Buying a home is a big decision. It’s likely the largest purchase you will make in your life. It’s important to be as prepared as possible so you can make the best decision for you and your family. Here are some considerations before you begin your search:

  1. Is home ownership right for you? Owning a home is 40% less expensive than renting in the Charleston area, according to Trulia, so it’s often a good choice. It’s not for everyone, though, and a good real estate agent will help you determine what’s right for you. If you’re planning to move in the next year or two, the transactional fees of buying a home might overwhelm the benefits. In addition, some young people who want to be downtown can only do so if they rent.
  2. Understand the process before you dive in. For example, you can engage the services of a buyer’s agent who represents you, not the seller. Also, it’s important that you understand that you will have to hire a lawyer, get home and termite inspections, and so on.
  3. Save up the down payment and closing costs. People often underestimate how much money they need up front. You need at least five percent of the home’s cost for down payment and another two percent for closing costs. You’ll get a better rate, and eliminate mortgage insurance costs, but putting down 20 percent or more on the house.
  4. Get your credit in order. The higher your score, the lower the rate and the more you can borrow. A really bad credit score can undermine the whole operation, so pay off your worst debts, pay your bills on time and stay in one job for a while.
  5. Get pre-approved for a mortgage. This will allow you to move quickly when you find the house you like.
  6. Consider your future needs. A house is a long-term investment so you have to be able to grow in it, at least a little. If you’re planning to have children in the next five years, for example, buy a house that can accommodate them.
  7. Be smart about what you can afford. Home ownership can be a great investment, but I don’t want my clients to spend over their heads and become house poor. A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be spending more than 30% of your income on all your housing costs. I would add that you need some money left over in liquid assets (money you can get to easily) as well. Don’t spend every penny you have just to make the down payment.
  8. Consider where you want to live. You’ve probably heard it before: the three most important concepts in real estate are location, location, location. With the Charleston area booming, you have to consider where your daily life takes you and how you will get there before you buy. If you work on the Charleston peninsula, buying a house in Summerville will put you in an hour’s worth of rush hour traffic every morning and every afternoon.
  9. Hire a real estate agent you trust. You need an agent to help you navigate the complex process of a home purchase and there are literally thousands to choose from in the Charleston area, with new one joining the ranks every day. It’s important to choose a certified Realtor® who knows the market, knows the process and also understands you. Run away from any agent who doesn’t ask you about your life before showing you houses.

Home buying can be an exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, joyful experience. The more you do to prepare yourself in advance, the better the experience will be.