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Whether you’re looking to get out of the rental market, expanding your family or downsizing, home buying can be stressful without the right checklist.

The house-hunting step of this journey can be the most exciting, but don’t get carried away because there’s more to buying a house than is seen on your favorite HGTV show. To keep organized and sane, use this handy home-buying checklist, including resources and tools from First American Bank to guide you through the house-hunting process and into the property you will make home.

First, determine your budget

Before heading to your favorite real estate website, prepare yourself and estimate your budget. This amount can be estimated by comparing the amount of money you (and others in your household) earn after taxes to your average monthly expenses and debt. Use our free Home Budget Analysis Calculator to get an estimate of this calculation.

Then, get pre-approved for a mortgage

If you haven’t already, you need to get prequalified for a home loan. Without this, potential sellers will may not even look at your offer. Once you have a mortgage prequalification, make sure it is writing so you can give a copy to your real estate agent.

According to Realtor.com, starting the house-hunting process before getting pre-approved will indicate to sellers that you may not be a serious buyer. Pre-approval can eliminate risk when it comes to making an offer and will speed up the closing time frame. If you are serious about buying a home, then let us help you check this off your list.

As a mortgage lender, First American Bank will tell you how much we are able to lend you based on your credit score, your income, your debts and other factors. Explore our Mortgages page to access details about the pre-approval process and the list of information and financial documents you will need.

Once you know the maximum amount you can spend on a monthly mortgage payment, you can get to the fun part: exploring options within your budget and figuring out what it is you really want and need in your new home.

Next, decide your ideal monthly mortgage payment

Using both your budget and your estimated loan payment, you can now hunt for houses by calculating and comparing monthly mortgage payments. Use our Mortgage Calculator to compare monthly payments on your desired properties. Feel free to use our other mortgage resources throughout your house-hunting journey to help you stay on the right track.

Think about what you need in a home

Remember that wants versus needs are going to be consistently weighed during this process. Think about how long you will be living in this residence. Are you looking for a starter home, a home to pass on to children, a smaller home in preparation for retirement or a second home? The answer to these questions could have a big effect on your budget, the type of home you consider and the type and length of your mortgage loan term.

Research local neighborhood home values

You’ve heard it before from countless guides, but for most buyers, location is everything. When it comes to the price of a property, this also rings true. The features of your property are certainly important, although most can be changed, while the location will always stay the same.

Take into consideration your children and their ages, jobs you and your spouse have, nearby family and amenities. Research the nearest grocery stores, shopping centers and restaurants — anything that fits the lifestyle you would like to maintain or strive for.

School districts have a major effect on property values. Even if you don’t have school-age children or children at all, there are benefits to living in a reputable school district. According to real estate gurus, good school districts preserve home values, therefore you can expect quicker resale rates.

Once you have narrowed your house-hunting down to a neighborhood or several, you are ready to consider the features of the home, which is where the excitement begins.

Think about your home style and construction preferences

Everyone has preferences when it comes to the style and construction of a house. It’s important to keep an open mind and explore all options, because each style has its own costs and benefits. Modern homes with clean lines, simple proportions and an open floorplan will generally come at a higher cost than a traditional home that could use some upgrades and TLC.

Then, decide how many bedrooms you need. If you are a growing family, consider more space than what you’ll use immediately or open your mind to a property with room for expansion. Think about how much outdoor space you’ll need, too. If you have pets, a yard may be a high priority.

Make sure you weigh the costs of a newly renovated home versus a home that needs repairs. New windows, floors and a roof will come at a higher cost than changing the color of the kitchen cabinets or putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls. For some, making a property their own and budgeting for future renovations works better than purchasing newer construction. And, if you have a lower monthly mortgage payment, then budgeting for those renovations may improve your financial health in the long run.

Discuss your wants and needs with a licensed real estate agent

Once you start working with a licensed real estate agent, discuss your wants, needs and concerns. If you have followed this home-buying checklist, then your budget, neighborhood, amenities and desired style or structure should already be clear so that your real estate agent knows what you need.

Real estate listings are online, on social media and on mobile apps, so you can do the initial search yourself. But know that your agent gets listings before they hit the popular home buying sites, and that some key information about homes may only be available to agents.

Tour homes with these questions in mind

A good real estate agent will guide you through the process, but consider the history of the property when formulating your questions. Ask as many questions as you need to gather as much information as possible. Consider when the property was built, the materials used, any renovations made and whether licensed professionals made them. Answers to these types of questions could lead to costs you will need to factor into your budget, including immediate fixes and those in the future. Knowing these answers will help you determine what you can afford. Below is a partial list of questions you might consider as you begin your house-hunting experience.

  • Is this in your ideal neighborhood?
  • What are the nearby schools?
  • How close is the property from family or friends?
  • How close is the property to work?
  • Is the style of the property something you like?
  • Are there enough bedrooms?
  • Are there enough bathrooms?
  • Is the property pet-friendly?
  • Does the property have the outdoor space that suits your lifestyle?
  • Does the property have the privacy you need?
  • What work needs to be done? New roof, new windows?
  • Does the property have the heating and cooling that you want (e.g., central air)?
  • Are the plumbing and electrical systems up-to-date?
  • How energy-efficient is the property?
  • Does the property have adequate parking or garage space?
  • What is the repair history of the property?
  • Does the house have the curb appeal you are looking for?

House hunting is both exciting and stressful, but First American Bank is here to help you every step of the way.