William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

First-Time Homebuyer Guide: 10 Useful Tips

William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

First-Time Homebuyer Guide: 10 Useful Tips

Buying a home for the first time can be a thrilling but complex process. However, as a first time home buyer there are some benefits that you can take advantage of to make the process a bit easier.

home for sale

In this guide, we share valuable insights and tips to help you make informed decisions and navigate the path to homeownership with confidence. Whether you're unsure about the initial steps, curious about financing options or what next after finding the perfect property, we've got you covered.

Key Takeaways
  • A first time homebuyer is an individual who with his or her spouse if married, has never owned a home or has not owned a home for three years prior to the date of purchase of the new home
  • Among the things to consider as a first time homebuyer include doing a comprehensive financial analysis, ensuring that you have a good credit score and exploring your mortgage options to find out how much you qualify for
  • Before you get started on the home buying process, first consult with a financial advisor and real estate professional so they can provide you with insights and offer guidance on the entire process

The contents of this article are for educational purposes only. They are not intended to be a source of professional financial advice. You will find experts on financial planning and financial management here. More on disclaimers here.

Who is a First Time Home Buyer?

realtor and clients checking out a home

A first-time homebuyer as defined by the IRS is an individual who, with his or her spouse if married, has not owned any other principal residence for three years prior to the date of purchase of the new principal residence for which the credit is being claimed.

Generally, to be considered a first-time homebuyer, you either must never have owned a home or haven't owned a home for the past three years. Depending on the local regulations and programs, this definition may vary.

First-time homebuyers can include young adults who are transitioning from renting to owning, individuals or couples starting a family or anyone who has not previously owned a home.

10 Excellent Tips for First Time Homebuyers

couple at their new home

Tip #1: Start by assessing your finances

Assessing your finances is an essential first step because it provides a realistic understanding of your financial situation and helps determine how much you can afford when buying a home. Here's how you can approach this process:

Evaluate your income. Begin by assessing your current income including your salary, wages and any additional sources of income. Consider both your gross and net income to get a comprehensive view of your financial resources.

Calculate your expenses. Review your monthly expenses including housing costs, utilities, transportation, debt payments, groceries and discretionary spending. Account for both essential and non-essential expenses to get a complete picture of your financial obligations.

Determine your savings. Assess your existing savings and determine how much you can allocate towards a down payment and closing costs. Remember to also set aside an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses after purchasing a home.

Consider your credit score. Check your credit score and review your credit history. A good credit score can help you qualify for better mortgage terms and interest rates. If needed, take steps to improve your credit score by paying bills on time, reducing debt and resolving any credit issues. As a first time homebuyer, a credit score of 620 or higher is ideal if you're planning to apply for a conventional loan.

Calculate your debt-to-income ratio. Determine your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio by dividing your monthly debt payments by your gross monthly income. This ratio is an important factor lenders consider when evaluating mortgage applications. Aim for a DTI ratio below 43% to increase your chances of mortgage approval.

Before you get started with the home buying process, first consult with a financial advisor and real estate professional as they can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your specific financial situation.

Tip #2: Determine the kind of home that you want

residential real estate property

By having a clear idea of the kind of home that you want, you can easily narrow down your options and find a home that aligns with your needs and preferences. Depending on whether you're looking for a single-family home, townhouse, condominium or apartment be sure to weigh the advantages and considerations of each. Consider the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you require, the desired square footage, and any specific features or amenities that are important to you. Make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves to prioritize your preferences.

Additionally, think about the location factors that matter to you, such as proximity to work, schools, amenities and transportation. Research different neighborhoods and communities to find the right fit. It's also essential to consider your budget, as it will influence the type of home you can afford.

Lastly, consult with a reputable real estate agent who specializes in the local market for guidance and insights. Determining the kind of home you want sets the foundation for a focused and successful home search process.

Tip #3: Ensure that your credit score is in check

As a first time homebuyer, having a good credit score is important as it is a big determinant when it comes to mortgage eligibility. Mortgage lenders use it to assess your creditworthiness and evaluate the risk of lending to you. A higher credit score can improve your chances of securing a mortgage and qualifying for more favorable interest rates and loan terms.

It is therefore important that you obtain a copy of your credit report from major credit bureaus such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and review it carefully. Check for any errors and discrepancies that may negatively impact your credit score.

To maintain a good credit score, ensure that you:

  • Pay your bills on time as late payments can significantly harm your credit rating. Set up reminders or automatic payments to ensure you never miss a payment.
  • Reduce outstanding debt. High levels of debt can negatively affect your credit score and mortgage affordability. Lowering your debt-to-income ratio can improve your creditworthiness.
  • Avoid new credit applications before and during the homebuying process. This is because multiple credit inquiries can temporarily lower your credit score. Wait until after securing a mortgage to pursue additional credit, if needed.
  • Maintain a healthy credit utilization ratio. Credit utilization ratio is the percentage of available credit you're currently using. Aim to keep this ratio below 30%. For example, if your credit limit is $10,000, try to maintain a balance below $3,000. Keeping your credit utilization low demonstrates responsible credit management.
  • Seek professional advice if needed. If you have concerns about your credit score or need assistance improving it, consider consulting a financial advisor. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation and help you develop a plan to enhance your creditworthiness.

Tip #4: Save up for a down payment for the house

man saving for a home down payment

Saving up money for the down payment of a house reduces the amount you need to borrow, lowers your monthly mortgage payments and may help you secure a more favorable interest rate. Saving for a down payment also demonstrates financial responsibility and strengthens your position as a buyer.

To save for a down payment establish a target amount, create a savings plan and cut back on unnecessary expenses. Be sure to explore down payment assistance programs and consider increasing your income through side jobs or freelancing. As a first time buyer, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) can give you access to state programs, tax breaks and a FHA loan.

While a 20% down payment is often recommended to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI), you can also consider taking conventional loans with lower down payment requirements.

Tip #5: Explore your mortgage options and find out how much you qualify for

Understanding how much you can afford is essential before you start house hunting. Use online mortgage calculators to estimate your monthly mortgage payments based on different loan amounts and interest rates. Consider your income, expenses and savings to determine a comfortable budget.

It is also important that you familiarize yourself with different mortgage options available to you so that you're aware of the options that you have. Common types include fixed-rate mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages, FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans. Each type has its own terms, eligibility requirements and benefits. Research their features and discuss them with mortgage lenders to find the best fit for your needs.

Before you settle on one lender, get quotes from multiple lenders first so that you ensure you get the best mortgage terms and interest rates. Consider not only the interest rate but also closing costs, loan origination fees and any other associated expenses.

In case you're conflicted on next steps consult a loan officer, mortgage lender or real estate professional as they can provide valuable insights and help you navigate the mortgage application process.

6. Get pre-approval for a mortgage

home mortgage broker and client

Before you get too excited and start viewing properties, first make sure that you get a mortgage pre-approval. A pre-approval provides you with a clear understanding of how much you can afford to spend on a home. It takes into account your income, credit score and financial history to determine the home loan amount you qualify for. This helps you set a realistic budget and narrow down your home search to properties within your price range.

Pre-approval demonstrates to sellers that you are a serious buyer who has undergone a thorough financial evaluation. It gives you a competitive edge in a competitive housing market, as sellers are more likely to consider offers from pre-approved buyers over those who haven't gone through the process.

With pre-approval, the mortgage application process can be expedited once you find a home. Since your financial information has already been reviewed, the lender can focus on verifying the property and finalizing the loan details.

Tip #7: Engage a qualified real estate agent

real estate agent

Engaging a qualified real estate agent as a first time homebuyer is crucial as they will provide you with expert guidance, access to listings, skilled negotiation and connections to professionals. Real estate agents have in-depth knowledge of the local market and can help you navigate the homebuying process with confidence.

Research and interview multiple agents to find one who understands your needs and has experience in your desired area. Their expertise will be invaluable in finding the right home and securing the best possible deal.

If you're in the market for a certified real estate agent, get in touch with Ila here.

Tip #8: Find a home that suits your needs

As a first time home buyer, identify your priorities and must-haves in a home. Consider factors such as location, size, layout, amenities and proximity to schools, work and other essential facilities.

Also, determine your budget and stick to it. Consider not just the purchase price but also ongoing expenses like property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs. As you keep looking for your dream home, trust your instincts. If it doesn't feel right or doesn't meet your needs, it may be best to keep searching.

Tip #9: Submit your offer and do a home inspection once you get a house that you want

Once you find a home that suits your needs, work with your real estate agent to draft a competitive offer that reflects the value of the property and aligns with your budget. Consider factors such as market conditions, comparable sales and any contingencies you may need to include.

Also be sure to also hire a professional home inspector to assess the condition of the property before finalizing the purchase. The inspection will help identify any underlying issues, such as structural problems or hidden damage, which could affect the home's value or require costly repairs.

Carefully review the inspection report and discuss any concerns with your real estate agent.

Tip #10: Keep learning

By embracing a mindset of continuous learning, you position yourself to make more informed decisions, navigate potential challenges and maximize the benefits of homeownership. Whether through books, online resources, workshops or guidance from professionals, the more you learn the better equipped you'll be on your journey to becoming a confident and knowledgeable first-time homebuyer.

Benefits of Being a First-Time Homebuyer

First-time buyer program

Many governments and organizations offer special programs and incentives for first-time homebuyers. These can include down payment assistance, grants, tax credits or favorable loan terms, making homeownership more affordable and accessible.

Lower down payment options

First-time homebuyers often have access to lower down payment requirements compared to repeat buyers. This can help reduce the upfront costs associated with purchasing a home, making it easier to enter the housing market.

Building equity

As a homeowner, you have the opportunity to build equity over time. With each mortgage payment, you gradually increase your ownership stake in the property, which can provide long-term financial benefits and potential wealth accumulation.

Stable housing costs

Renting often comes with the risk of rent increases year after year. When you own a home, your monthly mortgage payment is typically more stable, especially if you have a fixed-rate mortgage. This stability in housing costs can provide financial predictability and help with budgeting.

Tax benefits

Homeownership can come with tax advantages. You may be able to deduct mortgage interest, property taxes and certain home-related expenses on your annual tax return. Consult with a tax professional to understand the specific tax benefits available in your area.

Potential appreciation

Over time, real estate has shown the potential for appreciation in value. As a first-time homebuyer, you have the opportunity to benefit from any increase in property values, which can lead to significant equity growth.

Future financial opportunities

Homeownership can open up future financial opportunities. As you build equity and gain homeownership experience, you may have the option to upgrade to a larger or more desirable property, use your home equity for other investments, or even generate income by renting out a portion of your home.

What Next After Purchasing Your First Home?

After purchasing your first home as a first-time homebuyer, there are several important things to consider. Here are some key things to keep in mind.

Settling in and organizing

Take the time to settle into your new home and get organized. Change your address with relevant institutions, set up utilities and services and familiarize yourself with the property's maintenance needs.

Create a budget

Review and update your budget to include homeownership expenses such as mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs. Ensure that you have a financial plan in place to manage these ongoing expenses.

Home maintenance

Regular home maintenance is essential to protect your investment and ensure the longevity of your property. Create a maintenance schedule and stay on top of tasks such as cleaning, landscaping, HVAC servicing and gutter cleaning.

Homeowners insurance

Review your homeowners insurance policy to ensure it provides adequate coverage for your property and belongings. Consider obtaining additional coverage if needed, such as flood insurance or an umbrella policy for liability protection.

Home improvements and renovations

Assess any desired home improvements or renovations and prioritize them based on your budget and needs. Consider projects that can enhance your comfort, energy efficiency and property value.

Build an emergency fund

As a homeowner, unexpected expenses can arise, such as major repairs or replacements. Establish an emergency fund where you can save money to cover these unforeseen costs and provide peace of mind.

Get involved in the community

Take the opportunity to get involved in your new community. Attend local events, join neighborhood groups and connect with neighbors. Building relationships and becoming an active member of the community can enhance your living experience.

Stay informed about real estate

Continue to stay informed about the real estate market and trends. Monitoring market conditions can provide insights into potential opportunities, refinancing options or investment strategies that may benefit you in the future.


Buying a home is a significant milestone, and it's normal to feel a mix of emotions along the way. But with the right guidance, preparation and a commitment to continuous learning, you can navigate the process with confidence.

If you're a first time homebuyer and are looking for a qualified real estate agent to guide you through the process, then get in touch with Ila here.

Bay Street Capital Holdings

Bay Street Capital Holdings

Bay Street Capital Holdings is an independent Black-owned investment advisory and wealth management firm that is based in Palo Alto, CA. The firm was founded by William Huston after 13 years of supporting the United States' largest retirement plan ($650B) Thrift Savings Plan. Bay Street works to manage portfolios with the goal of maintaining and increasing total assets and income with a high priority on managing total risk and volatility.

In 2023, Bay Street has been named a Finalist in the wealthmanagement.com 2023 Industry Awards under the category of Asset Managers: Diversity, Equity and Inclusions for its work with Resthaven Properties. William was also recognized as Investopedia’s Top 100 Financial Advisors in 2021. In the same year, Bay Street was also selected as a finalist out of over 900 firms across the US in the category of Asset Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In California, only two Black-owned firms out of nineteen firms received this recognition.

Bay Street was founded to advocate for diverse and emerging fund managers and entrepreneurs.








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