Buying our first home has easily been the most stressful times of my partner and I’s lives – so if you’re feeling that way too, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
While the end result has been rewarding, the process to get here has been a long and often confusing one.
In fact, we’d been searching for a house for over 12 months before finally stumbling across our ‘dream’ place, and even that was somewhat luck (but I’ll get to that shortly).
What I want to talk about in this post is the process of house hunting – that is, trawling every real estate website under the sun in hope of finding your ideal abode – and the steps we took to purchase the house we wanted.
There’s certainly no exact science to it, but I’m writing this article in the hope that some of the things we learned can be passed on to you, to help aid in your search for your first home.
Here’s a list of things you should definitely consider when commencing your search for your first home.
Set a budget
The is the single most important decision you need to make before even starting to look for a house.
After all, there’s no point searching million-dollar houses on realestate.com.au when you’ve only got $300,000 to spend.
There’s a lot of calculators online that will give you a rough estimate on how much you can afford, based on your initial deposit.
This will give you a good starting point.
However, once you’re really serious about locking down a house, you should really speak to a mortgage broker.
Having someone to talk you through step-by-step about how much you can borrow, who you should borrow it from, and the buying process from start to finish will really put you more at ease, and not leaving you stressed out of your mind.
After all, buying your first home is unchartered territory and can be extremely daunting – don’t worry, you’re not the one feeling that way and it certainly pays to speak to someone who can assist you through the whole process.
Find a mortgage broker you trust
I cannot stress how important this was for us.
Our mortgage broker, Linda, was absolutely fantastic – we met her at an open house inspection one Saturday, exchanged details, and she was happy to meet us on weekends and respond to email questions about virtually anything.
This included financing, which bank we should get our loan from, our budget, the pros and cons of building versus buying, and then also talking us through the process once we finally had an offer accepted.
What’s equally important is: don’t stick with a broker you’re uncomfortable with.
The first broker we saw presented us with very few options that aligned with what we wanted: he was clearly pro-Commonwealth Bank and didn’t even entertain the idea of going with BankSA (which we eventually signed up with for our loan), and also seemed very pro-building versus buying established.
We both felt he was trying to push us in the direction that best suited HIM, rather than what was best for us.
A few weeks later, we met Linda and it completely changed our outlook on buying our first home, and made us so much more comfortable in the whole process.
So, big word of advice: find yourself a broker you TRUST!
Search online and attend open inspections
Honestly, by the time you’ve bought and moved into your first home, you will never want to look at another real estate site again.
My partner and I were scrolling the likes of realestate.com.au, LJ Hooker, Domain, and more, pretty much daily – and it’s important you do so.
We found that well-priced homes weren’t online for long before they were snapped up, and we made sure we trawled the web for new listings daily.
This is actually how we got our home; we saw it go up online late on a Wednesday night, we booked a private inspection with the agent through email for the next night, went and looked at the house, put in an offer then and there and had it accepted by Friday.
This was all before the house was scheduled to be opened for inspections on the Saturday.
By getting in quick, we were able to snatch up the house before anyone else could – and, according to our agent, there was a LOT of interest via email.
You should also try and do as many open inspections as possible.
It’s no surprise listings always look better online (what with the perfect lighting, camera angles etc) and we found homes looked vastly different in person.
It’s also a good chance to visit a lot of suburbs, and finding out which ones you like and don’t like.
Research different suburbs
Speaking of good and bad areas, the only way to make a decision about where to live is to ask around, read online, speak to agents and visit them yourself.
We knew we wanted to live in the north eastern part of Adelaide because it fit our budget, lifestyle and public transport needs, so we tailored a lot of our searches to those suburbs – however, we also kept our minds open.
I’d regularly check listings in Adelaide’s west to see if anything came on the market that might suit us, just in case.
If you too are looking for somewhere to buy in Adelaide, you’ll definitely want to check out my comprehensive guide to Adelaide’s most affordable suburbs.
Stick to your budget
I put this in because it’s one thing to set a budget, and another thing to stick to it.
We set ourselves a budget of $440,000 (First Home Owner’s Grant included) and did not deviate from it, despite there being some occasions where we really wanted to.
We put in offers on three houses that were beaten out by higher bidders, but each time we walked away knowing that we were being sensible with our finances.
Sure, we may have succeeded in some of those bids had we chucked in an extra $10,000-$20,000, but it really would have stretched us financially with our repayments.
We budgeted, we stuck to that budget and, with some patience, we eventually found a home that met our criteria.
Don’t over commit yourself – even if a home comes along that really dazzles you and tempts you to spend extra on it.
Ask lots of questions
What is lender’s mortgage insurance?
Do we qualify for the First Home Owner’s Grant?
How much will we be able to borrow on our current wages?
What bank should we borrow from?
Should I buy established, or build?
These are just some of the questions you’ll no doubt be wanting answers to as a first home buyer.
After all, it is a process that you’ll likely have little to no previous experience with.
Our advice: don’t be afraid to ask ANY question, no matter how simple you think it might be.
Ask your broker, ask your family members, ring up and ask a real estate agent – whoever will listen.
You don’t want to enter into buying your first home with doubt, so be confident in knowing there are people who are there to help you and clarify any queries you may have about the whole process.
Enjoy the process
While buying our first home has certainly been a long journey, it has also been very exciting – and remember, you can only buy your first home once!
Every stressful moment will be outweighed by positive ones, such as the feeling when you have your offer accepted, the moment you sign your contract, the moment you get our loan approved and, finally, the day you get the keys and get to move in.
While we had days where we wondered if we’d ever find the right house, we never stopped looking, and we’re glad we didn’t.
There will be a house out there for you – you just need to keep looking!
Trust us, it’s all worth it in the end.
You’ve found your dream home: Now what?
So, after months of trawling online real estate sites and going to endless house inspections, you’ve finally found your dream home and are ready to make an offer – what do you do next?
Below, I’ve written a step-by-step guide about the kind of process you can expect to undergo once you’ve decided to make an offer on a house.
Making an offer
Your offer will need to be in writing – if you attended an open inspection at your soon-to-be first home at an earlier date, the real estate agent may have already given you an offer form.
If not, shoot an email to the agent and they’ll be more than happy to send you one (hell, why wouldn’t they!)
You’ll need to detail on the form whether or not you have pre-approval, and any other conditional clauses that will relate to the sale of the home.
You’ll also need to indicate whether you are agreeing to a 30-day, 60-day or 90-day settlement.
If you have pre-approval, and can realistically achieve a 30-day settlement, do it – it will make you far more competitive against other buyers, as it means the vendor can sell the home quicker, which may make your offer more appealing.
Once you’ve signed and submitted your offer – which should be a genuine one – you’ll likely receive a follow-up call from the agent confirming that it is your best offer.
It is extremely important that you place your absolute maximum price – because we made this mistake with one of our early offers on a home in Adelaide.
I figured we’d put in a bid slightly lower than our best offer, in the hope of saving a few thousand dollars.
I can tell you right now this is a bad idea – we were outbid on the property and it went to another purchaser, and we later found out from the agent we missed out by only a few thousand dollars.
Had we submitted our maximum offer, it’s likely we would have got the house.
In our case it all turned out for the best because we found another house that was even better, but if you are 100 per cent on a property – Put. Forward. Your. Best. Offer. I cannot stress this enough.
A few thousand dollars over the course of a 30-year loan is miniscule, and it’s not worth missing out on your dream first home because of it.
Once you’ve submitted your offer, all you have to do is wait – hopefully, you’ll get a call from the agent within days letting you know it has been accepted, and the house is yours!
Signing the contract of sale
After having your offer accepted, the first thing you should do is engage a conveyancer.
According to the South Australian Government, a conveyancer is a “licensed and qualified professional who can provide information and advice about the sale or purchase of property; prepare legal documentation for property transactions; and represent either the vendor or the buyer during the settlement process”.
One of my other articles, ‘Checklist for buying you first home in Adelaide’, stresses the importance of finding a conveyancer and mortgage broker you trust, and I highly recommend you do this as soon as possible if you haven’t done so already.
Once you do this, it is time to sign the contract of sale, which will become a binding, legal document after you and the vendor have both signed it.
Before signing it, it’s important to have your conveyancer look over the contract.
During our sale, the initial contract provided by the vendor had a number of errors detailed within it – had we not had our conveyancer, we wouldn’t have known any better and it could’ve created big problems later on.
You may write clauses into the contract making the sale ‘Subject to Building inspection’, ‘Subject to Finance’, Subject to Sale of Home’, or any other terms included by either you as the purchaser, or the vendor.
Making your deposit
The deposit amount can be anywhere up to 10 per cent of the total purchase price of the home.
You will need to deposit the money to either the vendor’s agent or conveyancer, who will hold it until settlement.
You can also pay it to your conveyancer who can deposit it on your behalf, if you wish.
Also, make sure you receive a receipt from the vendor’s agent/conveyancer confirming that they have received the deposit for your own records.
The cooling off period
Once the contract of sale has been signed by you and the vendor, you will enter what’s called the ‘cooling off period’.
In South Australia, this period will last two business days “from either the date the contract of sale was signed by both you and the vendor, or from the date you received the vendor’s statement, whichever happened later”, according to the State Government.
During this time you can back out of the purchase, but any deposit you’ve made to the vendor will be forfeited: so, be sure you are committed to the sale before depositing any of your money, because you won’t get it back.
Not Groundhog Day, not Judgement Day, Settlement Day!
Once all the above steps have been completed, the next and final phase is settlement.
On this date, all the legal documentation is transferred from the vendor’s name to yours, and the money you’ve attained from the bank, in the form of a loan, will be transferred to the vendor.
This is a complex process, but don’t worry: for you, it’s easy.
Your conveyancer will complete all the required steps, and you don’t even need to be present (I was actually on an interstate golf trip in Geelong on the day of our settlement!)
Once settlement has been completed, you’ll arrange a time to meet the agent and receive the keys to your first home!
If you don’t receive your keys on Settlement Day, don’t worry: I’ve written an article HERE about the steps you can take to resolve the issue.
But once you get your keys, it’s time to start living!
Hopefully the information I’ve outlined in this article has given you more confidence about buying your first home in Adelaide, and the steps to take in order to complete your purchase.