Before we share our four big tips, it might be helpful to keep in mind that our typical first-time home buyer often fits the following criteria:
- About 27 years old
- Moved to Seattle from anywhere and everywhere
- Often work for a tech company, a medical company, or they’re an engineer somewhere
- They’ve been renting (often in Belltown) and are tired of it
- $650,000 – $1.2M home buying budget
And, in addition to all of this, many of our first-time home buyers share similar misconceptions. Hopefully, these four important tips for first-time home buyers in Seattle will help set the record straight and make your home search process that much easier!
1. Buy a home at least 10% larger than you think you need.
Most of our first-timers just got out of college and are used to living in smaller spaces as a result. And when you’re renting, the cost of moving to another rental is minimal compared to the cost of selling and buying a new home. Because of the high cost of selling a home, you’ll want to minimize the chance of needing a new (and likely bigger!) home for a while—or at least until the home’s appreciation will cover your selling costs.
The takeaway? Buy something that’s a little bigger than you need right now so you can grow into it as your needs evolve. There can be a lot of changes early in life, and you want your home to be ready for it!
2. Don’t be too cheap.
There are a few reasons for this one: Good, quality homes appreciate better and sell faster in the future. If you bought the house that nobody wanted because it was a “good deal” at the time, you will deal with that when the time to sell comes.
Additionally, many of our clients feel like a mortgage is something so scary and permanent and renting is somehow more liberating. But from a big picture financial perspective, this is NOT even close to true (I know you’ve heard it before, but one more time: Once you’ve paid rent, the money is spent and gone vs. invested in the equity of a home). In Seattle’s real estate market, you can sell your home whenever you’d like. You can easily rent your home, and depending on what you buy, oftentimes you can Airbnb/short-term rent your home as well. In our opinion, that is WAY more liberating.
So, buy a good property even if it’s a little more money than you thought you wanted to spend. If you fit our “typical first-time buyer” profile, then you are likely 2-4 years into your new career, and you likely will make more money next year than you did this year. Do not, however, make yourself house poor. Just don’t be too cheap either! We know this is a hard balance, so find an agent you can trust, and be honest about your finances. Your agent should want what is best for you!
3. “Date” those Seattle neighborhoods!
By “date” we mean get out there and explore those neighborhoods and see what it’s like to really spend time somewhere. I always tell my first-time buyers that no matter how long they think they’ll stay in the home, the average is usually around five years before many first-time buyers are ready to move.
When you’re deciding which neighborhood to live in, you’ll want to try to strike a balance between appreciation and neighborhood amenities. All the blue-chip neighborhoods (Capitol Hill, Ballard, Queen Anne, etc.) have the best amenities, and the appreciation rates are good (but not as high as say Central District or North Beacon Hill). Think about what amenities you want around your house. Do you need 50 restaurant options or would you still be happy if you had 20 options? Where do you like to hang out? How do you commute?
Pick neighborhoods that fit your current lifestyle well, and be real about that. You don’t want to feel the itch to move the following year (remember, selling is expensive!). At the same time, you need this house to help you buy your next (bigger and likely longer-term) house.
4. Really think about the commute.
Does an extra 10 minutes added to your commute really bother you if it means that you can get more house, more appreciation, and fabulous finishes? Many people can get used to a slightly longer commute if it means they can get more of the home they want.
On the flip side, don’t go for the “most house” possible that is too far from your reasonable commute time (which is different for everyone!). You will want to move too soon *cough cough… = expensive!*
When you find a house you like, you should read about the commute to where you work, talk to co-workers who might make the same commute, and you should do the commute before committing to it for the next five years. We find that commutes are the most common regret that buyers have!
So, hopefully, this helps you all out. There are about a million other tips, but this is already too long for most of our attention spans. 🙂 We will share more tips later, so stay tuned!