10 Tools for First-Time Home Buyers

Lots of help is available to the first-time home buyer in the form of education, search tools, calculators, checklists, and details specific to particular homes and neighborhoods. Fortunately most of this help is available online or even via mobile apps, making the home buying task much easier than it has been in the past, and accomplishable from the nearest wi-fi access point.

Below are a number of tools and resources which help with the job of buying a home. They are grouped according to function and in the order of their use in the typical stages of the buying process. Wherever a person is in the process, whether just beginning to consider the possibilities or getting down to the serious business of making an actual purchase, these tools will help in gaining very useful information as the basis for making important decisions.

STAGE ONE: Knowing What Home You Can Afford

In order to decide what home you can afford, you must have a clear picture of your own financial situation. If you know your assets and have a budget you keep consistently, you can then look realistically at which homes are available based on their prices and financing. Use these tools to take a financial snapshot of your present finances and then see how a home might fit into your future.
  • TOOL ONE - Budget Worksheet: Know just how much you are spending in short and long-term periods of time. This is absolutely necessary for deciding what home you can afford and more importantly, for the loan qualifying process.
  • TOOL TWO - Affordability Calculator: Find out how much you can afford to pay for a home, including how much down payment you will need.
  • TOOL THREE - Mortgage Calculator: Provides instant monthly payment based on total mortgage amount, interest rate, and length of contract.

STAGE TWO: Searching for the Right Home

Browsing the internet for homes is easy and fun, and savvy buyers learn their local market inside and out. Use these tools to get a close-up look at most any home for sale, both inside and out, before investing your time and gas money in an actual tour.
  • TOOL FIVE - Non-MLS (independent sites, not realtors’ multiple listing service) search engines:

STAGE THREE: Visiting Individual Houses

So, it’s time to look at some homes you think just might work for you and yours. “Talk the talk” with realtors, and use some tech gadgets to help you remember, view, and discuss what you saw on your tour.
  • TOOL EIGHT - Questions for realtors: If you’re unsure of what to ask a realtor, there are a few common ones here that are a great place to start.
  • TOOL NINE - Record your visits: Use a digital camera (mobile phone), digital audio recorder (for quick spoken notes, and/or a digital video camera).

STAGE FOUR: Checking Out the Neighborhood

Before you make a final decision, or in order to help you select an area to focus your search, do some homework to make sure you have learned all you can about life on the street where you might live!
  • TOOL TEN - Research your potential new community: Visit the neighbors. Tell them you’re looking. They will welcome you, or you will know to look further. Sometimes they have information that can save you lots of money and/or heartache. Talk with the administrators at your local schools about the community. If you will be placing a child in school, see if you can meet the child’s future teacher. 
  • TOOL ELEVEN (Bonus!): We couldn’t resist. We’d also recommend talking to an unbiased, HUD-approved housing counselor or taking a home buyer class (on-line or from a non-profit housing agency in your area). It’s recommended that this be done as soon as you start exploring the possibility of purchasing a home, but there’s great value at any point in your journey! 
Additional resources for important information: