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Helpful Hints for First-Time Home Buyers

Buying a house can be a daunting task, even for someone who has owned several homes. My husband and I recently purchased our first home together, and it was hard to find good advice that we truly found useful. We had to learn a lot on our own, but at least now we feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the whole process. Here are some helpful hints we picked up along the way:

1. Use your online resources.

Almost every state and local government has a website where you can research real estate information. The data on home sales, taxes, and neighborhoods is invaluable when you are shopping for a home. We were able to find out the most recent sale prices in the neighborhood we selected, and we didn't have to rely on a real estate agent to get the data for us. Doing the research yourself will make you more knowledgeable about the market, which is key to making a good purchase.

2. Be realistic about how much you can spend.

Try to buy a home in a price range that allows you to put down 20%. If you put down less than this, you will have to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance) to protect the lender in case you default on the loan. I know that 20% is a lot, but it's not unrealistic. You may not be able to do it on your first home, but hopefully you can on your second home. The profits from the sale of my condo enabled my husband and me to have more than enough for the 20% down payment on our home. But we didn't put it all down on the home - we saved some of the profits for the unexpected expenses that come with buying a home. We suggest that you do the same.

3. Shop for a home in the winter, preferably around the holidays.

Since most people just aren't interested in buying a home whenthey are trying to deal with the holidays, you can pretty much be one of the few buyers out there. We bought our home right before Christmas, and it was definitely a buyers market. We had our pick of homes and were able to underbid on the asking price, even though we live in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

4. Use a smaller mortgage company that can offer personal service.

People tend to go with large, well-known mortgage companies, since that's all they know. But the smaller, regional companies provide excellent customer service, and can often give you better rates than the big companies. Since they don't advertise and instead rely on word-of-mouth, they have to be good in order to get your service. We started off with a big-name company, but in the end, we went with a regional company because they had better rates and better customer service.

5. Always have a home inspection.

I think most people know this fact already, but it is really important in areas with a hot real estate market. It can be easy to get caught up in bidding wars, and to want to get a house at all costs. Some friends of ours wanted a house so badly that not only did they overbid, but they also waived the home inspection. They got the house - and right along with it they got several thousand dollars worth of damage that would have been found in an inspection.

As a final note, try to remember that buying a home doesn't haveto be scary. It's very exciting to own your own home, so think ofall the good things that will come once you have made it through the home-buying process. If you follow the advice above, then you should be well-equipped to make it through unscathed.

Rachel Greenberg has a background in business and finance, and she received her MBA from Duke University. She writes fun and informative pieces for her website - which she created with her husband Lee. The website provides advice and recommendations for families on various products and services for their homes, lives, and businesses.

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