Planning to buy a new home in 2019? Start now.
Getting a jump on the housing market could help you buy sooner, smarter and cheaper.
"The advantage to starting early is you can get your ducks in row," says Caroline Simmel, chief marketing officer at Edward Andrews Homes, a home builder in Atlanta.
Those "ducks" might include a lower mortgage rate, faster and easier home-purchase process and home that's a better match for the location, size, style and floor plan you want.
To get ready to buy a new home in the new year, follow these five steps:
1. Make a list
Step one in the home-buying process is to make a list of what you need and want in your home. Examples of popular "wants" include an open floor plan, spacious backyard, gas appliances, quartz or granite kitchen countertops, walk-in closets and a three-car garage. To get more ideas, think about things you don't like about where you currently live and imagine options that would be better for you.
When you list your wants, consider your lifestyle as well as your design preferences. For example, if you plan to do a lot of gardening, you might want a larger backyard for raised beds or a bigger patio for containers.
"Some people love outside spaces more than the home's interior. Others don't want anything to do with the outdoors," says Karin Kay, new home sales manager at Sable Homes, a builder in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ranking your needs and wants in order of importance can be helpful to clarify your goals and ensure you'll get what's most important to you.
"Buyers who know what they want and how important each feature is to them tend to feel more satisfied when construction's complete and they move into their brand-new home," says Leslie Zeanah, a Realtor at House & Home Real Estate in Montgomery, Ala.
2. Do research
The next step is to research mortgage loans, school districts and new homes that are for sale in locations you like and spend as much time there as you can to narrow down your options.
As you do your research, keep in mind that you may have to adjust your "wants" to fit your budget. Home design websites and magazines typically showcase "the best of the best" and those rooms can prove costly to copy, Kay says.
3. Set aside savings
You should also set aside savings for moving costs, home repairs and maintenance and other homeowner expenses.
Newly built homes usually come with a builder's warranty and various manufacturer's warranties that can cover many repairs for some time. Warranties don't cover everything, however, so you should prepared for some additional costs.
If you're a first-time buyer, you'll also be newly responsible for expenses that might have been paid by your landlord or your parents. Examples include utilities, landscape maintenance, tree trimming and snow removal. Some utility companies require an upfront deposit to open an account, so you should set aside funds for that expense as well.
Make a separate budget for improvements that typically aren't included with your new home, such as window coverings, landscaping and fences.
4. Talk to a sales consultant
Another good tip is to talk to a sales consultant on the phone, online or in a sales office, says Kelli Bailey, vice president, sales, at home builder Pulte Group's West Florida division in Tampa.
"Just because you're meeting with a consultant doesn't mean you have to buy that day," Bailey says.
A consultant can answer questions about floor plans, pricing, square footage, lot locations and more. Some consultants can also help you get prequalified for financing, a step that's important to do early because mortgage rates can change.
You can just show up at the sales office, walk in and have a chat, but some builders prefer that you make an appointment in advance.
"We encourage scheduling so the consultant can give that customer all their time and make sure they get all the information and have a good idea of what we offer and what will work for them," Bailey says.
If you're struggling to nail down your needs and wants, a consultant can help you do that. And if you and your spouse (or other co-buyers) have seemingly irreconcilable desires and expectations, a consultant can suggest compromises and solutions.
"The consultant can help talk them through it and figure out what they have to have and what they're willing to live without or bring up ideas they haven't thought of that might be a workaround," Bailey says.
Plan to spend at least 30 minutes to one hour for an initial meeting with a sales consultant, including tours of the community and model homes.
5. Make a decision
Buying a new construction home can be overwhelming and tiring as well as fun and exciting. For that reason, you shouldn't rush the process or worry if it takes you a long time to make a decision.
Some buyers have time constraints like getting married, having a child or relocating for a job that force them to make a fast decision. If you're not in that type of situation, be patient with yourself and your spouse while you're doing researching and making a decision to buy a new home. When you find a home that meets your needs and fits your budget, you'll be ready to go ahead and buy it.