The Manual’s Guide to Buying a House

On the surface, buying a home is a scary proposition.

The litany of terms, numbers and documents before even submitting an offer can be overwhelming and confusing, to say the least.

To help you wade your way through the process, we spoke with a few agents plus some recent home buyers to learn some of their best tips, mistakes and what you can do to make your next purchase a bit more manageable.

1. Before you do anything, get pre-approved

“Before we even start looking, I ask my clients to get pre-approved by a lender,” says Triplemint agent Steven Kopstein. In an ultra-competitive market like New York City (where Kopstein works), it’s that much more important to know how much you can actually afford.

He also notes that in NYC, there are co-op specific mortgage lenders he’ll send clients to. Co-ops can be much more difficult throughout the mortgage process because so many different parties are involved. (Because co-ops are very much an NYC-specific issue, we won’t touch on them much here).

“It will also help you discover any credit issues you didn’t know you had,” says agent Rachel Bernhardt of Cooper Realty in Portland, Oregon. She adds that in the ever-growing freelancer space, those who are either self-employed or contract workers need at least two years of verifiable income before most mortgage lenders will consider them for approval.

buying a house with a realtor

2. Use your friends

“I was able to get things together pretty quickly because I went through an agent from a friend I trusted,” says Portland resident Kate Buska, who bought a home in January.

Referrals mean better business and rates for just about everyone involved and it will provide a piece of mind knowing you’re working with someone who has your best interests in mind. You can enlist your friends for help finding everyone you’ll need in the process: agent, lender, inspector, etc.

3. Think about what you really want

“Write down what your must-haves and absolute no’s are,” says Triplemint agent Boris Sharapan Fabrikant. This will help organize your search and help narrow down your neighborhood, size need, etc.

Things to consider include:

  • overall square footage
  • bathrooms
  • bedrooms
  • garage space
  • yard space
  • location
  • laundry and other amenities on-site or in-unit

You’ll spend less time sifting through homes that don’t meet your need and spend more time on potential winners.

4. After you’ve found the one, then comes the offer

As you’re writing up the offer, there’s plenty to consider. “You should know what the final fees and any contingencies are before you submit,” says Saopon Cha (MLS#1419551), owner of her own brokerage and a 13-year veteran of the industry. “Your rate isn’t guaranteed until you lock in the property.”

She also urges buyers to shop around for mortgages. “People don’t think it matters who they go with – that their rate will be the same – but it does,” she says. “Get a second opinion.”

getting keys to your new house

5. You got the house! Now about those closing costs.

“Closing costs” is probably the most generic/overused term in the whole house buying process, but what does it actually mean?

Closing costs refer to all of the fees, taxes, and charges associated with finalizing the purchase of a home. This ranges from a “loan origination fee” to title insurance, which protects you as the buyer during the process should something come up with the sale of the home.

“A good rule of thumb is that closing costs will total 1-2% of the purchase price,” Bernhardt says. She adds that depending on the competition in the marketplace, certain coverage of closing costs can be negotiated into the sale.

Other things, such as appraisal fees can factor in the total and can depend on how hot the market is at any given time.

Culture

The 13 Best Stephen King Books, Ranked

Go ahead, argue about #1, just don’t sledgehammer our ankles so we amend the article.
Culture

6 Ways to Cool Down Your Home Without Air Conditioning

No AC this summer? No Problem.
Food & Drink

An American Classic: How to Grill Burgers The Right Way Every Time

Think you know how to grill a burger? OK. But do you know how to grill the ultimate burger? Chef Kevin Schantz has a few tasty suggestions.
Outdoors

The Best Binoculars for Birding, Backpacking, and Beyond

No matter what you’re planning — hiking, stargazing, embarking on your first safari — a good set of binoculars can make all the difference.
Culture

How to Netflix and Chill: Mastering the Invite, Finding the Best Shows, and More

Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “I always feel that a man and a woman who do not like the same films, will eventually divorce.” Applying his principle, Netflix and chill becomes a logical means of getting to know someone.
Culture

10 Fun Facts About Fourth of July You Probably Forgot

It's been a while since history class — we get it. But did you know 4th of July actually happened on July 2?
Culture

What to Do When Your Friend Comes Out to You

Whether it's about gender or sexuality, these are the most important things to keep in mind.
Culture

10 Best Books by Ernest Hemingway, Ranked

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
Culture

16 Unique Groomsmen Gift Ideas

If you're hoping to make a lasting impression with something unique, or just have no clue where to start when it comes to groomsmen gifts, here are some great ideas.
Culture

The Best Podcasts to Listen to in 2019

Whether you’re into politics, sports, true crime, or learning, we got you covered.
Culture

How to Write a Best Man Speech: 8 Tips to Help You Prepare

Being asked to serve as best man for a wedding is one of the greatest honors, but it comes with a ton of responsibility and one daunting task that most flub: the best man speech. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as you take the time…
Culture

10 Best Crime Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

If you're like the rest of the country, you're probably obsessed with true crime right now. Here are the best documentaries to get your fix.
Culture

Spectacular Failures Tells the Story of Businesses That Went Very, Very Wrong

You don't have to have an MBA to enjoy American Public Media's new podcast, Spectacular Failures, hosted by Lauren Ober.
Culture

If You’re Just a Grown-Up Kid then You’ll Love these Prime Day Deals on Toys and Games

We've found some great discounts on cool stuff that your inner child will thank you for and your adult brain won't get too upset over -- they're on sale, after all!