Buying a house for the first time is a major life moment, both emotionally and financially. For many people, it’s the biggest investment they will ever make. With the median price of a house hitting $436,800 in 2023 (ka-ching), it’s not a purchase to be made lightly.
If you’re buying your first home, you may expect it to be the same as those quick, fun-and-done experiences portrayed on reality TV shows. In truth, however, it’s a process with a steep learning curve and many moving parts, from figuring out your home-shopping budget to satisfying your final mortgage contingencies. There can be minor hiccups and major missteps along the way.
There are so many things to know as a first-time homebuyer, it’s better to educate yourself in advance rather than learn as you go. To that end, this guide will cover the 10 most common first-time homebuyer mistakes to avoid, including:
• Not knowing how much house you can afford
• Failing to include other factors, like insurance and repairs, in your budget
• Waiving an inspection because you’ve found your dream house
10 Home-Buying Mistakes to Avoid
Home-buying mistakes are easy to make, especially when buying a house for the first time. Review these 10 common first-time homebuyer mistakes before searching for your dream home — so you can ensure you’ll avoid them.
1. Forgetting to Check Your Credit
When’s the last time you checked your credit? It’s absolutely crucial to know your credit score when buying a house.
Why? You may not qualify for a mortgage if your credit score is too low. For most types of mortgage loans, you’ll need a 620, though lenders also consider other factors, like your down payment and your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. You’ll get better rates if you wait to apply for a mortgage until your score is 740 or above.
The lesson? Don’t let a low credit score rule out buying your first home, but if it’s on the lower side, maybe consider taking some time to build your credit score before shopping for a house.
Recommended: Tips for Buying a House with Bad Credit
2. Not Being Realistic About What You Can Afford
Before you start looking at listings online or working with a real estate agent — and certainly before you try to get preapproved for a mortgage — calculate how much house you can afford.
Once you know the number, avoid looking at houses above your limit.
So how do you calculate how much house you can afford? There are a few easy methods:
• DTI: Think about your debt-to-income ratio (your debts divided by your gross income). When adding a monthly mortgage payment into your current DTI calculation, the percentage shouldn’t pass 43%. That’s typically the highest ratio mortgage lenders will accept.
• 28/36 rule: With this method, your max mortgage payment should be 28% of your gross income, and your total debts — mortgage and otherwise — should be no more than 36% of your gross income.
• 35/45 rule: Spend no more than 35% of your gross income on debt and no more than 45% of your after-tax income on debt.
• 25% after-tax rule: After adjusting for taxes, your mortgage should not account for more than 25% of your income.
💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage. SoFi Mortgage Loan Officers are dedicated to closing your loan on time — backed by a $5,000 guarantee offer.‡
3. Putting Too Much or Too Little Down
In their eagerness to become homeowners, many first-time buyers make the mistake of going overboard and directing every bit of money they have to the purchase.
If you have to drain your emergency savings to manage the down payment on a home, you might want to dial down the amount or wait and save up a bit more. Consider what could happen if the home needs a costly repair or, worse, if you or someone in your family suddenly has an expensive medical bill. That’s a good example of when to use an emergency fund.
Conventional wisdom says to put 20% down (and it does help you to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). But with housing costs so high, that’s all but impossible for most homebuyers. Instead, focus on the minimum down payments required for the type of loan you’re considering:
• Conventional loan: As low as 3%
• FHA loan: As low as 3.5%
• VA loan: As low as 0%
Remember, though, that if you put down very little, you’ll need to borrow more. Your monthly payments will be higher, and you could pay more interest over the life of the loan.
4. Forgetting About Homeowners Insurance and Property Taxes
Your monthly mortgage loan payment is more than just the cost of your home. You’ll also need to cover the cost of homeowners insurance and property taxes, which are often paid into an escrow account. Depending on the type of mortgage and how much you’ve paid, you may also have to pay for PMI. Together, these all increase your monthly payment — sometimes substantially. When you look at a home, the real estate agent should be able to show you property tax history so you can get an idea of what you’d pay each year. You can also work with an insurance agent to simulate insurance quotes for various homes you’re considering.
Property taxes will change from year to year, and you can always change your homeowners insurance to lower the cost, even if you pay for it through the escrow account. It may be a good idea to bundle home and auto policies together to take advantage of a discount.
Recommended: How Much Homeowners Insurance Do You Need?
First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.
5. Failing to Budget for Home Repairs and Maintenance
Forgetting to budget for homeowners insurance and property taxes is one of the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes — but those expenses aren’t the only ones people forget to budget for when buying a house for the first time.
If you’ve been accustomed to calling a landlord whenever something breaks in a rental, reset your expectations. Now, you’ll have to take care of basic home maintenance — like replacing air filters, cleaning the gutter, resealing wood decks, and cleaning the chimney — and repairs. When the air conditioner is blowing hot air, the oven stops working, or your roof starts leaking, you’re on the hook for the repairs.
Some issues may be covered by homeowners insurance (but there’s still a deductible!), but other issues caused by general wear and tear are solely your responsibility. And then there are other possible costs, like higher utility bills and homeowners association fees, that can eat into your budget.
6. Not Hiring a Qualified Home Inspector
It may be tempting to waive the home inspection when you’re trying to buy the home of your dreams — especially if you have some stiff competition to be the winning bidder for an in-demand property.
Sorry to say, this is a risky strategy. A home inspection might reveal critical information about the condition of a home and its systems, from electrical problems to hidden mold; from a failing septic system to a leaky roof. What you learn in an inspection could reveal that your dream home is actually a money pit.
What’s more, your inspection report might serve as a useful negotiating tool: You could use it to ask for repairs or to work out a better price from the seller. And if you really aren’t happy with the inspection results, you may be able to use it to cancel the offer to buy.
And in the grand scheme of things, an inspection isn’t too expensive. The average home inspection costs $300 to $500.
Recommended: The Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist
7. Overlooking the Neighborhood and Surrounding Area
You may have fallen in love with a specific home, but when you buy a house, you’re also buying the neighborhood that comes with it, so to speak.
How are the surrounding properties maintained? Do the people seem friendly? If you have kids or are planning on having them, do you see other families with young children? How are the schools in the area? What’s the traffic like? How’s the noise level? What restaurants and stores are nearby?
Think about your ideal community — and then try to find a dream home in that type of community.
8. Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You
Buying your first home or any home thereafter can be a roller coaster, so it’s important to prepare yourself psychologically as well as financially. If you’ve ever talked to someone buying a house, you know there are potential pitfalls all through the purchasing process.
You might fall in love with the perfect house and find it’s way over your budget. You might get annoyed with the sellers or their real estate agent, especially during the negotiation process. You might disagree with your partner about priorities.
All of these scenarios can cause a person to behave emotionally. It might make you want to walk away from a great deal. It might lead you to barrel ahead with a purchase, even when warning lights are flashing.
Our advice to a first-time homebuyer? Recognizing that this will be a challenging and, at times, stressful process (especially because you are new to it), take a deep breath, and proceed calmly. Find tools that help you move ahead with patience and a sense of calm, best as you can. With your eye on the prize — namely, your first home — you’ll get there.
Recommended: Improving Your Relationship With Money
9. Not Considering Future Resale Value
Houses are more than a place to live — they’re an investment. While you certainly want to prioritize buying a home you’ll be happy in, it’s also a good idea to think about how much the property might be worth in five, 10, 15 years and beyond.
It’s impossible to predict the market, but you can feel more confident about strong future resale value by choosing a house with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a well-appointed kitchen, and a yard. Other features, like a finished basement or a garage, may also make it easier to sell the home in the future.
10. Not Having an Emergency Fund
One of the basic tenets of personal finance is building an emergency fund. And here’s some blunt advice for first-time homebuyers: You’re going to need an emergency fund.
House emergencies can happen at any time: A tree falls on your roof, a toilet starts to leak, your dog destroys the carpet, you name it. Having money socked away to cover these expenses is crucial when buying a home.
Dream Home Quiz
6 Smart Moves for First-Time Homebuyers
We’ve covered some of the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes, so let’s shift gear to smart moves you can make when buying your first home.
1. Get Paperwork Moving ASAP
What do first-time homebuyers need when getting a mortgage? Here are some of the most common docs to start putting together:
• Proof of income: Lenders will often want to see two months’ worth of pay stubs or bank statements that confirm your income. They’ll also want your tax returns from the previous two years.
• Proof of funds: To take you seriously, lenders want to know you have enough money to cover a down payment and closing costs.
• Proof of identification: This could include a government ID, a passport, or your driver’s license.
Early in the process, you can furnish this basic information to get prequalified at various lenders. They’ll also run a credit check during the prequalification process.
Being prequalified simply allows lenders to give you an idea of what types of mortgages (fixed rate vs. variable rate, 15-year vs. 30-year, etc.) you might get approved for. It’s not a promise of approval, but it does help set expectations as you start to browse listings.
💡 Quick Tip: Your parents or grandparents probably got mortgages for 30 years. But these days, you can get them for 20, 15, or 10 years — and pay less interest over the life of the loan.
2. Check Out First-Time Homebuyer Programs
It’s wise to shop around for a few different mortgage quotes, but it would be a rookie mistake to overlook some great, government-sponsored programs that make buying a house more affordable. These include:
• FHA loans: These mortgages are designed for those with low to moderate incomes. They typically offer low down-payment requirements, low interest rates, and the ability to get approval even if you have a fair credit score.
• USDA loans: These provide affordable mortgages to those with a lower income who are planning on buying a home in a qualifying rural area.
• VA loans: These mortgages help those on active military duty, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. If you can check one of those boxes, you may be eligible for a home loan with no down payment requirement and no PMI.
3. Consider Additional Costs Beyond the Mortgage
As we’ve discussed above, the actual monthly house payment is not your only cost. Your full mortgage payment includes property taxes, homeowners insurance, and, potentially, PMI.
But before you even get to the point of making monthly payments, consider these upfront costs of buying a house:
• Closing costs, which are traditionally paid for by the buyer.
• Home inspections, which we highly recommend.
• Moving costs, whether just renting a truck or hiring movers.
4. Get Preapproved
Mortgage prequalification isn’t a commitment for the lender or buyer — it’s just a first step. If you appear to meet a lender’s standards, you could move on to the preapproval stage.
Getting preapproved for a home loan involves submitting additional income and asset documentation for a more in-depth review of your finances.
Once the lender approves these aspects of your loan application, you’ll receive a conditional commitment for a designated loan amount — called a preapproval letter — and have a better idea of what your loan terms will be.
Mortgage preapproval can help demonstrate to sellers that you’ve completed the first step in getting a mortgage because your credit, income, and assets have already been reviewed by an underwriter. This can smooth the bidding process and could give you an edge over others in a competitive situation with multiple offers.
Recommended: How Long is a Mortgage Preapproval Good For?
5. Choose the Right Type of Mortgage
You may qualify for various types of mortgage loans. Spend some time researching the different types so you have a better understanding of how they’ll impact your payments for the next several decades.
For instance, you’ll want to know the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage and an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). You’ll also want to understand how a 15-year term affects your monthly payments when compared to a 30-year term — but also how a longer term increases the amount you’ll pay in interest.
Other mortgage types to understand include:
• Conforming vs. nonconforming loans
6. Shop Around for the Best Mortgage Rates
Finally, remember that you don’t have to go with the first mortgage offer you get. It’s worth your while to get multiple offers so you can compare interest rates, down payment requirements, terms, and more.
Buying a house for the first time can be a stressful experience, but remember: At the end of it all, you’ll have a place you can call yours. You’ll build equity over time, and the house may increase in value. Just make sure you research the most common first-time homebuyer mistakes so you know how to avoid them.
Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.
What are some common mistakes first-time homebuyers make?
Some common home-buying mistakes for first-time homebuyers include forgetting to check (and improve) their credit, not calculating how much home they can actually afford, and forgetting to consider additional expenses, like inspections, homeowners insurance, property taxes, closing costs, and increased utilities. First-timers may also forget to consider the neighborhood as a whole or the future resale of the home.
What are the two largest obstacles for first-time homebuyers?
Two large obstacles for first-time homebuyers include rising housing prices and credit score requirements. Those who don’t already have equity in a current home may have more trouble coming up with a down payment on a new home. First-time homebuyers may also lack the credit score needed to get the best possible rate on a new mortgage.
What are three common mortgage mistakes?
Three common mortgage mistakes are 1) buying up to the limit you’re approved for rather than calculating how much you’re comfortable paying; 2) skipping the home inspection to expedite the process or make your offer more appealing to buyers; and 3) not considering related expenses you’ll have to budget for, including homeowners insurance, property taxes, and repairs and maintenance.
What are the most common mistakes that homebuyers make?
Homebuyers make a number of common mistakes, such as making an unnecessarily large down payment, forgetting to budget for related costs, buying more house than they can afford, and not shopping around for the best mortgage loans.
*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.
‡SoFi On-Time Close Guarantee: If all conditions of the Guarantee are met, and your loan does not close on or before the closing date on your purchase contract accepted by SoFi, and the delay is due to SoFi, SoFi will provide you $2,000.^ Terms and conditions apply. This Guarantee is available only for loan applications submitted after 6/15/22 for the purchase of a primary residence. Please discuss terms of this Guarantee with your loan officer. The property must be owner-occupied, single-family residence (no condos), and the loan amount must meet the Fannie Mae conventional guidelines. No bank-owned or short-sale transactions. To qualify for the Guarantee, you must: (1) Have employment income supported by W-2, (2) Receive written approval by SoFi for the loan and you lock the rate, (3) submit an executed purchase contract on an eligible property at least 30 days prior to the closing date in the purchase contract, (4) provide to SoFi (by upload) all required documentation within 24 hours of SoFi requesting your documentation and upload any follow-up required documents within 36 hours of the request, and (5) pay for and schedule an appraisal within 48 hours of the appraiser first contacting you by phone or email. The Guarantee will be void and not paid if any delays to closing are due to factors outside of SoFi control, including delays scheduling or completing the appraisal appointment, appraised value disputes, completing a property inspection, making repairs to the property by any party, addressing possible title defects, natural disasters, further negotiation of or changes to the purchase contract, changes to the loan terms, or changes in borrower’s eligibility for the loan (e.g., changes in credit profile or employment), or if property purchase does not occur. SoFi may change or terminate this offer at any time without notice to you. ^To redeem the Guarantee if conditions met, see documentation provided by loan officer.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .
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