Picture this! You are first time home buyer and you don’t have a clue what to do first. Like most of the world, you pull out your phone and type in a search for finding a home. You get your usual long list of possible choices. Which ones are the ones that could proof to be most useful for you as a first time home buyer? What brings you the most value in the shortest amount of time? Information overload hits your hard!
You are in luck. We have done the hard work for you and looked at several online tools to find which ones are the best for you as a first time home buyer. We do more than just present the tools. We give you some advice on how you can best use the tools for your house hunt and give tidbits about the house hunting process itself.
Some of these tools will be valuable to anyone looking for a home, but we wanted to help out those individuals who have never gone through the experience. We hope this will make the process go a little more smoothly. When buying a first home, anything useful will help.
When you are done reading over this list, be sure to contact us about assisting you with finding your first home. Be sure to also check out our Frequent Questions to Consider as a First Time Home Buyer. We are sure you will learn important items there as well.
Portal Sites (aka Zillow, Redfin, Realtor.com) – It used to be that you had to go through real estate agents to know what was available on the market. Today, all you have to do is go online and select from one of many portal sites showing you what is available on the market across the globe. These portal sites, led by Zillow (who happens to have a neat first time home buyers page), have been around now for awhile and most have worked out the kinks we saw with them even four years ago. Mostly, these sites draw their information from the databases realtors use called the Multiple Listing Service. This database is owned by the various realtor associations, which the realtors are members. In order to the get word out about a property, the associations started to syndicate their data to these massive portals. When the technology was new, you would often find that the current status of a property was always incorrect on the portals because it took so long for the data to arrive from the associations. Today, we are seeing a delay of about 20 minutes on most properties. It is still a good idea to make sure the property you find on a portal is current available by calling a real estate agent because there is nothing more disheartening than to discover your dream home has been bought when it is not. Despite these shortcomings, the mega portals are making finding a home online such a pleasant experience that all you have to do is pick the one that suits you best and go to town.
How much of a House Can I Afford (and other calculators) – Bankrate.com gets our vote for the most useful page to learn all there is to know about finding, getting and having a mortgage. As a first time home buyer, you very first chore should be to figure out if you can even afford a home. Bankrate has the most realistic calculator yet still simple to use to get a good ballpark figure on what you can afford in a mortgage. It is always best to confirm these numbers with a mortgage professional but they give you a good start as first time home buyer on your housing budget. While you are at bankrate.com, be sure to check out the rest of the real estate calculators including finding a good interest rate. With a laundry list of mortgage companies automatically showing up on screen (the web app looks to see where you are living via your ip address), you don’t have to work too hard to get a good picture of where the interest rates currently stand. There is also a page of useful articles on buying a home and how the home values are looking in your location. It is a nice page to spend some quality time.
Cost of Living Comparisons – This particular tool really only applies to first time home buyers looking to purchase in another location versus staying regional with their house hunt (although I have fun with the tool just to see how much more I would have to pay somewhere else). If you are moving to another location, it is always a great idea to know how much it costs to live there. These calculators help with that chore. My favorite is the Bestplaces.net tool. For example, if someone was moving to New York City from Fort Worth, their $140,000 salary would have to be $284,000 to have the same standard of living. Housing is a whooping 274% more expensive in New York (time for people from New York to sell their tiny Manhattan apartments and buy some mansions here). To further this example along, if you were moving to New York and wanted to own a comparable house, you would have to have a really nice pay raise. Wouldn’t it be nice to know this before you moved there? I bet!
Find a real estate agent – Hmmm. You should probably just skip this section as you already have the best agent in the country writing this blog post. Next…. All kidding aside. Realtors are like a good pair of gloves. You know when you have a good fit and you don’t want to have to wear another pair. You can find the perfect realtor for you on a wide variety of sources but we really like..wait for it…Google. If you use one of the many portals, you get so many agent choices, it can be overwhelming where to even start. However, if you just use Google and do a search, like “Realtor Fort Worth loves Science Fiction.” You got a variety of different agents that love science fiction in the Fort Worth area (you might be lucky and see my name on the list). I believe you get better results doing it this way than any of the real estate agent directories online. I never suggest you rely on online searching alone. The best way to see if the realtor is the right fit is to meet them and talk with them. I bet you will know within 10 minutes whether you want to work with this realtor.
Research a Neighborhood – Most first time home buyers really love looking for homes online. In fact, they love it so much that they sometimes forget to research the surrounding neighborhood. Neighborhood Scout raises to the top of the heap for this writer. First, this site is not free. You have to pay for the reports ($10 a report, or $50 for one month for up to 25 reports). However, ten dollars is a bargain if you discover some information about neighborhood that puts it in a bad light like high crime, lousy amenities, bad real estate trends, etc. The report is made to help you better understand your potential new neighborhood. Is it not better to find this out now before paying for a house and getting a large mortgage to do it. If paying for this information does not appeal to you, try out city-data.com (see there you got a eighth tool for free!).
Research a School – Great Caesar’s Ghost! (how many fellow geeks can identify where this is from…) There is no better site on the interweb than Great Schools to evaluate schools. As most first time home buyers are from the younger generations, there is a high likelihood that they will have kids one day that will need to get educated. With this in mind, you need to be careful where you buy your first home if you plan to live in it for more than five years. Great Schools is the site to use. It gives rankings to each school within a certain distance of the address you type into its search bar. You can even easily compare schools. They even allow user reviews of the schools so you can get the good, bad and ugly of the school from the mouths of those who attended there, or had their kids go there. It also does private schools too.
How much is it going to cost me to move – Ok. I admit this is probably the last thing on your mind while you are hunting for a new house. However, you will eventually have to move to the new place and you need to know how much it is going to cost you to move there. Moving.com has it all (this site is owned by realtor.com…just a fyi) and more. It comes with tips on the move and best practices to make it as smooth as possible. You can search for moving companies, movers to do the heavy lifting, or truck rentals in case you want to tackle it on your own. It gives you a nice price range based on the distance of the move so you won’t be caught off guard when the price is quoted. Pretty slick!