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Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Young couple buying new home

The best tip I received from a realtor when I was looking to buy my house was to find a good realtor, not just a real estate agent. Little did I know, not everyone with a real estate license is a realtor. A realtor must meet stricter education requirements than those required by law, and they are bound not only by the law, but the higher standard of the realtor code of ethics.

Choose a realtor the same way you would find a doctor, accountant or other professional by meeting with several or by recommendation from a friend or colleague. Most importantly, you should feel comfortable with whomever you hire since you will be working closely together. He or she will help you navigate the home buying process and make it as easy and stress-free as possible. It is the realtor’s responsibility to schedule/show properties that fit your search criteria, write the offer, negotiate terms on your behalf and walk you through each step of the buying process before and after an offer has been accepted.

Once you choose your realtor, you enter into a “brokerage relationship.” In order to work together, you and your realtor need a written “brokerage agreement.” The agreement defines what services the realtor will provide, how long they will provide services, and the fee (if any) and how it is paid. You might be asking, “Why do I have to sign a brokerage agreement?” It is always good to have agreements in writing so you both understand exactly what’s expected from each other. In Virginia, for example, the law requires a “brokerage agreement” to protect homebuyers.

As a buyer, what can you expect?

  • Your realtor can show you any house listed for sale. If you find a home you really like, be prepared to make an offer in writing immediately or risk it being sold to someone else.
  • Bring your checkbook when looking for a house. An earnest money deposit is needed at the time that the contract is written. The deposit amount depends on the price of the home. The deposit is placed in an escrow account until after the contract is ratified.
  • Additional costs when you write a contract include: home inspection (typically $275-$375), radon inspection ($150-$200), credit report (approx. $55 per person), appraisal (approx. $350), one-year hazard insurance (price depends on coverage, approx. $2.50 per thousand of home price) and flood insurance (price depends on coverage).
  • A walkthrough inspection is normally done the day of the settlement to ascertain the home is substantially in the same condition as the day the contract was written and/or the seller has made repairs/improvements written into the sales contract or the home inspection addendum.
  • The settlement date is specified in the sales contract and is firm. Any changes must be made and agreed to in writing. Settlement is usually held at a title company’s office. Your keys are given at this time.

I still remember all the anticipation and nerves of my home buying experience. But when you find the property that meets your needs and the sellers choose you to buy their home, you know it’s meant to be. Sixteen years later and I have no buyer’s remorse.

Nikki Ducas
Nikki Ducas is a freelance writer and for the past 8+ years writes the money column for Fredericksburg Parent & Family Magazine. She has lived in Fredericksburg for 16 years with her husband and is a homeschooling mom to their two boys. Nikki enjoys hiking, knitting and her other side hustles of pet sitting and event management.

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