Few things in everyday life are as intimidating as first-time home buying can be. There's so much to consider, and you don't know what you don't know.
So here's a rough to-do list - the steps buyers typically go through from start to finish.
Keith L. Cross, a Realtor with Century 21 Downtown in Baltimore, suggests that Step One - long before you get your heart set on a particular price range - is to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. Next, identify your wants and needs. Where do you see yourself living? What type of house do you want, and with how many bedrooms and bathrooms?
If you're working with an agent, this is the point at which he or she will make a list of properties meeting your criteria. You decide which to see. Perhaps you'll find something immediately; perhaps you'll look and look and look. But once you're ready to make an offer, your agent will write it up, present it to the listing agent to give to the seller and wait for a response.
"Usually in this market, there's a little bit of negotiation back and forth," Cross says.
If negotiations break down, you keep looking. If not, a contract is ratified - and then there's even more to do. A home inspection to see if there's anything wrong with the property. A termite inspection to look for the wood-chewing insects. An appraisal, ordered by your lender, to see what a third party thinks the property is worth.
Also during this period, both the lender and the title company you'll be using will need copies of your contract so they can get to work on processing. The title company has to make sure, for instance, that there's nothing legally preventing the seller from selling.
When the home inspection is done, you'll probably have a list of problems to consider, small or otherwise. (There's usually something wrong, Cross finds.) You can request that the homeowner make repairs or lower the sales price to cover the cost.
If the appraisal comes in lower than the price you offered, you can walk or negotiate a lower price, Cross says. (If you do neither, your lender may balk. But that will depend on the company and your situation.) "In this kind of market, you may very well get that lower price," Cross adds.
Shortly before settlement, you'll do a final walk-through of the property to make sure any agreed-upon repairs were done and to give it a once-over for unexpected new problems.
"Then we go to settlement - and hopefully everybody's happy," Cross says.
Find Jamie's blog at baltimoresun.com/realestatewonk.