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Neighborhood Beat: Tips for buying your first home

Buying a first home is probably one of the most important milestones you will reach in your life. It should be a time for celebration; after all there is no greater feeling than receiving the keys to your first home. However, the process can often be filled with fear and anxiety. Follow these ten steps to ensure that your home buying experience is the best one possible.

• Save, save, save. Choices that you make now may affect your ability to purchase a home later. Create a savings plan and stick to it. The more money you have saved the less stress you are likely to encounter during the financing process.

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• Get your finances in order. Your FICO score is used to determine your eligibility for a loan — among other things — and affects the interest rate you will pay over a given period of time. Even a 1 percent difference in interest rates can translate into thousands of dollars over the life of a loan. Be sure to check your credit report regularly — receive a free annual report from http://www.annualcreditreport.com — and check sites such as http://www.bankrate.com for information regarding current interest rates.

• Plan. Make a list and check it twice. We already discussed the importance of saving. Planning is equally important. Once you have saved up and are ready to buy, plan ahead and make a list of things to do. You will most likely want to get pre-approved for a loan, search for a realtor, and research neighborhoods. Add all your tasks to the list and create a timeline that is realistic for you and your family.

• Find an agent. Sure you can buy or sell a home without an agent, but why pass up their years of expertise and numerous industry contacts? You should make it a priority to find an experienced agent specifically if you are a first time home buyer or seller. Agents can act on your behalf throughout the entire process. You can use one of the many online sites such as http://www.realtor.com to assist you with this process.

• Where's Waldo? The process of finding your dream home can sometimes be a very daunting task, almost as if you are trying to locate a fictional character in a children's book. The best way to find your dream home is to get out and visit the homes. Become a master at open houses. Walk the home and get an idea of the home's layout. Open closet and pantry doors, look at room size, and even walk the property — if applicable. Check out the neighborhood at different times of day and talk to the neighbors. After all, it is up to you to decide if you want to make a particular place your permanent home.

• Give yourself options. Be sure to look at several different homes before making your final decision. Make sure that the homes you are visiting have all the basics — including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms your family will require.

• Do not be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Be open to different floor plans, paint schemes, etc. Remember if you don't like the home's decor, it's OK — you can change it. The puke green color on the dining rooms walls can be updated very easily with a few coats of fresh paint. And along those same lines, do not fall in love with a home strictly because of the decor. When the owner sells the home and leaves, so do the furnishings, artwork and other decorative pieces ... unless of course you purchased that, too.

• Take time to stop and smell the roses. Sounds cliché doesn't it? But it's true. Take your time whenever possible. Rushing through any process almost inevitably leads to mistakes and lost opportunities. Take the time to read through legal documents which require your signature. This is another instance in which a trusted real estate agent may become invaluable to you.

• Just keep moving. As unfortunate as it is, the fact is that you may lose out on a house to another buyer. Try not to dwell on the house that was lost and instead put your energy into finding another home.

• Don't stress. You do not want to look back on this life event and remember tears and anger. This is why it is so important to take your time. Have fun with the home-buying process and involve the whole family in the decision.

Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at threepeasconsignments@gmail.com.

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