4 dos and don’ts of buying your first home

Thinking of buying your own place? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. After all, it’s the biggest purchase you can make. In an effort to remove some stress from the equation, here are a few tips from the experts.

What to do when you’re a first-time home-buyer:

1. Get pre-approved.

Some real estate agents won’t even work with you until you’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage. This is an important first step in the home-buying process. You don’t want to start house-hunting and fall for a home you can’t afford.

Plus, there may be problems with your credit that you don’t know about.

“Sometimes people are just unaware that they may have like a Sears card that they forgot to cancel and it’s caused a problem on your credit rating,” said B.C. realtor Sarah Daniels.

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“I know people making half a million dollars a year but they’ve made some mistakes in their financial past. And it costs them when it comes to getting a mortgage.”

WATCH: Mortgage professional Angela Calla explains the steps first-time home-buyers must take to be pre-approved for a mortgage

Click to play video: 'Open House: Mortgage Pre-approval'
Open House: Mortgage Pre-approval

READ MORE: What affects your credit rating and how can you improve it?

Your credit is one of three factors that will be considered before you get approved for a mortgage. The other two are income and your down payment.

A down payment of 20 per cent is a “rarity” with first-time buyers, according to Edmonton mortgage broker Natalie Wellings. But that’s how much you have to have down if you want to avoid paying CMHC’s mortgage default insurance. It’s calculated based on the size of your mortgage and how much money you have down.

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READ MORE: Ways to save for the down payment

Of course the bigger the down payment, the smaller your loan (and overall interest charges) will be. One way to help boost your down payment is to borrow money from your RRSP. First-time buyers can pull out $25,000 tax-free and have 15 years to pay it back. If you’re buying with your partner, you can contribute $50,000 together.

2. Find a real estate agent.

While having a real estate agent is not necessary when buying a home, it is recommended — especially if it’s your first time going through the process. Having someone who is knowledgeable about the market leading you through the process could take a big weight off your shoulders.

“And a good agent will more than likely have a network of individuals such as…inspectors, credit counselors, insurance agents etc. who will be a part of your team.”

3. Stay mindful of your budget.

“One of the biggest things you have to consider in this decision is your lifestyle,” said Trisha Fineza Forbes with RBC. “And what that requires from a cost perspective.”

“You may be able to afford [your own home],” Daniels added, “but you’re also going to have to realize that you might be giving up going out for drinks after work or out for dinner with friends because you’re going to be paying a mortgage now.”
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The B.C. realtor suggests asking yourself: if you lost your job and weren’t working for three months, would you be able to afford your home? Or are you stretching yourself too thin?

READ MORE: How long would you survive without a paycheque?

You should also keep that in mind during your search. Just because a bank approves you for a certain amount, doesn’t mean you have to spend it all.

“The worse thing to do, is go into home-ownership ‘house poor,'” said Sherrod.

READ MORE: Affordability Calculator – How much house can you handle?

4. Be open.

We’ve all seen the real estate shows with the gorgeous multi-million dollar properties. Your first home will most likely look nothing like that.

“You may walk in and it may have horrible wallpaper and the kitchen needs updating. But the fundamentals are there and you can add to it down the road…So just have an open mind,” Daniels urged.

Wallpaper can be removed, walls painted and cupboards changed. The things you should be more concerned about is the size and layout, along with the condition of the roof, plumbing and hot water tank.

What not to do when you’re a first-time home-buyer:

1. Don’t think you’ll be in that home forever.

“The reality is, on average, people only live in their first two homes for seven to ten years,” said Sherrod.

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So remember that not everything has to be 100 per cent as you’d always imagined. They call it a “starter home” for a reason.

2. Don’t be too emotional.

Experts say this can be quite common with first-time buyers. Check the emotions at the door and think with your head.

Always keep in mind the re-sale value of the home you want to purchase, and remember that in real estate it’s all about location, location, location.

Daniels also recommended purchasing something you can see yourself in for five years.

“If you’re just going to buy something as a stopgap, then why are you buying it at all?”

3. Don’t make big purchases before getting approved for a mortgage.

That may seem fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised.

“I’ve seen it happen time and time again where buyers run out and finance a car or spend a large amount of their savings and then the bank will adjust their loan terms unfavorably or flat out deny them a mortgage,” said Sherrod.

READ MORE: New mortgage rules are about to hit first-time buyers in hot housing markets

“Remember, an approval is contingent upon your current income, credit and savings remaining the same. Do yourself a favor and halt on the spending until after you close on your house.”

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4. Don’t forget about closing costs.

Closing costs can add up. The CMHC recommends putting aside anywhere from 1.5 to four per cent of the purchase price to cover them.

Oh, and don’t forget to also save for a rainy day. You never know when that hot water tank could break down.

READ MORE: Should you rent or buy? This real estate calculator will help you decide

On the bright side, first-time home-buyers can qualify for a tax credit of up to $750. It may not be much, but hey, every dollar counts when you’re a new homeowner.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 4, 2015.

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