A Checklist For the First-Time Homebuyer

Niecie Draper
Published on October 4, 2016

A Checklist For the First-Time Homebuyer

Like shopping for anything expensive, shopping for a home requires research and a game plan. When you have a list of steps to take, the process will be far less perplexing and far more enjoyable.

You’ll also be more successful if you have a strategy, so let’s take a look at some of the initial steps to take to get you into that new home. Here’s your checklist! Check the steps off as you complete them.

Get Ready to Buy a Home – Check Your Finances


No, working on your finances won’t be the most exciting part of the process, but it just may end up being the most rewarding. Just as you wouldn’t go car shopping without knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend, neither should you step foot in even one home for sale without understanding where you stand financially.

If you are planning to buy a house in 12-24 months, a good place to start may be with your credit score. If you haven’t checked it in a while, order your credit reports. By law, you are entitled to one free credit report (from each of the three reporting agencies) every 12 months. The only company that is authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to supply consumers with these free reports is annualcreditreport.com.

Go through the reports and dispute any errors you find. Fixing even one error may significantly impact your credit rating.

If you would like to buy a house in 0-12 months, DO NOT DISPUTE ANY ERRORS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT.  Instead, contact your Lender, also know as your loan officer to do a PreApproval.  They will tell you exactly want you need to do to qualify for a home loan.


Then, go over your budget (if you don’t have one, create one using the template here). Tally up all of your debts and figure out how much money you have coming in every month.

Finally, determine where you can make cuts or how you can bring in more money to set aside for the Down Payment and Closing Costs for your new home. Your Down Payment requirement will depend on which loan program you use and Closing Costs, although variable, typically run between 2 and 7 percent of the loan amount, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The typical Down Payment for most of my customers in the Baltimore Washington Area is 3.5% using an FHA loan.  There are some 3% Down Payment conventional loan programs.  If you plan to do a VA Home Loan, the Down Payment in 0%.

There may be Down Payment Assistance Programs that will help you to come up with the Down Payment for your new home.

For my customers in the Baltimore Washington Area, Closing Costs typically range from 4% to 6%. I often help Buyers to negotiate Seller Help to assist with the Closing Costs. In addition, your Lender may be able to provide a Lender Credit to help with decrease the Cash-To-Close needed for Closing Costs.

When looking at how much you can afford to pay for a mortgage payment each month, many people will start with the current amount that they pay in rent and use it as a placeholder until they are PreApproved by a Lender.

Shop For a Mortgage

Working with a Lender is an extremely important step in the process.  You’ll need to get PreApproved for a Home Loan.  This puts you in a position to put in a Purchase Offer on a home that you LOVE.  At one time having a PReApproval Letter put you in a strong negotiating position with home sellers; today, it is required.  A Seller will not even consider a Purchase Offer if they are not sure where the money to pay for the home is coming from.

In order to give you the coveted PreApproval Letter, Lenders want stacks of paperwork, all proving that you can afford a home. Plan on supplying your Lender with at least the following:

  • Tax returns, including Schedule C if you are self-employed
  • Pay stubs,
  • W2s,
  • Bank statements (all pages, including the blank ones)
  • Identification, including your Social Security card and driver’s license

The self-employed and those pursuing jumbo loans may be asked for additional documentation.

See my article on DOCUMENTS NEEDED TO FINANCE YOUR NEW HOME for a clear Roadmap of the documents needed to purchase your new home.

In reference to a Lender, I can refer one of my Preferred Lenders to you to help you through the Mortgage Process.

Make a List of Must-Haves in Your New Home

Now that you know how much you can spend on a home (or at least have an idea if you are using your current rent payment as a placeholder while you work on getting PreApproved with a Lender), it’s time to make a shopping list, which can include items such as:

  • Location – proximity to work, schools, family, public transportation, shopping, nightlife, entertainment or whatever is important to you.
  • Neighborhood Must-Haves – community pool, security gate, guard, trails, clubhouse, etc. Do you want friendly neighbors or those that keep to themselves? A neighborhood with or without kids?
  • Architectural Style – if you have a particular style in mind, such as Colonial or Victorian, list that, as well as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you need.
  • Interior features – If there is anything you absolutely must have, such as an eat-in kitchen, a formal dining room or a chef’s kitchen, make note of it.
  • Exterior – Do you need a large lot or just a small yard? Is a carport sufficient or do you require a garage? Don’t forget to list pool, spa, fencing and any other exterior features you need in your new home.

Finally, organize the list, placing the three most important items at the top. These are your priorities, and you should share them with me, your Real Estate Agent.  I’ll set up a unique URL for you so that you can see the list of houses that meet your search criteria at any time.  I’ll also set up email alerts for you so that you will quickly know when a home that meets your search criteria hits the market!

You can also make a list of your “Wants” or “Nice to Haves”.  Be sure that they are designated as such!  As you look through the houses in your price range that meet your needs, you can easily identify those that also contain your “Wants” or Nice to Haves”.

Tip: To determine your priorities, think about what you find intolerable about your current living situation. For instance, if barking dogs drive you crazy, vow to find a quiet neighborhood. If you’re sick and tired of mowing the lawn when you’d rather be relaxing, seek a home with low-maintenance landscaping or vow to hire a gardener!

Find a Real Estate Agent

Since you’re now ready to look at homes, you’ll really need your Real Estate Agent’s help from here on. That’s what I’m here for!  I am here to help!!

Remember, the services of a Buyer’s Agent will not cost you anything upfront and will probably not cost you anything at all – the Seller primarily pays the real estate commissions, so there really is no reason not to have your own representation and many, many reasons you should.

While all of the steps in the above checklist are important, you don’t have to do them in the order listing.  In my opinion, securing the services of a professional Real Estate Agent to help in the purchase of a home is the most critical. Having a pro to guide you, represent your interests, negotiate on your behalf and walk you through all the piles of paperwork — possibly at no cost to you – will give you peace of mind during the process.  For instance, did you know that there are different types of Lenders? You might go to one type and get denied, while another lender says that you are good to go and provides that precious PreApproval Letter.  As your Realtor, I can help you with that!

So let’s get started! Send me an email with your requirements for your new home! When would you like to move? Where do you want to live? What area?  How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want to live in a Single Family Detached home, townhouse, row house or condo?  How much do you currently pay in rent each month? How much would you like to pay in a mortgage payment each month? Any other requirements or things that you need in your new home? Do you have a home to sell?  I look forward to working with you!

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