Buying a House? Here’s a Checklist to Get You Started

Evelyn Long

Jun 19, 2023

Hands holding house key in front of door.

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Buying a house is exciting, especially if this is your first home purchase. However, there are things to consider and do before and after you make an offer. 

Here’s a checklist to get you started on the journey of successful home ownership. 

Decide on Your Location 

They say real estate is “location, location, location” and it does matter. The goal should be to stay in your new home long enough to build your equity and get a return on your investment if you choose to sell. Location is especially important if you intend for this purchase to be your home for the rest of your life. 

There are many factors to consider when choosing the location for your home. 

Safety

It is important that the home you purchase is as safe as possible from intruders and other people with negative intentions. You can do this by looking at local news sources and researching the latest neighborhood crime ratings. 

While unsafe situations can happen anywhere, they are statistically more likely to happen in areas with repeated crimes. 

You want to feel confident that you are safe to be in your new home, spend time in your yard or walk around your neighborhood. 

Commute 

How long it takes you to get to the office or your kids’ school is a major consideration when buying your first home. 

The farther away your needs are, the more likely it is you will get frustrated about the distance at some point. You might not mind it at first but traffic, road construction and weather can make a long commute more hazardous than it needs to be. However, if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle of businesses, living further out might be your preference. 

Consider the farthest distance you would be comfortable traveling to your everyday destinations like work and school, weekly destinations like the grocery store and occasional destinations like the hospital or an entertainment area. Evaluate predicted travel times when you would likely be going to those places. You can do it by using map software or by visiting the neighborhood. 

Once you know which neighborhoods have the best times, you can narrow down the locations you want to consider. 

Land 

Some lots come with more land than others and the outside space you want can determine whether you want a city, suburban or rural home. 

Online listings often tell you the size of the lot but it is important to drive to the neighborhoods you are interested in to determine what the true size of each lot is. Pictures can be deceiving. 

A lot of land can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you enjoy doing. If you are willing to care for a lot of land, then it can be a great commodity to raise your home’s value, enjoy time in nature and host outdoor celebrations. However, it can be hard work and it is understandable if you would rather sacrifice a large lot to allocate your energy elsewhere. 

The amount of land you have might also determine how close you are to your neighbors. Some people enjoy having others close by to provide a sense of security and community. Others value the privacy of a large lot. 

Talk to Your Lender 

Once you have a good idea of where you want to live, you might want to find an agent. Before you make that call, it is a good idea to browse for different lenders. 

Deciding on a lender early in the process can make a huge difference in how smooth your purchase goes. More sellers are looking for mortgage pre-approval letters that indicate you can pay what you offer for the home. If you are in competition with another buyer, this letter can make or break your chances of getting your dream home. 

You can request letters from multiple lenders, saying how much they entrust you to pay for your home. Most companies perform a soft credit check for the letter, which does not harm your credit score. It is always good to double check that before you have the potential lender run the check. 

Getting a letter from a lender does not mean you are committing to using them. You can choose the lender with the best offer and conditions. Once you find one you like, meet with an advisor to discuss more about a potential loan, so you know they are who you want to go with. 

Choose a Real Estate Agent 

Once you know how much a lender is willing to give you, reach out to a real estate agent. If you are planning to pay in cash, you might not need an agent but they can be extremely helpful. 

The right agent will be fast and efficient when finding homes for you to look at. They will also get to know you and your family’s needs in order to narrow down which homes on the market are best for you. Agents are immersed in the world of real estate and might think of things you wouldn’t. They also have connections with other realtors and sellers, helping you get into homes you might not be able to on your own. 

As with all professionals, some agents are better than others. Reading online reviews and talking to fellow homeowners can give you an idea of which local real estate agents are well-liked and which ones you should probably avoid. 

View Homes Online and In-Person 

The internet is a great tool for narrowing down which homes you want to look at. Many have images, virtual tours and descriptions that give you an idea of how well your household would do in it. 

If possible, go see your favorite homes in person. Pictures and virtual tours can tell you a lot but are often taken at the best angle in the best condition, hiding any major flaws. Seeing a home in-person tells you a lot more and lets you freely navigate the space. 

Make an Offer

Once you decide which home is best, it is time to make an offer. Most buyers will start below the asking price but it depends on market conditions. This moment is when it is nice to have an experienced agent or other financial professional on your side. They can often tell you what a reasonable first offer is depending on your situation. 

Negotiate 

When you begin below asking price, you will likely receive a counter offer. That means it is time to negotiate. Some people love this process and others despise it but it is part of buying a home. 

You will likely go back and forth on the price before settling on one. You can also negotiate on paying for different repairs or additional home items. 

Have an Inspection Done

Once you are under contract, the hardest part is over but you are still in the buying process. It is best to have an inspection done and some lenders require it. 

This is when a professional examines every part of your soon to be home to determine its safety and functionality. You will get a report listing any problems the home has that you might not have seen when viewing it. Once you receive the report, you can add contingencies to your contract or choose to back out of the deal. 

Get An Appraisal 

Another thing you will likely need to get for your lender is an appraisal. It is when the bank determines how much the house is really worth. If it is worth an amount significantly below your offer, they may refuse to finalize the loan. 

Depending on the results of your inspection, the seller may be willing to make some repairs before the appraisal occurs. They likely want your loan secured as much as you do. 

Close 

Once contingencies are settled and your loan is finalized, it is time to close on your property. You will need a lawyer for this but you or the seller’s realtor will likely have suggestions on who to use. 

The lawyer will gather all of the legal documents for you and the seller to sign, officially passing the property from them to you. Once signed, the house is yours!

Start Your New Life 

At closing, you will get your keys and can move in whenever you want. It is the first day of a new chapter in your life so savor every moment. You are now a home owner.

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