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First Time Homebuyers

(appeared in Black and White City Guide, 1998)

Copyright (C) 1998 Karyn K. Zweifel

Buying a home for the first time can be like jumping off the end of a pier. Everybody says the water’s fine, but that first contact can be a bit of a shock.
“I think you really do need to work with an agent the first time out,” says Pride F. Forney, a local realtor. “There is so much you don’t know, that only a realtor will think to tell you. Like your right to have the home inspected -- a lot of people aren’t aware that they can do that.”
Before you even open the want ads or connect to the internet to look at houses, you need to visit your banker.
“The first thing to do is to get prequalified for a mortgage,” Forney continues. “Often people can buy more house than they thought they could.”
Although the rules are different everywhere, you can assume that lenders would prefer you spend no more than about 25% of your monthly take-home pay on a mortgage, says Ardis Albany, another Birmingham realtor. “You may not be comfortable spending that much on a mortgage, though,” she says. “Pick a comfortable amount.”
Once you know how much you can spend, decide what’s important for you in a house. How many bedrooms do you want? How many bathrooms? Do you want a big yard or a small one? A formal dining room or an eat-in kitchen? A basement? A garage?
Laura Wells has been selling homes in Birmingham for almost 20 years, and she advises first-time home buyers to consider the amenities available in the neighborhood they choose. “If you like to jog or bicycle, look for parks nearby. Choose a neighborhood that’s compatible with your lifestyle.”
The neighborhood you choose will also depend on your price range. “Some people like to look in Forest Park, others look in Homewood. If you want more house for your money, you’ll have to go a good ways down south, to the Alabaster or Pelham area,” says Albany.
“You want to pick a good solid neighborhood,” Wells continues. “You won’t stay there long, so you want your resale value to stay strong.”
Forney agrees. “I see a first home as a kind of a catapult. You’ll spend a few years there, put a little work into it, make a little profit when you sell. Then you can move on to your second house.”