My husband and I recently bought our first house, and needless to say, I learned a lot. I thought I would pass on my new found wisdom (do you feel lucky or what?;). Whether it's your first home or you are a seasoned pro - hopefully there will be something in here for you.
First thing to consider when buying a home is the economy. The economy plays a huge part in how you negotiate, the prices of the homes, and whether or not you can get approved for a loan. Second thing to consider are your preferences and priorities. Both you and your partner need to discuss things like which side of town you want to live on and is it more important than space, how many bedrooms you want, bathrooms you want, and what is important to each of you. For example the kitchen is important to me while my husband wanted nice big living areas - these are the two things that make or break the deal for us. Have a firm idea of what you are both looking for when shopping for a house.
With that in mind here is what I learned:
1. It's a buyer's market, hands-down. We threatened to walk away several times on our offer and each time the seller called saying they would agree to our terms.
2. Even though it's a buyer's market, it's super hard to get approved for a loan. If you do get approved be ready to put down almost twice the normal down payment (especially if you are a first time home buyer, like us). The usual recommended amount is 3%, however we were asked to put down close to 6% (and we have a great credit score). The optimal number is 20% - you avoid PMI with 20% down.
3. Do not get emotionally involved, it's a business transaction. So what if you LOVE the house, if the seller is asking for more than you can afford, be strong and walk away.
4. Pay attention to how long the house has been on the market and look at the history to see why (if it's been out for over a couple of months). Our house had been on the market for over 6 months. This told us a couple of things, one, that we should ask ourselves why, and two, that the owner was probably anxious to get rid of the place (especially when we found it empty) which basically gave us the upper hand.
5. Be fair but firm in your offer, don't insult the seller with an extremely low offer, but do your research and know what you can afford.
6. Things that are negotiable: anything that is wrong with the house, this includes termites, crushed air-ducts, roof repair, etc. Also, you can ask for things to stay including refrigerators, washer/dryers, stoves and dishwashers are usually expected but make sure it is in your contract, and backyard pools, sheds, etc. Don't be afraid to ask for something, you are going to have to live there and you want the initial moving-in to be as pleasant as possible.
7. Put a clause in your initial offer that allows you to re-negotiate if the home inspection finds some major problems. For example, we said that if repairs came to over $700, then we were out of contract and could then renegotiate. This was a lifesaver as our inspection found termites, crushed air-ducts, and a few other problems that would have put a huge dent in our budget and made an already stressful situation even worst.
8. Get a home inspection. Termite inspections are required by the bank but home inspections are not. I would strongly recommend home inspections. Also, use inspectors that are not associated with the Realtor. Inspectors can overlook things so the Realtor can make the sale. You want an inspector who works for you not the Realtor.
9. Be aware of costs: you will pay a Good Faith payment usually $500-$1000, home inspections which can run anywhere from $150-$250, and closing costs which include termite inspections and appraisals.
10. Finally, and most importantly, do your research! Research the area of town, the neighborhood, the school districts, the going prices for other homes in the area, price per square foot, the size of other homes in the area, and have a firm grip on your budget.