Buying a home for the first time can be intimidating and exciting—all at the same time! As with anything in life, sometimes the most important lessons to learn about real estate are ones you learn from your mistakes. As realtors, we have seen it all — and that is why we have put together this essential list of considerations when you are looking to purchase your first home.
(Note: For the sake of length, we will address mortgages and figuring out how much you can afford in a separate post, but this is an essential part of your first time buying experience.)
First things first, a house is only worth its foundation. Buying a house with a poor foundation or with structural issues is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a first time homeowner, and sadly, it’s a pretty common problem here in Florida—especially if you are buying a beach front properties which suffer from coastal erosion. And the worst part? Damage to the structure or foundation isn’t always easy to spot. That is why our next point is so important.
Before you get serious with a boyfriend or girlfriend (or a car), you take them for a test drive. Same goes with buying a house—get an inspection and a second opinion. Not unreasonably, when you find the house of your dreams you’ll see everything through rose-colored glasses, so before getting too serious, ask a friend to check out the house and be open to their feedback. Chances are that they will be able to see some of the flaws you overlooked.
Not all problems can be spotted superficially and a good inspection is extremely important. Without it, you may miss a whole host of common Miami issues that you should ask to be fixed before finalizing any offer. In addition to the structural or foundation issues we mentioned earlier, this can include roof leaks, termites and mold/mildew (from Miami humidity). Expert tip: Make sure you are onsite for the inspection and follow the inspector around to make sure he checks the entire property. Ask as many questions as you can and take good notes. You can thank us later.
Location. Location. Location.
Once you’ve made sure everything is okay inside the house, it’s time to look outside AND around the neighborhood. In addition to an inspection, you should ask to have the land surveyed so that you have a clear idea of your property lines (which will save you from boundary wars later on). All banks require a survey before approving a mortgage.
After you know the boundaries of your yard, it’s time to dig in—what is the soil like? If it’s poor, you’re going to have trouble later on with building your dream pool or organic herb garden. Expert Tip: If there already is a pool, which is very common in Miami, it’s important to be realistic how much the upkeep will cost you monthly, not to mention the time commitment. Make sure that pool is well-fenced to avoid lawsuit fees from a neighborhood kid who slipped in and injured himself later on.
Neighborhood and location. You can spend a lot of money fixing up a house, but you still won’t be able to change neighbors or your location. As we pointed out in an earlier blog post, it pays to hire a realtor that knows the area you are looking at. Your neighborhood will determine the traffic you face every morning, the future value of your home and the schools your kids will attend (even if you don’t have kids this will affect your ability to sell or rent in the future). It’s important you also know the crime rates of your neighborhood—nothing drives down value and those happy new homeowner vibes like insecurity. Expert tip: In Miami, it’s easy to pay a high premium for a great view—but there are new buildings constantly going up, especially in Brickell and Downtown. Make sure to check future building plans for settling into yours.
Buying a home is only the beginning—when you add the extras you could be look at doubling your original calculations for a mortgage payment.
Insurance. Make sure to shop around when buying home owner’s insurance, as rates and policies vary quite a bit. If it’s option, keep in mind that bundling insurance for car and home can give you a significant discount. Florida has one of the highest homeowner insurance rates in the US, averaging around $160 a month, so you’ll need to find discounts where you can!
Taxes. In Miami, you should have 2-3 types of taxes in mind: property, city and county. All will vary widely depending on your location, but it’s important that you know what and who you’ll be paying before moving in. Several cities in Miami Dade, Coral Gables and Miami Shores for example, require you to pay taxes in addition to county taxes.
Fees. If you’re living in a condo or your home is part of a neighborhood association, you’ll also want to add in automatic condo or home owners association fees to what you can expect to pay every month. These fees can be a deal breaker, and it’s not uncommon for you to pay more than $300 per month depending on services and amenities offered. Expert tip: Make sure to ask if there are any projects and/or special assessments coming down the line—is the building is requiring all owners to replace windows in all apartments or they’re redoing the roof, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t caught by surprise by those costs.
Still ready to buy?
Congratulations! Of course, these tips are only the beginning, but they serve as a strong starting point for all the considerations you will need to make when successfully evaluating the purchase of a home. We strongly recommend hiring a realtor (not just because we are realtors!) because that kind of investment should merit a decision that can be based on expert advice and guidance.
If you are looking to buy a house in South Florida, we would be honored to help you every step of the way. Give us a call today at 786.554.8063 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will look forward to hearing from you!