House Hunting Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Our favorite house hunting tips will have you home in no time.

Spring has sprung, the flowers are in bloom, and the curbs are becoming more and more appealing by the day. Must mean it’s house hunting season. So, if you’re a first-time buyer, you’re going to want all the house hunting tips available to help snag your first home while fighting off all the other first-time buyers.

Don’t worry, with the right advice in hand, buying in a competitive market can be easier than you think. Conquer your homeownership goals with the following house hunting tips for first-time home buyers, curated by yours truly.

Tip #1: The right real estate agent can make all the difference.

When you’re ready to buy a house, it’s important to have the right people on your side. Friends and family members are a good start, and the right lender can help make sure you’re ready financially. But a real estate agent? A good agent makes all the difference. 

Consider this: A lot of people think of real estate agents as glorified tour guides. They unlock doors, they show you around, they answer questions, and that’s it…right? Wrong

A solid real estate agent (preferably a Realtor®—otherwise known as a certified agent who’s part of the National Association of Realtors) is half friend, half negotiator. They’re going to have your back through the home buying process, and they’ll spend much of their time scouring listings to find homes that fit your wants and needs. In fact, they’ll be able to search through listings you can’t even find on the most popular listing sites. Most importantly, they’re the ones who read through the contracts to make sure you’re getting a fair shake. 

Tip #2: Don’t get (too) attached.

House hunting can feel like a roller coaster of emotion, and you’re probably going to fall in love with a lot of homes. Our next house hunting tip? Don’t get too attached to what you see online or in person. Sure, the listing pictures may knock your socks off, but remember that those homes are often professionally staged. 

As for in-person viewings? Remember that any home you put an offer on should be professionally inspected anyway, because you never know what that fresh coat of paint is hiding and you may not have immediate access to things like attics and crawl spaces. Looks can be deceiving either way, so don’t forget that most of the homes you’re seeing are staged to sell—not staged for the realities of life. 

Most of the homes you’re seeing are staged to sell—not staged for the realities of life.

When starting out on this journey, the best thing you can do is come to terms with the notion that the first homes you look at probably won’t be the ones you buy. Use this as an opportunity to take notes on what you like and what you dislike, and compare other homes to that list. 

Tip #3: Waving the red flags.

When you do start attending open houses and scheduling private walkthroughs, there are are several factors to consider that might be so obvious. To sum up our next house hunting tip, here’s a short list of things to keep an eye (or a nose) out for:

  • Bad smells: These can be indicative of backed-up sewage lines, hidden mold, garbage, or pests. When it comes to funky odors, trust your gut. 
  • Humidity: If you can, get a humidity reading in basements and crawls, and keep an eye out for signs of moisture. Brown or yellow spots in the ceiling and bubbled wallpaper or drywall could indicate leaks in hidden areas.
  • Craftsmanship: Look closely at corners, edges, and lines to make sure everything lines up. Look for bows, cracks, jams, and scratches, as those could be signs of poor worksmanship. And don’t forget to make sure doors and drawers close correctly. 
  • Surroundings: People love to look at the home, but they often forget about the surroundings. Is the home located on a busy street? Near a church bell? Do the neighbors have dogs? We’d hate for first-time buyers to have buyer’s remorse because they forgot about the sights and sounds around the home.
  • Perspective: Online listings have a habit of making spaces seem larger than they actually are. Rooms that once looked huge online turn out to be little more than the size of a coat closet. Perspective is everything, so don’t let that wide-angle lens fool you. 

Tip #4: Do your homework.

Your agent is going to take you to see plenty of homes, but you should also take the initiative to see some homes on your own time. If not by attending open houses by yourself (or with your partner), then at least by (safely) staking things out during off-hours. What’s the traffic look like at 2:00 PM on a weekday? What’s it like at 10:00 PM on a Saturday night?

These kinds of impromptu visits to homes or neighborhoods you like on the surface can reveal far more than a typical house tour, and could help narrow your selection or eliminate some options entirely. Ultimately, the more you see, the better off you’ll be. 

Impromptu visits to homes or neighborhoods you like on the surface can reveal far more than a typical house tour, and could help narrow your selection or eliminate some options entirely.

Tip #5: Get pre-approved.

If, by chance, you do stumble upon your dream home at any point in the house hunting process, you’re going to want to put in an offer. 

These days, offers backed by a lender’s pre-approval carry more weight than your standard pre-qualification (which is nothing more than a statement saying what you might be able to afford). A pre-approval is a bonafide, verified review of your qualifications—your income and your credit score, for example. Plus, it tells sellers that you’re serious about moving forward. 

Tip #6: Patience, patience, patience.

They say it’s a virtue, but it’s also a totally necessary house hunting tip for first-time buyers. Impulsivity leads to mistakes, and mistakes lead to regrets. The process can be unpredictable and time-consuming, but your agent and your lender should help provide a smooth, seamless process that gets you to the closing table in no time and with no regrets.

And now that you know how to house hunt, you’re ready to start the next chapter of your life!

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