If you haven’t gotten on the first rung of the property ladder yet, the holidays are a perfect time to make a game plan for buying in the New Year. After all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, parties and family time starts to wind down, sit down with your laptop and a cup of hot chocolate and start strategizing to get the process started.
STEP 1: BUDGET AND FINANCE CHECKUP. Take a close look at your monthly income and spending, and evaluate what your true comfort level is with a monthly housing payment. Remember, your first home should be as much of an investment as a place to live, so try to reach for the property with the best chance of appreciation in the coming years. Be realistic about your spending, but also try to reign in unnecessary expenses by cutting out some restaurant visits, weekday drinking and subscriptions to services like Hulu or Prime, if you’re not using them much or can share with a housemate. And speaking of housemates, factor a possible housemate into your housing budget—you’ll actually save money by buying a two-bedroom condo that allows you to charge a roommate rent. Also, remember that when you buy, you’ll enjoy some tax deductions that will cut the bite of the mortgage down a bit, so make sure you discuss these possibilities with an accountant to understand all the benefits available to you. Finally, if you have any credit issues, get those resolved. Pay off any outstanding obligations if you can, and get an account with a credit repair service like LexingtonLaw.com to remove blemishes on your report, even if they weren’t there by mistake.
STEP 2: TALK TO A LOCAL LENDER. Most buyers think that if they work with the bank that has their checking account, they’ll get a better deal. That’s usually not true; in fact, the “big box” lenders often dangle a low rate to you but then cause so many problems during the process that you may not even be able to close on your property on time, which could cost you thousands. Instead, talk to a local lender like some of our favorites: Brooke Lowry at Atlantic Coast Mortgage (NMLS ID #1061722, cell: 202-803-6733) or Tina Del Casale at Sandy Spring Bank (NMLS # 191852, cell: 301-523-1893). They are able to get the best rates, but also to close your deal on time, with as little hassle as possible. And since they’re local, they know all the programs available to you so you can budget accordingly and not leave a penny on the table. There are some amazing programs in D.C. for first-time homebuyers, especially those with “lower” incomes, so it pays to talk with them even if you think you should wait on a big raise before starting the process—sometimes that big raise might actually cost you $20,000 or more in savings. For example, the D.C. Tax Abatement Program for single buyers who earn $65,000 or less, and who buy a property less than $464,000, benefit with a net 2.2% benefit at settlement, and then don’t pay property taxes at all for five years. That’s about $25,000 in savings!
STEP 3: GET A STRATEGIC PARTNER WITH AN EXPERIENCED AGENT. Choosing a Realtor is one of the most important parts of the buying process, yet so many buyers don’t think carefully about the agent with whom they align before it happens. Just as you wouldn’t marry the first person you dated, you shouldn’t commit to an agent before you know they have the skill, experience and support structure to provide you with the best service and results.
A great agent should be accessible night and day, knowledgeable of local neighborhoods, changes occurring in legislation and the market, and creative enough to find solutions for you that you and lesser agents could not come up with.
Agents who work solo are fine, but agents on a team are usually steeped in education and have more accountability, so they are usually a better choice. Teams also give agents an inside look at more properties before they hit the market, so you may have a better chance of getting a deal before it’s listed when you work with an agent on a strong team.
A buyer seminar is a great way to learn about the market and get insight on a potential agent partner with no commitment. You’d be surprised how few agents actually do hold them, so you know you’re working with a strong team when seminars are offered often. In a buyer seminar, you’ll learn with other newer buyers in a classroom setting, often with refreshments provided too. We hold our seminars monthly and even offer Champagne, and we’re proud to have our lenders there as well, so our guests can learn about the process on both the lending and the agency side of things.
Once you’re ready to commit to working with an agent, you should set a game plan with him or her so you understand the timeline and know what to expect. Most of our clients find their home within the first three outings, but it can take longer, especially if there is competition on the ones they like. We’re happy to show as many homes as our clients want to see, and to advise on every aspect of the contract so they have the highest likelihood of winning, and it shows in our results—we win in multiple offer situations more than 50% of the time, often beating out five or six other offers. And just like most buyers’ agents, our team offers all these services without charging commission; the seller pays the entire commission for both sides.
With this three-step process, you should be well on your way to accomplishing the goal of home ownership in 2019. And since it’s such a good investment to do so, your future self will thank you for accepting the challenge.
David Bediz is a 14-year veteran Realtor and has served on the boards of directors of both local Realtor associations. He has a top-producing team of agents called Bediz Group, LLC at KW Capital Properties. Reach him at 202-642-1616, bediz.com or through the main office number at 202-243-7700.