Tips on how to prepare for buying a home
We’ve partnered with American Express to bring you personal finance insights, advice and more. Check out Credit Intel, Amex’s financial education center, for more personal finance content.
Any offers or benefits mentioned below are subject to change at any time, and may no longer be available.
When my husband and I began preparing to buy our home, we truly didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We had both been renting apartments in New York City for more than a decade—and while the renting process is pretty straight-forward, buying a place felt like an entirely new ball game.
Over the years we’d spoken casually about what our “dream” home would need to have (more on that later!) so when it came time to actually start looking, it was good that we were already on the same page. I would say that’s one of the most important things to keep in mind, especially if you’re buying a home with a significant other: you need to have a LOT of candid conversations about your non-negotiables.
That being said, I would also suggest keeping an open mind as much as possible. I was initially very resistant to the idea of moving outside of Manhattan—that is, until I saw how much more we could get for our money just by going one subway stop away to Brooklyn.
Throughout the entire process, from the hunt for the perfect home to creating a moving checklist it's important to enlist the help of people and organizations that you trust.
Considering moving, or moving out of state? Check out the Moving out of State Checklist: 7 Tips for Cutting Costs
Understanding the financial aspects of buying a home
When we decided we were ready to start house hunting, we spent some time educating ourselves on what the process of buying a home would actually entail. Understanding all of the additional costs associated with home-buying—things like maintenance fees, broker fees, legal costs, taxes—is crucial to determining what you can realistically afford.
For instance, while a home might be listed for one price, the actual cost will be significantly more than that, when you factor in all of the miscellaneous costs. Many of these fees vary depending on the house or apartment. Some apartments we looked at had maintenance fees that were almost as much as the monthly mortgage itself! That came as a huge surprise to me.
Figuring out your budget is a significant part of the home buying process. We worked with a financial advisor to help us determine what was doable based on our savings, income, and long-term goals.
Want to learn the basics of budgeting? Read more in How to Make a Monthly Budget
Consider a financial adviser
That’s another thing I would highly recommend: enlisting the help of a financial advisor. For starters, it’s nice to have an unbiased, outsider perspective. While my husband tends to be more conservative with spending and investments, I tend to be much more liberal—so for us, having an impartial opinion from an expert was incredibly insightful.
Beyond that, a financial advisor will also help you understand how buying a home might affect other aspects of your future plans, such as having children, saving for retirement, etc.
Once we determined our budget with the help of our financial advisor, we began researching different mortgage products. We spoke to multiple different banks to find the best rate and product to meet our needs—and what we realized is that mortgages aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Eventually, after a lot of research, we settled on a bank and a mortgage product that was right for us.
In a crazy turn of events, our dream home basically fell into our laps when we found out that a friend was selling his apartment. It checked all of the boxes we were hoping for in a new home: 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, modern and turn-key, in a doorman building with amenities, and—most important to my husband—an in-unit washer/dryer (which is something of a rarity in New York City.)
We decided to jump on the opportunity immediately, and were able to eliminate the broker fee by working directly with the seller. The process was fairly quick—it was only about 4 months from the time we put in an offer to the day we moved in.
Closing the deal
Throughout that period we learned a LOT about things we wished we’d known ahead of time. Even though we were prepared for the additional fees, we were hit with a number of costs we didn’t anticipate: taxes that were specific to our unit, the fact that we had to pay a fee just to move into the building, and a mortgage tax, among other things.
There were also several smaller costs that added up as well. For example, we found out that it was customary to have a few hundred dollars on hand at our closing to tip the title closer (the person who finalizes all of the paperwork on the day of the closing.) This might be specific to New York City, but it’s just one example of unexpected “surprises” you might encounter along the way.
Find a broker or lawyer you trust
Normally, people have a broker to help guide them through the process. But since we worked directly with the seller, we relied a lot on our lawyer to step in and assist. It’s so important to have a trustworthy, experienced lawyer or broker. Buying a home can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing, and knowing that you’re in good hands throughout the process is crucial.
I would highly suggest finding your broker or lawyer through a referral—whether it be a friend, a colleague, or a friend of a friend. Someone who’s worked with your broker or attorney in the past will have first-hand knowledge of exactly how they operate, and will be able to give you the best insight into what you should expect.
Check out the Moving out of State Checklist: 7 Tips for Cutting Costs.
Whenever people ask me for advice about how to prepare for buying home, I tell them four key things: be realistic about your budget, hire a financial advisor, anticipate additional costs and enlist the help of an agent that you can trust.
Follow that advice, and you're golden!
The day we moved into our new place was one of the most exhilarating moments of our lives. It felt completely surreal to see all of our hard work and months of preparation finally come to fruition. While the process wasn’t easy, it was—without question—the best decision we’ve ever made.
Lindsay Silberman is a magazine editor-turned-influencer who shares unfiltered, no-BS advice about travel, beauty, and style on her blog and on Instagram. She resides in New York City with her proud Instahusband Matt Stevens (whose instagram handle is, in fact, @instahusband).