The smartest thing my husband and I did was buy a house that he could afford on his salary at the time of purchase. We didn’t take into account my salary, the raise he would get in a few months, or the rents that he would get from the two friends who rented his extra bedrooms (during the year leading up to our wedding).
Investigate each home’s storage space. My husband and I are not packrats, but we discovered much too late that our home has no linen closets. A small annoyance that we worked around, but still an annoying discovery.
Look at houses well below your price range. Don’t spend X amount just because the bank says that’s how much you can afford.
Be aware that your real estate agent is not necessarily your “agent” acting in your best interests. They have ethical codes…but they also get a cut of the final price you pay, so they don’t have a huge incentive to help you negotiate the price down.
That said, DO work with a real estate agent! They know a good property when they see it, and they have access to new properties on the market that a person acting alone might not even get a chance to see before a good agent snaps it up for his client.
Think about what you really need now, and in the next five years. Even a large family can be comfortable with just three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Don’t think of this as your “dream home,” but as your “home for now.”
Trust your instincts. My husband and I almost splurged on a very expensive home a few years ago (we had even written the earnest money check!) On paper, it was a VERY great deal, but I suddenly felt wary of the purchase and insisted we back out. Within a few weeks, the market took a nosedive, the price dropped substantially, and we were very happy we didn’t move forward with the purchase.
If shopping in relatively new construction, don’t be awed by the “Garden Bath” where the bathtub is separate from the shower. Real estate agents LOVE to point this out, but they’re the most worthless feature, in my opinion. Basically, that tub will never get used because tubs without a shower get dusty and are hard to clean…and usually the “Garden Bath” is accompanied by a small shower stall. Imagine shaving your legs or getting intimate with your husband in a phone booth–not fun.