Houston 101

Ten Tips for First Time Houston Home Buyers

Buying a home can feel like an unachievable goal, particularly for millennials who have consistently seen their wealth and financial stability disappear over the last two decades. However, it’s still possible. We spoke to Houston realtors and a loan officer about how someone could finally find themselves in a house they own.

10. Don’t Wait for the Interest Rates to Go Down

“Interest rates are higher this year, but they are still historically very, very low,” says loan officer Karen Wood. “We’re still only at 2018 pre-pandemic levels. Don’t let it scare you. Historically, you’re good, and there’s always refinancing when things slow down. We never know when the future is going to hold. Next year might be even higher.”

9. Home Buying Shows Have Set Some Unrealistic Expectations

HGTV shows about home buyers are good brain candy fun, but they also have made people somewhat misinformed about the way the home buying process actually works. “You’ll see a guy who is a professional pencil sharpener with a million-dollar budget who looks at three houses and picks one,” says realtor Blythe Kirkwood. “Realistically, you’re going to look at more than 20, and there will always be compromises made at any price point.”

8. Do Your Research Ahead of Time

With the wealth of information online, there’s no excuse for not looking deeply into the area and type of house you want to live in. “Define your areas first, the amenities that matter to you,” says realtor Michael Russell. “Millennials are excellent at researching. By the time they come to me to look for a whom they already know a lot of the information I am going to share with them. The pricing is fluid, it changes from week to week. One home I saw dropped a lot in two weeks, and someone joked ‘is this the new market?’”

7. Waiting Has Consequences

A lot of prospective homebuyers are waiting for prices to drop or perhaps for another pricing bubble to happen as it did before the Great Recession. This may be a strategy for investors, but for people interested in buying homes to live in it can be a waste.

“People are saying they want to rent for another year then buy, but when you rent the interest rate on rent is 100 percent,” says Wood. “You’re still paying a mortgage, it’s just someone else’s. Rent has increased 9.9 percent in Houston. Every time you re-sign your lease, your rent increases. You’re stuck paying more and more without getting a return. When you buy a home, you’re paying yourself equity. It’s an asset for your personal wealth.”

6. Even If You’re Not Ready Now, Get Started Talking

The idea of home ownership seems out of reach, but it may be closer than a buyer thinks. “There are more options than you think there are that can get you on the path to home ownership,” says Kirkwood. She recommends at least talking with a loan officer to get an idea about your finances and credit, as well as what can be done to improve them. Just because someone isn’t ready now doesn’t mean they won’t be ready in a year or two.

Karen Wood
Photo by Nana With a Camera Photography
5. Be Ready to Fight the Predatory Investors

It’s been national news for awhile that investors are gobbling up single family homes to use as rental properties, driving homebuyers out of the market. Russell says that sadly these involve the homes in the $250,000 to $325,000 range, so be prepared to have some dream homes snatched out from under you to pad a landlord’s wallet.

4. Flexibility is Key

“You’ll never get exactly what you want, but you’ll get close,” says Russell. Unless you’re having a house built from scratch, there will always be compromises. Tough decisions will have to be made, so don’t set your heart on perfect.

3. Some Places in Houston That Are Great for Buyers

Tomball, Katy, Sugar Land, and The Woodlands are all seeing a lot of house buying right now thanks to new home construction. “I love Tomball because it has a little city feel to it and is within easy driving distance of downtown,” says Kirkwood. Russell also recommends the Heights for people who are not basing their purchase on a school district thanks to the number of walking distance amenities and closeness to the Medical Center.

2. Price May Not Be the Most Important Thing

“People worry that they’re going to be outbid, but that’s not always what’s most on the seller’s mind,” says Kirkwood. “Sometimes it’s more about the move-out date or other factors. The best thing is to have a good relationship with your agents who can negotiate with theirs. You might not have to worry about having the highest bid if you fulfill some other need.”

1. Don’t Underestimate the Emotional Benefits of Getting a House

“If someone is financially and emotionally ready to buy, they should,” says Wood. “Stop throwing money away and living in cramped paces by someone else’s rules. If you can, you should consider it. Houston’s market generally doesn’t have much risk of dropping in value as other market areas. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back in a way that impacts your life.”
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
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