Buying a home can be both exciting and daunting — even more so if you’re looking to buy in a large, bustling market like Atlanta. In addition to being a favorable market for first-time homebuyers thanks to its low cost of living relative to other major U.S. cities, Atlanta’s real estate boasts long-term investment value. These qualities are especially attractive to millennial home buyers and emerging affluent home buyers.
Not only does buying a house require a huge personal and financial commitment, but finding the right neighborhood amid hundreds of possibilities can be intimidating. Not to mention the fact that the stresses of qualifying, providing documentation and trying to get to the closing table unscathed can be downright overwhelming.
However, with a bit of research, planning and homework done in advance, you can navigate these troubled waters more easily than you think — which is why we have prepared this first-time homebuyer’s guide to help you prepare to buy your first home in Atlanta. Taking the following steps will help alleviate the stress so your first home buying experience can be less on the “daunting” side, and more on the “exciting” side.
Get your finances in order.
First things first — are you financially ready to buy a home? To answer this question, you need to put together a financial strategy.. If you have not already done so, make a detailed budget to help you determine how much of a down payment you can make on a home, as well as how much you can reasonably afford in monthly payments.
An online mortgage calculator can be a helpful tool to help you play with the numbers so you can estimate how much home you can realistically afford to buy.
After your preliminary budgeting, take the following steps to prepare further:
- Check your credit score. Use CreditKarma to check your score at any time. Look for bad marks or errors that might weigh down your credit score, and report mistakes to have them corrected. If necessary, take time to pay down some debt before applying for a loan.
- Assemble your proof of income. Most lenders will want at least 2-3 years of tax returns, plus pay stubs from your employer for the past few months, to demonstrate consistent income.
Get pre-approved for a mortgage.
Before beginning your house hunt, you need to understand how mortgage approval works. It’s also a good idea to go to a lender or mortgage broker to get pre-approved for a loan. This serves two purposes: 1) It gives you a realistic price range to help you narrow your search; and 2) A pre-approval letter tells sellers that you’re a serious buyer with the financial ability to pay if you agree on an amount.
Be sure not to confuse pre-approval with pre-qualifying, which carries less weight and is primarily for your information. Getting pre-approved gives you more clout once you start house hunting in earnest, and it also gives you a better chance of final approval since the lender has already given you a preliminary approval for a certain size mortgage.
Helpful hint: When talking with your mortgage broker, be sure to ask about incentives and government programs for first-time homebuyers. You may qualify for an FHA loan that may allow you to buy with a lower down payment; there are also several down payment assistance programs in Atlanta for that you could qualify for.
Hire a knowledgeable real estate agent.
With financial planning, pre-approval and neighborhood research now complete, you are now in a better position to move forward with your home search. Now it is time to find a good Atlanta real estate agent to help you find your dream home. You can obviously search on your own, but in Atlanta’s vast and competitive market it is best to have someone in your corner who can offer you options, negotiate with sellers and seller’s agents and look out for your interests. Here are five questions to ask when choosing an agent that will help ensure you have a positive experience.
Once you have figured out your finances and hired an agent, it is time to look for Atlanta neighborhoods with homes available within your budget. Atlanta offers a rich tapestry of different neighborhoods that boast their own unique vibes. For higher budgets and larger homes, you might want to look in Buckhead, Dunwoody or suburbs north of the Perimeter. Even if you don’t have a large budget, it’s still possible to find relatively affordable homes in Atlanta’s affluent neighborhoods. If you crave the vibrant urban feel — or if you like being in the heart of the city — check out some Midtown high-rises or the homes surrounding the Atlanta BeltLine. If you are looking for a good starter home, take a look at some of the revitalized neighborhoods like Cabbagetown or Old Fourth Ward. For a more artsy, eclectic vibe, look at Ormewood Park/East Atlanta Village. These are just a few examples of many. For a more in-depth overview, we’ve put together an Atlanta Neighborhood Guide for New Homebuyers to guide you through some of the hottest neighborhoods for first-time buyers.
Begin the house hunt.
Once you’ve narrowed down some neighborhoods, it’s time to start hunting! Start by putting together a list of your need and wants. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Do you want a single-family home? A condo or a high-rise apartment? If you have children or plan to start a family, is the school system important to you? Do you prefer the quiet of the suburbs, or are you into the walkable urban lifestyle? Do you need to be close to work? Do you want to be near public transportation? You also have to consider the pros and cons of buying a new or old home — are you willing to buy a “fixer-upper” to get more home for less money? As you tour homes, be sure to have a home viewing checklist in hand and keep an eye out for real estate red flags. Finally, you need to be ready to make an offer. This is critical as Atlanta’s real estate market continues to heat up. Here are a few tips for staying on top of Atlanta’s hot real estate market.
Ready to buy your first home in Atlanta?
At Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, our highly qualified agents are committed to serving your needs as a first-time home buyer in Atlanta, offering personalized insight and advice to help you find the right home in the right neighborhood at the right price. For more information, call us today at 404.237.5000.