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Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Buying your first house is exciting! And wild. Homes today cost a median of $391,200 and fly off the market in just 17 days.1 Plus, interest rates are rising fast.2

These trends may tempt you to rush into a purchase before things get any crazier. But slow down! Trust me, you guys, it's worth buying your first home the right way. That means finding one that works with your money goals—not against them.

You may be thinking, Yeah, that's great, Rachel. But I don't know how to buy a house for the first time. Where do I start?

I'm glad you asked! I put together 13 steps to buying a house for the first time. Now, I know that sounds like a lot. But this is a big deal, and you want to do it right! Put these tips into practice so your first home is a blessing, not a burden.

13 Steps to Buying a House for the First Time

1. Pay off all debt and build an emergency fund.

Okay, when you asked for first-time home-buyer tips, you probably didn't expect this one. But it is hands down the most important.

Owning a home is much more expensive than renting, even if your monthly house payment will be less than your current rent. When you're a homeowner, you're responsible for everything. All the maintenance and mishaps add up fast!

Before you even think about buying your first home, get debt-free and save an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Then, your money won't be tied up in monthly payments, and you'll have cash to cover unexpected costs.

Avoiding Debt as a First-Time Home Buyer

Once you're debt-free, I want you to stay that way. (Minus the mortgage. More on that in a minute.) So even though you're excited about decorating, it can wait.  

I'm a spender, so I know that's easier said than done. But it's okay to let a room sit empty until you can afford to furnish it. Stick with the good money habits you learned while getting out of debt. Your future self will thank you.

2. Use the 25% rule to see how much house you can afford.

Before house hunting, determine how much house you can afford. Your monthly housing costs—including principal, interest, property taxes, home insurance, private mortgage insurance (PMI) and homeowners association (HOA) fees—should be 25% or less of your monthly take-home pay.

For example, if you bring home $6,600 a month, your maximum house payment is $1,650. Now imagine you get a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4% interest. If your property tax is 1.14%, home insurance is $1,200 per year, and PMI is 0.5% (for down payments below 20%), here are some home prices you could afford:

  • $185,000 home with 5% down ($9,250)
  • $194,000 home with 10% down ($19,400)
  • $225,000 home with 20% down ($45,000)
  • $253,000 home with 30% down ($75,900)

P.S. I got these estimates from Ramsey Solutions' free mortgage calculator. Try plugging in your own numbers to see other home prices that work with your budget.

3. Save a down payment.

The best down payment is an all-cash offer. Nearly 1 in 4 buyers pay cash for their houses.3 But if that isn't reasonable for your first house, then aim for a 20% down payment. That way, your lender won't make you pay for PMI. PMI is insurance that protects your lender (not you) if you fail to make payments—so try to avoid this nonsense.

If 20% is still out of reach for you as a first-time home buyer, a smaller down payment of 5–10% is okay too. But no matter what your down payment is, make sure your housing payments are no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. (I'll share more on mortgage types later.)

4. Save for closing costs.

Closing costs are typically around 2–7% of your home's purchase price.4 Here's an example:

$300,000 home x 3% = $9,000 closing costs

That's a big chunk of change—on top of your down payment—but I promise you can do it! Tackle these savings with intensity. You can even put retirement savings on hold for a short time to save for a home.

Choosing a Mortgage

You might be thinking, Wait, Rachel. I haven't even found a home yet!

But remember the old expression, "You snooze, you lose." If you try to get a last-minute loan, you could miss out on your dream house. So it's smart to line your mortgage up before house shopping.

5. Avoid the worst mortgages for first-time home buyers.

A huge benefit to being a first-time home buyer is that you've never fallen for an awful mortgage—and you don't have to!

Many first-time home-buyer loans only make you put a little money down, but they cost tens of thousands of dollars more in the long run. Don't fall for it! Remember—if it seems like a good deal for you right now, then it's an even better deal for your lender in the end.

Avoid these low-to-no down payment mortgage options:

  • Adjustable-Rate Mortgages (ARMs): ARMs sucker you in with a low initial interest rate. But then, your lender raises your rate, and your mortgage payment goes up. No, thanks!
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loans: FHA loans are popular for first-time home buyers because you can put as little as 3.5% down. But you waste thousands of dollars on mortgage insurance (similar to PMI) for the life of the loan.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans: VA loans let veterans buy homes with no down payment or PMI. But they carry a bunch of fees and usually charge high interest rates.

6. Know the best mortgage for first-time home buyers.

I only recommend 15-year fixed-rate conventional mortgages. Here's why:

  • Quicker payoff time – With 15-year loans, the monthly payments are higher than 30-year loans. But you'll pay off your mortgage in half the time. Plus, most 15-year loans have a lower interest rate, saving you tons of money.
  • Locked-in interest rate – A fixed-rate loan keeps your interest rate the same over the life of the loan, so you pay less interest and always know what to expect.

How a 30-Year Mortgage Compares

I'll just say it: 30-year mortgages may have a lower monthly payment, but they cost more in the long run. Like tens of thousands of dollars more.

Imagine you want a $300,000 house with 20% down. You need a mortgage for $240,000. Even if the 30-year loan and the 15-year loan offered the same interest rate (unlikely, since 30-year rates are almost always higher), the 30-year mortgage still costs more.


15-Year at 4.5%

30-Year at 4.5%

Number of Payments



Monthly Payment



Total Interest Paid



Total Amount Paid



You'll save $107,331 with a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage—and you'll be payment-free 15 years sooner. I mean, hello!

7. Pick a lender you're comfortable with.

Some lenders only care about profits, while others actually care about helping you become a homeowner. Talk to at least three lenders. Compare their interest rates, fees and customer service to find the best one for your finances and peace of mind.

If you're debt-free like me, you need a lender who doesn't require a credit score. (Because you don't have one anymore—yay!) So look for one who does manual underwriting, like Churchill Mortgage.

8. Get preapproved for a loan before house hunting.

It pays to get preapproved for a loan (not just prequalified). Preapproval is when your lender verifies your financial information and gives you a letter saying how much money you can borrow.

Preapproval shows sellers you're serious, and you can use your letter to get ahead in a competitive market.

Just know some lenders may preapprove you for a bigger loan than you can afford. But you don't have to borrow that much—or look at houses that are too expensive!

Looking for a House

Finally, we're to the fun part! Follow these first-time home-buyer tips to start looking for your new house.

9. Find a trustworthy real estate agent.

One of the most important things you need to buy a house for the first time is actually a person. A good real estate agent will help you find the right home and navigate the buying process.

I always recommend working with a real estate agent. If you're not sure where to start, connect with a RamseyTrusted agent through our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program.

10. Get clear on needs versus wants.

Let's be honest: Most of us aren't very good at telling the difference between what we need and what we want. So, what can you do to change that?

Know what motivates you.

It's easy to think you need a super nice house because your parents had one . . . but they worked for 30 years to get it. Or maybe you grew up in a less-than-perfect home, and you want a better one so you'll feel like you've finally "made it." 

When we take time to learn why we spend money the way we do, we can better understand what we need in a house—and what we can do without.

Be content.

When we compare ourselves and our stuff to others, we're struggling with contentment. Contentment can make us rich—and it can keep us from making bad money decisions. When you're grateful for what you already have, it'll put your house hunt into perspective.

Talk to people.

Your real estate agent has helped dozens of first-time home buyers. They can help you discern your needs and wants, set realistic expectations, and show you houses that meet your criteria.

If you're single, talk to a trusted friend who will call you out if you're being unreasonable. And if you're married, now's the time to get to know your spouse better! Be honest about what you both need and want in a home so you can find a place where you'll both be happy.

Be realistic.

As a first-time home buyer, you don't have equity in an existing house, and you may not have a ton of savings either. So you may have to make some sacrifices to stay within your budget. For instance, you may have to buy a house that needs fixing up or a smaller place where your kids share a room.

That's okay. It's tempting to think your first home is your forever home, but for most people, it isn't. You need a house to fit this season of life—and you can always sell it and upgrade later. Keep your perspective and your cool.

Make a list.

Some things really may be nonnegotiable for you—whether they're needs or wants. Maybe you need to live close enough to commute to work every day. Maybe your pets need a fence. Or maybe you want to live in a good school district for your kids.

List 3–5 things your house absolutely must have. (And yes, it's okay to put a want or two on this list.) Then, write down the nice-to-haves that could be the cherry on top of your first home.

11. Start looking for a house.

Okay, you've got your shopping list in hand, and you're ready to roll. Here's how it's done.

Get ideas online.

Find homes you like online and send them to your real estate agent. Then, they can use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to find more homes that check off the boxes for you.

Home buyers don't have access to the MLS, but your real estate agent can use it to help you view the most properties for sale in your market. They can even help you find great deals on homes before they're listed.

Research neighborhoods for the best fit.

Most home buyers would rather compromise on a home's condition and size than on the quality of the neighborhood.5 Now, your real estate agent can't talk about crime rates, schools or demographics. (That's real estate steering, and it's illegal.) But they can tell you where to find that information for yourself.

You can also look up local schools and calculate your new commute times to see what they're like. If you can, visit the neighborhood at different times to check traffic and noise levels and see if people are comfortable being outdoors.

Once you choose the neighborhoods you like, attend some open houses. Looking at homes for sale—even if they're not perfect for you—helps you learn about the area.

Think long term.

Like I said, you probably won't live in your first home forever, so don't buy the most expensive house on the block. Future buyers who are shopping in a $200,000 neighborhood won't want a $300,000 home. But if you buy in the neighborhood's low price range, you'll have more room to build home value.

Pay attention to what's happening in the community too. Are home prices rising or falling? Are businesses booming or closing? You want a home that will be a good investment in the long run. 

Be patient.

Finding the right house takes time. More than likely, you'll look at several houses. You may even make several offers before one gets accepted. And that's okay. It's part of the process.

So keep dreaming about all the exciting possibilities that are open to you right now. Be patient and proud of the fact that you're willing to wait for the right house—not settle for the wrong one.

Buying a House for the First Time

You finally found a home you love, and you're ready to buy. Congratulations! But there are still a few more steps you have to take before you can call it home sweet home.

12. Make a competitive offer (within your budget).

It can be hard to know how much you should offer for your first house. That's when you rely on your real estate agent's expertise.

Ask them to help you make a competitive offer that's within your budget and close to the home's value. Don't make an impulsive offer you can't afford just to knock out the competition.

13. Close the deal.

Once the seller accepts your offer, you can close on the house. The average closing process takes 48 days.6 During that time, your real estate agent will help you handle the remaining steps to buying the house, and they'll inform you about any roadblocks.

Get a home inspection and appraisal.

Home inspectors can help you spot potential problems so you can fix them—or walk away from a bad deal! If you still want the house, the appraiser will assess its value. You can use the appraisal to try to negotiate a better price.  

Buy homeowners and title insurance.

Lenders require you to buy homeowners insurance, which pays to repair or rebuild your house after a disaster.

Title insurance protects your home from claims against the property or questions of ownership—like the last owner's unpaid tax bill or long-lost grandson who claims he inherited your house. It sounds crazy, but it happens. And it's why title insurance is worth every penny!

Take out a mortgage.

Once you and the seller agree to move ahead with the deal, it's time to return to the lender and get a mortgage. They'll walk you through this process. But I can't say it enough: Don't let them talk you into borrowing more than you can afford! Stick to the 25% rule. Period.

Do the final walkthrough.

Right before you finally buy your first home, you'll get to walk through it and make sure everything's as it should be. This is also your last chance to back out of the deal if something's wrong, so be thorough.

Sign all the papers (but read them first).

You're legally responsible for any papers you sign. Read every document carefully and ask your real estate agent to explain anything you don't understand so you don't end up in hot water.

Ready to Get Started?

Whew, you made it! We covered a lot of ground, so be sure to get our free Home Buyers Guide so you don't miss a thing.

Your first home is a big purchase, maybe the biggest one you've ever made! So you want to get this right. A good real estate agent will make the first-time home-buying process much easier.

Want to meet an agent you can trust? Connect with the RamseyTrusted agents in our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program. RamseyTrusted ELPs are top-performing agents who will help you find a home that fits your needs and budget.


32 Insider Tips for Buying and Selling a House

32 Insider Tips for Buying and Selling a House

Tips for Buying a Home

When buying a home, whether to live in or as an investment property, it's crucial to understand financing options, how to apply for a mortgage and the various expenses involved.

It can be easy to get carried away when buying a home, so make sure the property is one that you will be able to afford, maintain and grow with over the years ahead.

1. Save For a Down Payment

The typical down payment is 20% of the sale price of the home. You might be able to get away with putting down less than that, but then your mortgage lender can require you to purchase private mortgage insurance. The insurance protects the lender in case you default on the loan.

That's not a horrible thing, but it will increase your monthly payments by 0.5% to 1%. So it might make more sense to take some time and save more money for a down payment.

2. Check Your Credit

The better your credit score, the lower your mortgage interest rate will be. A score above 720 is ideal for purchasing a home.

Multiple factors are considered when calculating your score, such as if you pay your bills on time, the amount of your debt, length of credit history and types of credit; lenders prefer that you have a variety of credit sources. Check your credit quarterly and fix any mistakes that appear on your report.

3. Avoid Making Any Other Big Purchases

Every time you apply for a new form of credit, such as a credit card, a hard inquiry is run on your account, which can cause your credit score to take a slight dip. Therefore, avoid applying for or opening any new credit forms until after you have purchased your home.

4. Remember Closing Costs

Purchasing a home requires some mortgage-related expenses that might not be obvious at first — this includes closing costs.

Closing costs can include homeowners insurance, appraisals and home inspections, and cost about 2% to 5% of your mortgage. So, closing costs for a $300,000 mortgage, for example, can run anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000. Remember to plan for closing costs when calculating your budget.

5. Get a Buyer's Agent

You might think you're saving money on commission by going at it alone when purchasing a home, but an experienced real estate agent can help you in numerous ways.

Along with helping you to avoid costly mistakes, a real estate agent can do a lot of the house searching for you, help you negotiate a better price and ensure that contracts and paperwork are correctly filled out.

6. Determine How Much Home You Can Afford

A three-story, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath modern home with an infinity pool might be your dream home, but your budget might only allow for something smaller and less extravagant.

Before compiling your wish list for your dream home, run the numbers and figure out how much home you can actually afford. This can save you tons of time when you're out house-hunting and allow you to focus on only those properties that you can actually afford.

7. Include Added Expenses

You will likely run into additional expenses once you move into your new house, so prepare for these costs when calculating your initial budget. Decorating, for example, can cost more than you initially expect. Furniture, fixtures, lighting, paint, carpeting and the like can quickly add up.

8. Choose the Neighborhood Carefully

Location is everything, and for good reason. The neighborhood you buy in will shape your daily living experiences and should match your desired lifestyle. Factors to consider include the school system, crime rate, walkability, public parks, access to shopping, restaurants and other cultural amenities.

9. Determine Your Commute Time

The location of your home will greatly impact your commute time to work, for better or for worse. Before buying, consider your method of transportation — whether it's by car, bus, train, etc. — and the amount of time it will take you to reach your workplace.

10. Buy the Right Type of Property

Know what type of home you want before setting out on a search for properties. This can save you a lot of time when looking for the ideal place.

For example, a condo might be less expensive than a single-family home, but you will forgo a private yard, which can impact family and entertaining time. On the other hand, a condo requires a lot less maintenance than a large house. Weigh the pros and cons of each type of home, and choose one that will best fit your lifestyle and budget.

11. Choose Your Length of Mortgage

Evaluate both a 15-year and 30-year mortgage to determine which one will be most advantageous. The 30-year fixed mortgage is used for the majority of home loans. However, depending on your circumstance, you might benefit from paying your house off in half the amount of time.

The monthly costs will be higher for a 15-year loan, but the interest rates are usually lower than the longer loans. So, in the end, you will end up paying less overall.

12. Get Preapproved for a Mortgage

A mortgage preapproval tells sellers that you are able to get a loan from the bank and that you are a serious shopper. During the preapproval process, the lender evaluates your credit score and history, debt, income and employment history to determine if you qualify for a home loan and at what interest rate.

The lender will give you a letter documenting your preapproval status; the letter should be shown to sellers when an offer is being made.


Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

Earnest Money: What It Is and How Much It Is in Real Estate

What Is Earnest Money?

Earnest money is a deposit made to a seller that represents a buyer's good faith to make a purchase such as the acquisition of a new home. The money gives the buyer extra time to get financing and conduct the title search, property appraisal, and inspections before closing. In many ways, earnest money can be considered a deposit on a home, an escrow deposit, or good faith money.


  • Earnest money is essentially a deposit a buyer makes on a home they want to purchase.
  • A contract is written up during the exchange of the earnest money that outlines the conditions for refunding the amount.
  • Earnest money deposits can be anywhere from 1–10% of the sales price, depending mostly on market interest.
  • Should a buyer break the terms of the contract, they may be at risk of losing their earnest money deposit.
  • However, there are a number of potentially agreed-upon contingencies that may protect the buyer from backing out of a deal but still keeping all of their earnest money.

Understanding Earnest Money

In most cases, earnest money is delivered when the sales contract or purchase agreement is signed, but it can also be attached to the offer. Once deposited, the funds are typically held in an escrow account until closing, at which time the deposit is applied to the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

When a buyer decides to purchase a home from a seller, both parties enter into a contract. The contract doesn't obligate the buyer to purchase the home, because reports from the home appraisal and inspection may later reveal problems with the house. The contract does, however, ensure the seller takes the house off the market while it's inspected and appraised. To prove the buyer's offer to purchase the property is made in good faith, the buyer makes an earnest money deposit (EMD).

The buyer might be able to reclaim the earnest money deposit if something that was specified ahead of time in the contract goes wrong. For instance, the earnest money would be returned if the house doesn't appraise for the sales price or the inspection reveals a serious defect—provided these contingencies are listed in the contract.


In general, earnest money is returned to the buyer if the seller terminates the deal but is awarded to the seller if the buyer unreasonably terminates the deal.

How Much Are the Earnest Money Amounts?

While the buyer and seller can negotiate the earnest money deposit, it often ranges between 1% and 2% of the home's purchase price, depending on the market. In hot housing markets, the earnest money deposit might range between 5% and 10% of a property's sale price.

While the earnest money deposit is often a percentage of the sales price, some sellers prefer a fixed amount, such as $5,000 or $10,000. Of course, the higher the earnest money amount, the more serious the seller is likely to consider the buyer. Therefore, a buyer should offer a high enough earnest deposit to be accepted, but not one so high as to put extra money at risk.

A seller may also require ongoing, periodic earnest deposits to have a prospective buyer continue to show good faith during their due diligence process. For example, a seller may require a buyer to make monthly earnest deposits on a fixed schedule over a three month due diligence period. Should the buyer fail to meet any earnest money deposit requirements, the seller may be entitled to bring the property back to market and potentially recover losses via keeping portions of the earnest money.

How Is Earnest Money Paid?

Earnest money is usually paid by certified check, personal check, or a wire transfer into a trust or escrow account that is held by a real estate brokerage, legal firm, or title company. The funds are held in the account until closing, when they are applied toward the buyer's down payment and closing costs.

It's important to note that escrow accounts, like any other bank account, can earn interest. If the earnest funds in the escrow account earn interest of more than $600, the buyer must fill out tax form W-9 with the IRS to receive the interest.1

Is Earnest Money Refundable?

Earnest money isn't always refundable. The good news for buyers is in most situations, as long as a buyer acts in good faith, earnest money is refundable. As long as any contract agreements are not broken or decision deadlines are met, buyers usually get their earnest money back. Specific conditions where buyers often get their earnest money back include:

  • If a home inspection reveals there are material issues with a property being sold. The buyer can usually choose to negotiate who is responsible for the repairs or can back out of the purchase.
  • If a home appraises for lower value than the agreed purchase price. The buyer can negotiate a lower purchase price or can back out of the purchase price.
  • If a buyer is unable to sell their current house (as long as this home sale contingency is agreed upon).
  • If a buyer is unable to obtain a loan/financing (as long as this funding contingency is agreed upon).

Every situation is different, but broadly speaking, the seller gets to keep the earnest money if the buyer decides not to go through with the home purchase for reasons not specified as part of the contract. For example, if a buyer simply has a change of heart decides not to buy the property, the seller is most likely entitled to retain earnest money proceeds.

Protecting Your Earnest Money Deposit

Prospective buyers can do several things to protect their earnest money deposits.

    • Make sure contingencies for financing and inspections are included in the contract. Without these, the deposit could be forfeited if the buyer can't get financing or a serious defect is found during the inspection.
    • Ensure contract terms are in writing. The contract agreement between a buyer and seller should be in writing. This clarifies any misunderstandings and sets the precedence for terms of the agreement. Amendments to the contract are always allowable, but ensure that every iteration of the agreement is in writing and signed by both parties.
    • Read, understand, and abide by the terms of the contract. For example, if the contract states the home inspection must be completed by a certain date, the buyer must meet that deadline or risk losing the deposit—and the house.
    • Utilize an escrow account to hold funds. Do not send escrow money directly to the seller; if the funds are in direct possession by the other party, they can control the funds and not release funds even if you are entitled to earnest money refunds.
  • Make sure the deposit is handled appropriately. The deposit should be payable to a reputable third party, such as a well-known real estate brokerage, escrow company, title company, or legal firm (never give the deposit directly to the seller). Buyers should verify the funds will be held in an escrow account and always obtain a receipt. 

Example of Earnest Money

Suppose Tom wants to buy a home worth $100,000 from Joy. To facilitate the transaction, the broker arranges to deposit $10,000 as a deposit in an escrow account. The terms of the subsequent agreement signed by both parties state that Joy, who is currently living in the home, will move out of it within the next six months.

However, Joy is unable to find another place of residence by moving day. As a result, Tom cancels the transaction and gets his deposit money back. The deposit money has earned interest of $500 from the escrow account during this time period. Since the amount is less than $600, Tom is not required to fill out an IRS form to retrieve the amount.1

What Is an Earnest Money Payment?

In real estate, earnest money is effectively a deposit to buy a home. Usually, it ranges between 1-10% of the home's sale price. While earnest money doesn't obligate a buyer to purchase a home, it does require the seller to take the property off of the market during the appraisal process. Earnest money is deposited to represent good faith in purchasing the home.

Who Keeps Earnest Money If a Deal Falls Through?

Earnest money gets returned if something goes awry during the appraisal that was predetermined in the contract. This could include an appraisal price that is lower than the sale price, or if there is a significant flaw with the house. Importantly, though, earnest money may not be returned if the flaw was not predetermined in the contract or if the buyer decides not to purchase the house during an agreed-upon time period. 

How Can Earnest Money Be Protected?

To protect an earnest money deposit, prospective buyers can follow a number of precautionary steps. First, buyers can ensure that contingencies apply to defects, financing, and inspections. This protects the deposit from being forfeited in the case that a major flaw is discovered, or that financing is not secured. Second, carefully read and follow the terms of the contract. In some cases, the contract will indicate a certain date by which the inspection must be made. To prevent forfeiture, the buyer should abide by these terms accordingly. Finally, ensure the deposit is handled adequately, which means that the buyer should work with a reputable broker, title firm, escrow company, or legal firm. 

Do You Get Earnest Money Back?

As long as a buyer follows the terms of the contract and adheres to all deadlines agreed to with the seller, a buyer will most often receive their full earnest money deposit(s) back. Should the buyer fail to comply with the agreement, the seller may be entitled to receive some or all earnest deposit funds.

How Do You Lose Earnest Money?

In an agreement between a buyer and seller, there are often a number of contingencies outlined that spell out the terms where a buyer may back out of an agreement. These contingencies include failure of a home inspection, failure to secure financing, or failure to sell a separate existing property.

If the buyer decides to not proceed with the sale for reasons outside of these agreed to contingencies, the buyer is at risk of losing earnest money.

The Bottom Line

When a buyer and seller enter into an initial agreement to transfer ownership right of property, the buyer is often required to make a deposit of earnest money into an escrow account. There's a number of reasons the buyer and seller can agree to where the buyer can back out of the agreement. However, should the buyer break contract or not meet required deadlines, the seller may be entitled to keep the earnest money as compensation for the break of good faith.


Avoid These Mistakes When Selling Your Home

Avoid These Mistakes When Selling Your Home

Selling your home can be surprisingly time-consuming and emotionally challenging. It can feel like an invasion of privacy when strangers open your closets and poke around. They will openly criticize your home and your decorating abilities, and to top it all off, they will offer you less money than you think your home is worth.

With no experience and a complex transaction on your hands, it's easy for home sellers to mistakes. The best way to sell a house comes down to a few basics:

  • Keep your emotions in check and stay focused on the business aspect.
  • Hire an agent. It'll cost you in commission, but it takes the guesswork out of selling.
  • Set a reasonable price.
  • Keep the time of year in mind and avoid the winter months if possible.
  • Prepare for the sale. Your home must look its best to compete.
  • Take time over your listing and add lots of high-quality photographs, inside and out.

See more below on the fatal errors that can prevent you from selling your home.


  • To sell your home, think like a salesperson, not like a homeowner.
  • Do your research and set a realistic asking price.
  • Wait until spring if you can.
  • Take time to prepare and photograph your home.

Getting Emotional

It's easy to get emotional about selling your home, especially your first one. You spent a great deal of time and effort to find the right one, saved up for your down payment and furniture, and created many memories. People generally have trouble keeping their emotions in check when it comes time to say goodbye.

Think it's impossible? It's not. When you decide to sell your home, start thinking of yourself as a businessperson and salesperson rather than just the homeowner. In fact, forget altogether that you're the homeowner. By looking at the transaction from a purely financial perspective, you'll distance yourself from the emotional aspects of selling the property.

Also, try to remember how you felt when you were shopping for that home. Most buyers will also be in an emotional state. If you can remember that you are selling a piece of property as well as an image and a lifestyle, you'll be more likely to put in the extra effort of staging and doing some minor remodeling to get top dollar for your home. These changes in appearance will not only help the sales price; they'll also help you create emotional distance because your home will look less familiar.

Not Hiring a Real Estate Agent

Although real estate agents command a hefty commission—usually 5% to 6% of the sale price of your home—it's probably not a great idea to try to sell your home on your own, especially if you haven't done it before.1 It can be tempting, especially if you've seen all those "for sale by owner" signs on people's front lawns or on the Internet. So does it pay to hire an agent?

A good agent generally has your best interests at heart. They will help you set a fair and competitive selling price for your home, increasing your odds of a quick sale. An agent can also help tone down the emotion of the process by interacting with potential buyers and eliminating tire kickers who only want to look at your property but have no intention of making an offer.

Your agent will also have more experience negotiating home sales, helping you get more money than you could on your own. If any problems crop up during the process, an experienced professional will be there to handle them for you. Finally, agents are familiar with all the paperwork and pitfalls involved in real estate transactions and can help make sure the process goes smoothly. This means there won't be any delays or unforeseen legal ramifications in the deal.

After reading all this, should you really hire an agent? Only you can decide.

What to Do If You Don't Use a Real Estate Agent

So you've decided not to hire an agent. That's fine because it's not like it can't be done. There are people who sell their own homes successfully. Remember, though, you'll need to do your research first—on recently sold properties in your area and properties currently on the market—to determine an attractive selling price. Keep in mind that most home prices have an agent's commission factored in, so you may have to discount your price as a result.

You'll be responsible for your own marketing, so make sure to get your home on the multiple listing service (MLS) in your geographic area to reach the widest number of buyers. Because you have no agent, you'll be the one showing the house and negotiating the sale with the buyer's agent, which can be time-consuming, stressful, and emotional for some people.

Because you're forgoing an agent, consider hiring a real estate attorney to help you with the finer points of the transaction and the escrow process. Even with attorney's fees, selling a home yourself can save you thousands. If the buyer has an agent, however, they'll expect to be compensated. This cost is typically covered by the seller, so you'll still need to pay 1% to 3% of the home's sale price to the buyer's agent.1

Setting an Unrealistic Price

Whether you're working with an agent or going it alone, setting the right asking price is key. Remember the comparative market analysis you or your agent did when you bought your home to determine a fair offering price? Buyers will do this for your home, too, so as a seller you should be one step ahead of them.


You may think your home is worth more, but remember to set a realistic price based on comparable homes in the area.

Absent a housing bubble, overpriced homes generally don't sell. In a survey conducted by the informational home sale website, 70% of real estate agents said that overpricing is the top mistake that sellers make.2

Don't worry too much about setting a price that's on the low side, because in theory, this will generate multiple offers and bid the price up to the home's actual market value. In fact, underpricing your home can be a strategy to generate extra interest in your listing, and you can always refuse an offer that's too low.3

Expecting the Asking Price

Any smart buyer will negotiate, and if you want to complete the sale, you may have to play ball. Most people want to list their homes at a price that will attract buyers while still leaving some breathing room for negotiations—the opposite of the underpricing strategy described above. This may work, allowing the buyer to feel like they are getting good value while allowing you to get the amount of money you need from the sale.

Of course, whether you end up with more or less than your asking price will likely depend not just on your pricing strategy but also on whether you're in a buyer's market or a seller's market and how well you have staged and modernized your home.

Selling During Winter Months

Believe it or not, there really is a right time to sell during the year. Winter, especially around the holidays, is typically a slow time of year for home sales. People are busy with social engagements, and the cold weather across much of the country makes it more appealing just to stay home.

Because fewer buyers are likely to be looking, it may take longer to sell your home, and you may not get as much money. However, you can take some consolation in knowing that while there may not be as many active buyers, there also won't be as many competing sellers, which can sometimes work to your advantage.

You may be better off waiting. Barring any mitigating circumstances that may force you to sell during the winter or holidays, consider listing when the weather begins to warm up. People are usually ready and willing to purchase a home when it's warmer.4

Skimping on Listing Photos

Because so many buyers look for homes online these days, and so many of those homes have photos, you'll be doing yourself a real disservice if you don't have high-quality visuals of your home. At the same time, there are so many poor photos of homes for sale that if you do a good job, it will set your listing apart and help generate extra interest.

Good photos should be crisp and clear and taken during the day when there is plenty of natural light available. They should showcase your home's best attributes. Consider using a wide-angle lens if possible—this allows you to give potential buyers a better idea of what entire rooms look like. Ideally, hire a professional real estate photographer to get top-quality results instead of just letting your agent take snapshots on a phone.

Consider adding a video tour or 360-degree view to further enhance your listing. This can be easily done with any smartphone. You can certainly entice more potential buyers into walking through your doors for showings. You may even get more offers if you give them an introductory walk-through of your property.

Not Carrying Proper Insurance

Your lender may have required you to acquire a homeowners insurance policy. If not, you'll want to make sure you're insured in case a viewer has an accident on the premises and tries to sue you for damages. You also want to make sure there are no obvious hazards at the property or that you take steps to mitigate them (keeping the children of potential buyers away from your pool and getting your dog out of the house during showings, for example).

Hiding Major Problems

Think you can get away with hiding major problems with your property? Any problem will be uncovered during the buyer's inspection. You have three options for dealing with any issues. Either fix the problem ahead of time, price the property below market value to account for it, or list the property at a normal price and offer the buyer a credit to fix the problem.

Remember: if you don't fix the problem in advance, you may eliminate a fair number of buyers who want a turnkey home. Having your home inspected before listing is a good idea if you want to avoid costly surprises after the home is under contract.

Further, many states have disclosure rules.5 Some require sellers to disclose known problems about their homes if buyers ask directly, while others decree that sellers must voluntarily disclose certain issues.

Not Preparing for the Sale 

Sellers who do not clean and stage their homes throw money down the drain. Don't worry if you can't afford to hire a professional. There are many things you can do on your own. Failing to do these things can reduce your sales price and may also prevent you from getting a sale at all. If you haven't attended to minor issues, such as a broken doorknob or dripping faucet, a potential buyer may wonder whether the house has larger, costlier issues that haven't been addressed either.

Have a friend or an agent (someone with a fresh pair of eyes) point out areas of your home that need work. Because of your familiarity with the home, you may be immune to its trouble spots. Decluttering, cleaning thoroughly, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and getting rid of any odors will also help you make a good impression on buyers.

Not Accommodating Buyers

If someone wants to view your house, you need to accommodate them, even if it inconveniences you. Clean and tidy the house before every single visit. A buyer won't know or care if your house was clean last week. It's a lot of work, but stay focused on the prize.

Selling to Unqualified Buyers

It's more than reasonable to expect a buyer to bring a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender or proof of funds (POF) for cash purchases to show that they have the money to buy the home. Signing a contract with a buyer may be contingent on the sale of their own property, which may put you in a serious bind if you need to close by a particular date.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Sell a House With a Mortgage?

Yes, you can sell a house with a mortgage. During the escrow process, you will get a mortgage payoff statement (sometimes called a payoff quote) from the lender holding your mortgage that lists the exact remaining balance. When your loan closes, the escrow agent will send the balance of your mortgage to your lender, paying off your mortgage.

Should I Stage My House?

Staging a home can lead to quicker sales and higher home prices.6 However, not everyone needs to hire a professional staging service. Just taking a few steps like cleaning and decluttering can have a significant impact on a home's sale and will need to be done before moving regardless of the sale.

How Much Will I Make Selling My House?

How much you will make depends on the sale price, agent commissions, closing costs, and the remaining mortgage balance. If working with a real estate agent, you should receive a seller's net sheet before you even list your property, which details what you can estimate to make.7 When you have accepted an offer and are in escrow, you will get a closing disclosure from your lender that details exactly how much you will receive after your loan closes.

Should You Sell Your Home for Cash?

Selling a home for cash is a quick way to avoid the hassle and stress of staging a house, showing it, making repairs, and juggling competing offers. However, most cash buyers won't buy a home for more than 75% of the home's value, minus any anticipated fixing-up expenses.8 Selling a home for cash is easier, but at a significant financial cost that should be considered.

The Bottom Line

Learning how to sell a house is crucial. Make sure you prepare mentally and financially for less-than-ideal scenarios, even if you don't make any of these mistakes. The house may sit on the market for far longer than you expect, especially in a declining market.

If you can't find a buyer in time, you may end up trying to pay two mortgages, having to rent your home out until you can find a buyer, or, in dire situations, in foreclosure. However, if you avoid the costly mistakes listed here, you'll be a long way toward putting your best foot forward and achieving that seamless, lucrative sale for which every home seller hopes. 

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Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Like any big project, a successful homebuying experience is all about getting the details right from start to finish. These tips for first-time home buyers will help you navigate the process, save money and close the deal. We organized them into four categories:

  • Preparing to buy tips.

  • Mortgage selection tips.

  • Home shopping tips.

  • Home purchasing tips.

Preparing to buy tips

1. Start saving early

Here are the main costs to consider when saving for a home:

  • Down payment: Your down payment requirement will depend on the type of mortgage you choose and the lender. Some conventional loans aimed at first-time home buyers with excellent credit require as little as 3% down. But even a small down payment can be challenging to save. For example, a 3% down payment on a $300,000 home is $9,000. Use a down payment calculator to decide on a goal, and then set up automatic transfers from checking to savings to get started.

  • Closing costs: These are the fees and expenses you pay to finalize your mortgage, and they typically range from 2% to 5% of the loan amount. If you were making a 3% down payment on that $300,000 home, your closing costs could be between $5,820 and $14,550. That's additional money you'd have to pay, on top of your down payment. In a buyer's market, you can often ask the seller to pay a portion of your closing costs, and you can save on some expenses, such as home inspections, by shopping around.

  • Move-in expenses: You'll need some cash after the home purchase. Set some money aside for immediate home repairs, upgrades, and furnishings.

2. Decide how much home you can afford

Figure out how much you can safely spend on a house before starting to shop. NerdWallet's home affordability calculator can help with setting a price range based on your income, debt, down payment, credit score and where you plan to live.

3. Check and strengthen your credit

Your credit score will determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and affect the interest rate lenders will offer. Having a higher score will generally get you a lower interest rate, so take these steps to strengthen your credit score to buy a house:

  • Get free copies of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — and dispute any errors that could hurt your score.

  • Pay all your bills on time, and keep credit card balances as low as possible.

  • Keep current credit cards open. Closing a card will increase the portion of available credit you use, which can lower your score.

Mortgage selection tips

4. Explore mortgage options

A variety of mortgages are available with varying down payment and eligibility requirements. Here are the main categories:

  • Conventional mortgages are not guaranteed by the government. Some conventional loans targeted at first-time buyers require as little as 3% down.

  • FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration and allow down payments as low as 3.5%.

  • USDA loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are for rural home buyers and usually require no down payment.

  • VA loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are for current and veteran military service members and usually require no down payment.

You also have options when it comes to the mortgage term. Most home buyers opt for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, which is paid off in 30 years and has an interest rate that stays the same. A 15-year loan typically has a lower interest rate than a 30-year mortgage, but the monthly payments are larger.

When interest rates are increasing, you might consider an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM. ARM rates are often lower than fixed rates, enabling you to buy a more expensive home for the same monthly payment, but they can also increase (or decrease) over time.

5. Research first-time home buyer assistance programs

Many states and some cities and counties offer first-time home buyer programs, which often combine low-interest-rate mortgages with down payment assistance and closing cost assistance. Tax credits are also available through some first-time home buyer programs.

6. Compare mortgage rates and fees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends requesting loan estimates for the same type of mortgage from multiple lenders to compare the costs, including interest rates and possible origination fees.

Lenders may offer the opportunity to buy discount points, which are fees the borrower pays upfront to lower the interest rate. Buying points can make sense if you have the money on hand and plan to stay in the home for a long time. Use a discount points calculator to decide.

In a buyers' market, some motivated sellers may offer to pay some or all of the buyer's points to close the deal.

7. Get a preapproval letter

A mortgage preapproval is a lender's offer to loan you a certain amount under specific terms. Having a preapproval letter shows home sellers and real estate agents that you're a serious buyer and can give you an edge over home shoppers who haven't taken this step yet.

Apply for preapproval when you're ready to start home shopping. A lender will pull your credit and review documents to verify your income, assets and debt. Applying for preapproval from more than one lender to shop rates shouldn't hurt your credit score as long as you apply for them within a limited time frame, such as 30 days.

Home shopping tips

8. Choose a real estate agent carefully

A good real estate agent will scour the market for homes that meet your needs and guide you through the negotiation and closing process. Get agent referrals from other recent home buyers. Interview at least a few agents, and request references. When speaking with potential agents, ask about their experience helping first-time home buyers in your market and how they plan to help you find a home. You might also ask how they find homes that aren't yet on the market, which can be a handy skill when buyer competition is fierce.

9. Pick the right type of house and neighborhood

Weigh the pros and cons of different types of homes, given your lifestyle and budget. A condominium or townhome may be more affordable than a single-family home, but shared walls with neighbors will mean less privacy. Don't forget to budget for homeowners association fees when shopping for condos and townhomes, or houses in planned or gated communities.

Another option to consider is buying a fixer-upper — a single-family home in need of updates or repairs. Fixer-uppers usually sell for less per square foot than move-in ready homes. However, you may need to budget extra for repairs and remodeling. Renovation mortgages finance both the home price and the cost of improvements in one loan.

Think about your long-term needs and whether a starter home or forever home will meet them best. If you plan to start or expand your family, it may make sense to buy a home with extra room to grow.

Research potential neighborhoods thoroughly. Choose one with amenities that are important to you, including schools and entertainment options, and test out the commute to work during rush hour.

10. Stick to your budget

A lender may offer to loan you more than what is comfortably affordable, or you may feel pressure to spend outside your comfort zone to beat another buyer's offer. To avoid financial stress down the road, set a price range based on your budget, and then stick to it.

In a competitive market, consider looking at properties below your price limit to give some wiggle room for bidding. In a buyer's market, you may be able to view homes a bit above your limit. Your real estate agent can suggest a range for your offering price.

11. Make the most of open houses

Online 3D home tours have become more popular as technology improves. These tours let shoppers virtually walk through a home at any hour and observe details that regular photos don't catch. They don't supply all the information in-person visits do — like how the carpets smell — but they can help you narrow the list of properties to visit.

Open your senses when touring homes in person. Listen for noise, pay attention to any odors and look at the overall condition of the home inside and out. Ask about the type and age of the electrical and plumbing systems and the roof.

Home purchasing tips

12. Pay for home inspections

A home inspection is a thorough assessment of the structure and mechanical systems. Professional inspectors look for potential problems, so you can make an informed decision about buying the property. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Standard inspections don't test for things like radon, mold or pests. Understand what's included in the inspection and ask your agent what other inspections you might need.

  • Make sure the inspectors can get to every part of the house, such as the roof and any crawl spaces.

  • It's usually helpful if the buyer attends any inspections. By following the inspectors around you can get a better understanding of the home and ask questions on the spot. If you can't attend the inspections, review the reports carefully and ask about anything that's unclear.

13. Negotiate with the seller

You may be able to save money by asking the seller to pay for repairs in advance or lower the price to cover the cost of repairs you'll have to make later. You may also ask the seller to pay some of the closing costs. But keep in mind that lenders may limit the portion of closing costs the seller can pay.

Your negotiating power will depend on the local market. It's tougher to drive a hard bargain when there are more buyers than homes for sale. Work with your real estate agent to understand the local market and strategize accordingly.

14. Buy adequate home insurance

Your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance before closing the deal. Home insurance covers the cost to repair or replace your home and belongings if they're damaged by an incident covered in the policy. It also provides liability insurance if you're held responsible for an injury or accident. Buy enough home insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding the home if it's destroyed.

It may be worth buying an umbrella policy if you need to cover your home, cars and other major assets.


Ready To Make An Offer? Make Sure You Do This First

Before making an offer on your dream home, make sure you cross these tasks off your list.

Shopping for a new home can be an emotional rollercoaster, and the process often takes several weeks or months. Once you discover that perfect home, it's normal to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety, which often leads buyers to act with a sense of urgency. However, before you have your agent draw up an offer, it's important to take some time to thoroughly evaluate the property and consider your terms.

Our real estate agents always encourage clients to take these steps before submitting an offer:

  • Make a Pros and Cons List
    Finding a home that checks every box is challenging, and first-time buyers usually need to make some concessions. However, you do want to make sure the home is a good fit before making an offer. Sit down and make a list of all the pros and cons of the home. Consider the asking price, location, age, size, yard, garage, and any other components that are important to you. A pros and cons list will force you to consider every element of the home and can help you determine how aggressive to be when making an offer.

  • Have Your Agent Ask If There Are Other Offers
    Listing agents aren't able to disclose the details of other offers, but simply knowing whether the property has received multiple offers is good info to have. If there are already multiple offers on the property, you'll want to work with your agent to come up with the most competitive offer you feel comfortable putting forward.

    If there are no offers, you may want to start at or around the asking price. If more offers come in, agents usually will come back and ask for the "highest and best" at a later date, which will give you the chance to adjust your bid.

  • Estimate Your Mortgage Payment
    Before deciding what to offer, you'll want to make sure you're able to afford the down payment, mortgage payment, and closing costs. Your down payment will likely be somewhere between 3% and 20%, depending on what your lender pre-approved. Your mortgage payment is likely to fluctuate based on current interest rates, but you can use an online mortgage calculator for a close estimate. Your lender should also be able to provide you with a closing cost estimate based on the zip code and offer price. Bottom line -- you want to make sure you can afford what you're offering to pay.

  • Evaluate The Market
    The real estate market is constantly fluctuating these days due to the lingering effects of the pandemic as well as rising interest rates. As a result, it's important for buyers to keep their finger on the pulse of the market. Check out the asking prices on some other Holland homes for sale, and use those data points to inform your decision. Home prices generally appreciate over time, but as buyer demand wanes, prices could start to drop.

  • Check The Home's History
    The property's historical transactions could tell you a lot about the home. For example, if the current owners have only lived there for a short time, it could suggest a problem, and it's worth asking the listing agent for more information. Historical transactions can also tell you how much the current owners paid for the property and how the home has appreciated over time.

Submitting an offer on a home is exciting. But before you get carried away, make sure you do your homework. Contact us today for more home buying tips. 

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