useful starting point, it doesn't carry as much weight as a pre-approval, which is a more rigorous assessment.
  • How Long Does a Pre-Approval Last?: Pre-approvals typically last for 60 to 90 days, giving you a defined window to find your dream home. Keep an eye on the expiration date, and be ready to update your documents if you need an extension.


Choose the Right Location

Choosing the right location is a multi-faceted decision:

  • Safety and Neighborhood Environment: Check crime statistics, school ratings, and even spend some time in the neighborhood to get a feel for the community. Speaking to current residents can offer insights that you won't find online.
  • Resale Value: Even if you plan to stay for many years, life changes could necessitate a move. Choose a location that is likely to increase in value over time.
  • Property Taxes and Insurance: Different areas come with varying property tax obligations and homeowners insurance rates. High property taxes might not be a bad thing if the area provides ample public services, but consider how this will affect your monthly payments.


Find an Agent

Look for agents who have experience working with first-time homebuyers and understand your specific needs. A real estate agent serves as your advocate and advisor throughout the buying process. They will:

  • Help you find properties that fit your criteria and budget.
  • Arrange property visits and provide insights on each home.
  • Facilitate negotiations to help you get the best deal.
  • Assist you with paperwork and legal requirements.


Closing Costs

These costs can vary widely based on your location, the home you're buying, and the type of loan you have, but they often include:

  • Loan origination fees
  • Appraisal and inspection fees
  • Title insurance
  • Escrow fees
  • Legal fees


How Much to Budget For

As a general rule, expect your closing costs to range from 2% to 5% of the home's purchase price. While this is a substantial range, your real estate agent and mortgage lender should be able to give you a more precise estimate as you move closer to the closing date.


Payment Assistance Programs

These programs can offer down payment assistance, reduced mortgage rates, or even tax credits to make homeownership more attainable.


Federal Programs

  • FHA Loans: As mentioned earlier, these are backed by the Federal Housing Administration and require a lower down payment.
  • First-Time Homebuyer Credit: Some states offer tax credits to first-time homebuyers, which can be applied to your income taxes, providing some financial relief.


State and Local Programs

  • Down Payment Assistance: Many states and local governments offer grants or interest-free loans to help cover down payments and closing costs.
  • Homeownership Vouchers: In some cases, local agencies provide subsidies to help with monthly mortgage payments and other homeownership expenses.


Prepare for the Unexpected

When it comes to homeownership, the unexpected is bound to happen at some point. As a first-time homebuyer, you must be financially and mentally prepared for such contingencies.

  • Emergency Funds: Financial advisors often recommend saving at least three to six months' worth of living expenses. This fund acts as a cushion for unexpected repairs, increases in mortgage rates, or sudden changes in your income.
  • Homeowners Insurance: Homeowners insurance is a non-negotiable aspect of responsible homeownership. Shop around for a policy that best suits your needs.
  • Home Warranty: It's especially useful in the first few years of homeownership when you're still getting acquainted with your new home.
  • Maintenance: Create a maintenance schedule for chores like cleaning gutters, servicing your HVAC system, and inspecting the roof and foundation.



That concludes our comprehensive guide aimed at equipping first-time homebuyers with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions.

We've covered everything from understanding your credit score to the importance of homeowners insurance, all designed to empower you on your journey from renting to owning your dream home.