Lifestyle Tips

Our Home Ownership Journey + 3 Tips for First Time Home Buyers

June 20, 2018

This post was sponsored, and paid for, by SunTrust.  All opinions are my own.

Being a first time home buyer can be both terrifying and exciting. Wondering if you are ready to buy your first home? I'm sharing our story of home ownership plus 3 tips for taking the big leap into home ownership.

3 tips for first-time home buyers
Hey friends! Did you know the house that I blog about here is actually our 4th home? It's the 4th home we've bought, and the 4th home we renovated. You just never hear about the others because they were pre-blog.

We were fairly young when we bought our first house. It was less than a year after we got married. We were only 24. I was fresh out of law school and Joe was just settling into his first career (that's right, he wasn't always a firefighter). Even though we both had good jobs that paid well, we also had lots of student debt and we both had car payments. We were TERRIFIED to take on a mortgage. And by terrified, I mean it literally made us feel a bit nauseas.

But at the time, we were living in Tampa and the rental market in the neighborhood we wanted to live in so that would both be close to work was very much a landlord's dream. Demand was super high, and so were the rental rates. We never dreamed that our first apartment as a married couple would cost $1,100, but it did. And y'all, that was a lot “back in those days.” It was certainly a lot for us as a young couple who wouldn't even splurge on orange juice at the grocery store.

Well, after renting for about 8 months, it really hit us that paying rent was basically the equivalent of giving money away. We weren't building any equity despite paying a small fortune in rent every month. So, we decided to buy our first home. We spent a lot of time researching and assessing our financial situation and deciding what we were comfortable with borrowing. That brings me to my first tip for anyone thinking of taking the big leap into first time home ownership.

Tip number 1: Determine what you are personally comfortable paying on a monthly basis before you ask a lender what you qualify for.

What you qualify to borrow may be very different from what you are actually going to be comfortable paying on a monthly basis. I highly recommend that you take a good look at your finances and decide what you want your target monthly payment to be before you even go into a lender. Why? Well, if you are financially conservative like we are you will qualify for far more than you are actually wanting to spend. And by deciding what you want to spend ahead of time, you will be far less likely to set your house budget based on what a lender is willing to give you.

For example, we set our max budget a full $100,000 less than what we ultimately qualified for. We didn't want to be house poor. We wanted to be able to go out to dinner without stressing out about it. Only you know what you are going to feel comfortable spending. Once we decided on our target budget, we needed to find out if a lender would actually loan us money.

Tip number 2: Work with an experienced loan officer.

It’s really, really important to work with an experienced loan officer. They will work with you to review your financial situation and goals, help you evaluate loan options that suit your budget and determine what you might qualify for in terms of a mortgage. And a good loan officer will answer all of your questions and really hold your hand through the entire process. Once you know what you qualify for, you can start your house hunt in earnest.

With our pre-qualification out of the way, we started house hunting. We wanted to stay in the same area of Tampa because we loved not having much of a commute. Well, the housing market was much like the rental market. Very much in demand and the prices reflected that. I might have cried a few times when we saw the house prices relative to the house size and quality. Let's just say the Tampa market was very, very different than any market I had ever seen in North Carolina where I had grown up.

But we finally found a teeny, tiny bungalow that was in our price range and that had a lot of potential. Our real estate agent knew a lot about the particular neighborhood we were targeting and felt it was a great deal and that if we could get into the neighborhood by purchasing the house, we would be very lucky. So, we put in an offer and held our breaths.With the help of our real estate agent, our offer on the tiny little bungalow was accepted. That brings me to tip number 3.

Tip number 3: Find a quality real estate agent who is very familiar with the particular area you are looking in.

Once you’ve completed the pre-work, it’s time to start the search. It can be very tempting to use a real estate agent that you already know or that is a relative of yours. And if they are really knowledgable about the particular neighborhoods that you are interested in, they may be a perfect choice. But you may be surprised how real estate agents can really “specialize” in certain neighborhoods and finding one that focuses on the exact area you are searching in can make a world of difference. They will be able to help you spot a really good deal and will be hugely helpful in assessing what the comps are so that you can negotiate the best price possible.

As it turned out, our monthly mortgage payment was less than what we had been paying in rent. And it was a great investment that generated a significant profit for us when we sold it to move back to North Carolina few years later.

We did a lot of cosmetic work to our first home, and that's what turned us into the DIY addicts that we are today. For us, home ownership has turned out to be one of the most rewarding aspects of our lives. We have completed minor to major renovations in every single one of our homes and we quickly realized that renovating homes is something that we just love to do. It gives us tremendous pleasure to transform spaces and realize the potential in homes that other people pass over in favor of something that is “move in ready.” We love the challenge of it all.

When we moved into our current house, it was soooooo outdated. It hadn't been touched since it was built in the 1980s. It was, by far, the biggest renovation challenge we had ever taken on–every single room needed attention and we were/are on a budget. But that also made it the most exciting. We knew we could transform it from a boring, beige box into something that we love.

We still have LOTS to do in our house, but you can check out all the progress we have made so far by taking our home tour here. You can see a sneak peek of the transformations so far below.

This is a look at what the rooms in our home looked like before we moved in.

Being a first time home buyer can be both terrifying and exciting. Wondering if you are ready to buy your first home? I'm sharing our story of home ownership plus 3 tips for taking the big leap into home ownership.

And here's a look at some of the rooms after we got our DIY paws on them :)

Being a first time home buyer can be both terrifying and exciting. Wondering if you are ready to buy your first home? I'm sharing our story of home ownership plus 3 tips for taking the big leap into home ownership.

Bottom line, we are so happy that we dove into home ownership. We've never looked back. But that doesn't mean it wasn't scary. If you are considering buying a home, don't panic. Ease your way into it by reading about how the lending and pre-approval process works, what to expect in terms of closing costs, maintenance costs, etc. What we found is the more we read about what to expect, the less terrifying the whole thing felt. There are loads of awesome resources and articles for you here. Then just follow my 3 tips above and you will be well on your way to owning your first home!

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This post was sponsored, and paid for, by SunTrust. All opinions are my own.

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