“Budget Like Its 1999” and Other Tips for First Time Homebuyers

Terry Belt and Chris Melnick

Your son or daughter graduates from college. And they move back home. It’s all good for a while. They were away at school for 4 years (5 in our case!) and it’s really nice to have them around.

Then, all of a sudden, you both start thinking about the day when they move out again.

That’s what happened to us last year. Our daughter Melissa graduated from college, moved home and got her first job (as a teacher at a Catholic school). She made it through her first fall of teaching and as the new year arrived, she started thinking about moving out. While teaching is very rewarding, the rewards are not financial in nature. So she began looking into apartments and rentals.

Since I have been in real estate for almost 30 years, this just killed me. I just couldn’t imagine her throwing away money at rent. But I also knew her finances were tight. Less than a year later, she bought her own condo and became a first time homeowner. Here’s how we made it happen.

3 Tips For Prospective First Time Homebuyers (And Their Parents)

1. BUDGET LIKE ITS 1999

As a young married couple, we wanted to move from our small condo to a single family home. The best advice our parents gave us was to create the budget we would need after we moved into the house and live on it for a year BEFORE we bought the house. That way we would know whether it was realistic and where we could cut corners. So we did the same thing with Melissa. She created a budget on the Mint.com app and lived on it for almost a year before she moved. She included things like a mortgage payment, utilities, home repairs & insurance. Since these were not “real” expenses yet, she took that money each month and banked it in her savings account.

Here are examples of what to include in your budget:

  • Mortgage
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • HOA/Condo Fee
  • Utilities (Electricity, Water, Gas, Internet, Cell, Cable)
  • Tithing
  • Saving
  • Home repair/Maintenance
  • Car Payment
  • Groceries
  • Eating Out
  • Pets
  • Clothing
  • Gas
  • Car Repair/Maintenance
  • Medical (Checkups, Prescriptions, Ilnesses)
  • Personal (Haircuts, gifts, vacations, subscriptions)
  • Entertainment/recreation
  • Student Loans

2. WIN-WIN INVESTING

Like many first-time homebuyers, Melissa’s biggest challenge was the down payment and closing costs. Today’s young people are used to a certain standard of living (think Starbuck’s & sushi). It’s really not their fault. They were raised by the generation who wanted their kids to have “more than we had”. We, on the other hand, were raised by post-Depression era parents – and we learned to be frugal, save money and not to buy things on credit. To incent Melissa and encourage her to save – we set up a matching plan. We matched her dollar for dollar over a certain time period up to a set amount of money. This got her into the “Saving Habit” as she was able to see substantial accumulation of her funds. And she continued that habit as a permanent life change. (This not only set her in good stead for saving towards a down payment, it set her up for success going forward.)

That still wasn’t enough though. So we came to an agreement. We would be 50/50 owners. We contributed 50% of the downpayment & closing costs. And we would each make 50% of the monthly payments. (Melissa found a roommate to cover our half of the payments.) When the condo is sold, Melissa will reimburse our 50%. And we will split the profits in half. Win-win. A nice investment for us. And home ownership, equity and a tax write off for Melissa. (Contact your CPA for details regarding how to set this up.)

If you want to buy your first place and don’t have enough cash, don’t give up – you might find that if you present a win-win situation, there are people in your life who would be excited to help you: parents, grandparents, siblings.

3. GET REAL

After living on a budget for a year, Melissa had a “real” number of what she could afford in terms of a monthly payment. The number was $800 net. (So $1,600/mo for the mortgage, taxes, insurance & condo fee – with a roommate to pay half).  She talked with a Loan Officer, got pre-approved for a loan. And only then did she start looking. (Side note: Even though Melissa had no outstanding debt, because she is a teacher with such little income, she still needed co-signers for her loan. Many first-time homebuyers can qualify income/debt-wise, but if not – make sure you talk to your Loan Officer in depth about this because FNMA & FHLMC have different guidelines as to what is required.)

Melissa initially had a LONG wish list for her first place. This was another area in which she had to “get real”. She made a list of “must haves”, “wants” and “dreams”. We started out online. Melissa first started out using our competitor’s “apps” – Zillow, Red Fin, etc. But each time she showed me a listing, it turned out the place was already sold. So she went to our state-of-the-art site and set up a search. (Our site is updated faster than others and this solved the problem of not having current info,)

Next up was open houses. This was a great way to see neighborhoods, check commuting times and narrow down the options. (It also was interesting to experience the less than professional behavior of many Realtors – some who pressured Melissa to act quickly because they had “multiple contracts coming in”. Funny thing is – we’re still getting emails from one agent who has reduced the price three times on the unit with “multiple offers”.)

Melissa’s initial list encompassed condos in Reston, Fairfax, Herndon, Vienna & Oakton. She soon determined she wanted to sacrifice space for time. While the condos in Reston may have been larger, a condo in Oakton meant being 20 minutes closer to work – priceless to someone who who arrives at 7:45 AM and leaves around 6 PM.

Then it was time to get serious. Melissa called Uncle Terry. (Terry Belt, CEO of The Belt Team). Terry’s Realtor perspective was invaluable. At each showing he asked questions, shared knowledge and educated not only Melissa, but us. Despite being in the business on the marketing side for almost 30 years – I learned a lot about what things to consider when buying. Terry pointed out potential costs, resale pluses and minuses, and other issues that never would have crossed our minds. And he negotiated an amazing deal for Melissa when she found her dream place. On the market for $264,000 – Melissa paid $255,794.

Contact Terry Belt & The Belt Team at (703) 242-3975 for more tips for first-time homebuyers. Our mission is “Changing Lives For The Better” and it would be a pleasure for OUR family to help YOUR family make the RIGHT move!

Thank you also to Chris Melnick with Double Eagle Title. And to Keith Kelly with Churchill Mortgage. Your expertise and personal commitment were stellar. And it’s why we are thrilled when our clients choose you.

 

 

2 thoughts on ““Budget Like Its 1999” and Other Tips for First Time Homebuyers

  1. Pingback: Taking the Fear out of the Mortgage Process | Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

  2. Pingback: The Belt Team Awarded Top 100 Real Estate Blog on The Planet | Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

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