Preparing to Scout Houses for Sale: 4 First Steps

How to find and buy your first home is one subject that high schools decline to teach. An online canvass of theories why this is so yields two main lines of thought. 

The first is that it is one result of a conspiracy to keep young people from making smart financial decisions. Not clear is who the masterminds behind this might be, nor how they would stand to benefit.  

The second theory is more commonly cited by high school teachers. They say that instruction on the ins and outs of buying a house is ineffective “due to age-appropriate interests.” Buying a house is “too far off” to engage high schoolers. One teacher’s dismissal is typical: “Not useful for my students as teens”—an argument that’s hard to dispute.

A few weeks ago, the ramseysolutions.com website ran what might be considered an adult-school-level attempt to remediate the gap. It boiled down to four basic steps that neophyte house hunters should take “before they hit the pavement”:

Know what you can afford. Taking this step seriously before even starting to check out the current crop of houses for sale helps to derail a preventable mishap: “falling in love with a house that will pulverize you” with the monthly payments.

Save for the down payment. Since these steps are presented on Dave Ramsey’s website (he’s famous for hating debt above all else), he cautions that at least 10%-20% should be marshaled to avoid the imposition of mandatory private mortgage insurance—an avoidable extra expense. That’s good advice for those who can afford it. But if sticking to that strategy could well mean delaying homeownership for a lengthy period (or forever), it’s worth considering the ultimate financial advantage that owning your residence is bound to bring.

Get preapproved for your home loan. The preapproval process not only shows borrowers which factors lenders look at—it also gives sellers a reason to choose one offer over others.

Find a real estate agent.

Ramsey’s four steps are definitely valid, but there can be some disagreement about the order in which they’re listed. I would recommend switching #4 closer to the top. After all, having an experienced real estate professional as your sounding board early on can help with all the others!

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