Home Buyer Checklist

Smiling couple standing in the vacant kitchen of their first home

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Searching for a home-buying checklist online can be annoying. Many of those websites are not written by veteran agents with decades of experience. They are often just a compilation of ideas put together by a writer or journalist. Not the real world and not always practical. Below is a home-buying checklist put together by a full-time real estate professional.

Find a Real Estate Agent

First and foremost, a good real estate agent can answer all of your questions and point you in the right direction. Even if you are not ready to buy for a while, an agent's advice will be invaluable. Avoid early disappointment. You cannot begin the process of determining a sales price until you get prequalified, nor can you look at homes until you know how much home you can buy. An agent can assist you with these tasks. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Most buyers work with the first agent they run into or a close family friend. You can find an experienced professional who will listen to you, conduct themselves ethically, and knows your market well through referrals, open houses, and other recommendations.
  • Study the rules for working with a real estate agent to make sure the entire process moves smoothly for you.

​Talk to a Mortgage Lender

Lenders come in all types. Some make only certain types of loans. Others have a broader ability to match a loan to specific needs. Don't automatically assume that the place where you maintain a checking account is the best place to get a loan. Ask your real estate agent for a referral. Agents know which lenders perform and which do not. This checklist will help you find the best loan:

  • Get a free credit report from the only reputable place online to obtain such a report. Don't bother paying to get a FICO score because your lender will use a different service.
  • Just because you like a lender's website is no reason to get a loan from that lender, there are various places you can go to get a mortgage loan, and you're likely to find a better deal if you shop around.
  • There are many types of mortgage loans, make sure you choose the mortgage best for you. Ask your agent how easy it is to get some of these financing contingencies accepted by a seller.

Get Your Finances in Order

Once you have determined your down payment amount, set the funds aside, and do not alter your financial situation. Lenders will track all monies coming into your checking and savings accounts, and large unexplained sums of monies from unusual sources could cause difficulties. Make sure you:

  • Get a preapproval letter. There is a difference between being preapproved and prequalified, and pre-approval is better.
  • Do not make any large purchases on credit or by diluting your cash reserves. Learn what can go wrong in underwriting that could cause your loan to be rejected.
  • Make sure you know what kind of preapproval letter you need. Presenting the wrong type of preapproval letter could affect your chances of offer acceptance.

Find the Perfect Home

The best thing about home shopping after following this home buying checklist is the fact you have covered all of your bases upfront. You know you are prequalified to buy a home. You know you have the funds available to purchase. And you know you have hired the right real estate agent to help you successfully navigate the journey of homeownership. These steps will help you reach your goals:

  • Once you have selected a neighborhood, you need to find a home to buy that meets your price range and fulfills your desires.
  • Even though your agent is sending you listings every day, some buyers cannot resist the do-it-yourself approach and want to find the best places to find homes for sale online. 
  • Rarely will a foreclosure be your best option, but that doesn't stop buyers from wanting to find foreclosures and government-seized homes.

Make a Purchase Offer

Nothing is worse than writing offer after offer and none getting accepted. It can dampen your spirits and make you start to wrongly believe that you do not deserve to buy a home. Start by listening to your agent's advice. Don't be that buyer who thinks they know best, or you may become that buyer who needs to learn the lessons of rejection. Follow these tips to catch the eye of the seller:

  • When you find the perfect home, you need to make a purchase offer immediately. Many buyers are looking at the same homes that have similar desires and tastes.
  • If you encounter a multiple-offer situation, make your offer shine above all the rest by seeking out expert advice from your real estate agent. Some lucky buyer will win, and that buyer could very well be you.
  • Study the market comparables and your present type of real estate market, which changes all the time. Then learn how to make an offer to buy a home that will blow the seller away.

​Close on Your New Home

Once your offer is accepted, you will enter the process of closing on your new home. Part of the home closing process involves due diligence on the part of the buyer. Talk with your agent about types of inspections you might want to order and the timeframe for your contingencies. These steps will help you close:

  • The first order of business is to obtain a home inspection for your edification. Use a home inspection checklist to make sure you examine the essentials.
  • Set aside funds for your home buyer's closing costs. It is money in addition to the balance of your down payment.
  • You may pay upfront for an appraisal from your lender. Ask your lender and realtor about the closing process before you buy so you can prepare for potential closing costs.​

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.