Personal Finance

Buying a home for the first time? Avoid these mistakes

Key Points
  • If you're a first-time homebuyer, you're likely to make some mistakes, particularly when it comes to making an offer.
  • All homeowners are prone to certain blind spots, often when it comes to shopping for a mortgage and coming up with the down payment.
  • Being pragmatic about the process and setting the right priorities increases your chances of finding an affordable home.
Prospective home buyers arrive with a realtor to a house for sale in Dunlap, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If you've bought your first home in the past five years, you've probably learned some tough lessons.

And that learning curve could cost you.

A new survey from personal finance website NerdWallet takes a look at homebuyer trends. And the research finds that first-time homebuyers more often face disadvantages at the negotiating table.

Individuals shopping for their first home put in 3.8 offers on average before their offers were accepted. That's higher than the 2.5 offers that more experienced homebuyers made.

Biggest mistakes first-time homebuyers make

What's more, 56 percent of first-time buyers offered more than the asking price before successfully sealing a deal. In comparison, just 35 percent of other homebuyers put up more than the asking price.

In the end, more first-time buyers — 34 percent — were left feeling financially insecure after their purchase versus 17 percent of buyers who had done it before. First-time buyers are typically about 30 to 36 years old, according to NerdWallet. In 2017, there were 2.07 million first-time homebuyers, a 7 percent increase from the previous year, according to Genworth Mortgage Insurance.

"It shows that things are tough out there for first-time homebuyers," Holden Lewis, home expert at NerdWallet, said of the survey results.

First-time buyers might be more prone to making mistakes such as low-balling offers, Lewis said. That hurts them, particularly when there's less inventory on the market for entry-level priced homes.

"There's just more competition for those homes," Lewis said. "There's not a whole lot of them out there in a lot of markets, and there's a lot of buyers who are competing for those homes."

Shop around

One area that half of all homebuyers tend to neglect: shopping around for a mortgage.

Fifty percent of buyers applied to just one lender, according to NerdWallet's research.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate is 4.52 percent, according to The average 15-year fixed rate is 3.93 percent.

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Shopping around can save you about $430 in interest in the first year if you have a fixed-rate $260,000 mortgage, according to NerdWallet.

"That savings would accumulate and compound for every year that they had the loan," Lewis said.

And if all Americans comparison shopped, they would save a whopping $776 million in one year, according to NerdWallet.

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Put less down

Another mistake homebuyers commonly make: Thinking they have to put 20 percent down when purchasing a home.

It is possible to close a deal with a smaller down payment, particularly if you have good credit.

In markets were home prices are going up fast, it can make sense to buy now rather than wait until you have saved up that 20 percent down payment, Lewis said.

Just remember: Your mortgage payments will be higher.

If you put less than 20 percent down, you generally will also have to pay mortgage insurance.

In some markets, though, home values might be rising faster than what you're paying for mortgage insurance, Lewis pointed out.

Steps to take

In order to make your homebuying process more smooth, there are several things you can do to avoid costly mistakes.

  • Use an online calculator. NerdWallet and other sites offer home affordability calculators. This can help you understand how your salary and monthly debt payments affect how much you can realistically afford to pay.
  • Be willing to compromise. You're likely not going to find everything you want in a home. Identify your top priorities — such as square footage, commute, quality of local schools — and be willing to give up other priorities. "It really helps to know going into that it that you're just simply not going to get everything you want," Lewis said.
  • Realize it will be an emotional process. This tip goes for first-time homebuyers especially, Lewis said. Your emotions in the process can range from the excitement of finding a home, the anxiety tied to making an offer or the disappointment of not getting that house. "When you go into the process knowing that you're going to have these huge emotional ups and downs, you can weather them more easily," Lewis said.

NerdWallet's most recent homebuyer survey was conducted online in January. It included 2,029 adults ages 18 and up.