5 Tips for First Time Homebuyers

By Rick Koze

Pick up any article about the housing market in the Lehigh Valley and they all seem to have a common theme – now is the time for first time home buyers to get into a home. At Kay Builders, we know that from a financial standpoint, now is a great time to buy a new home.

With mortgage rates hovering around 3.5%, it is possible to purchase a 1600 square foot townhome for less than $1,200 per month before tax benefits of ownership. This coupled with rental rates that have increased significantly over the past four years make home ownership – versus renting – a no brainer from a financial perspective.  Additionally, banks have relaxed their mortgage underwriting standards somewhat over the past year and there are some programs that require minimal
down payments.

After getting over the financial hurdle what does a potential new home buyer need to consider before purchasing a new home?

1. Convenience

Convenience means different things to different people. For some it means staying close to the neighborhood or area of town they are comfortable with. For others it might mean having a garage attached to the house to avoid the elements, or a fence in the back yard for the protection of a child or a pet. Whatever the reason, the purchase of a new home should be motivated by improving quality of life.

2. Flexibility

Often the most affordable home type for a new home buyer is a townhome or condominium.  Be careful here as a homeowner association is typically involved and as a condition of owning a home in the community you will have to make monthly payments to the association. A homeowner association exists usually to cover items such as maintenance of open space, but it typically also limits what can be done in and around the outside of a home in order to keep the community looking nice and uncluttered. This is good because it helps the resale value when you go to sell your home.  So monthly cost is an obvious factor, but equally as important is making sure you are not prohibited from doing things you need to do. At Kay Builders, we focus on having low monthly fees and on allowing a high degree of outdoor flexibility including allowing decks, patios, fences, gardens and landscaping.

3. Resale Value

It is important to view the aesthetics and curb appeal of the homes or buildings in a community, as this will be the number one factor in determining resale value. Resale value is very important to a first time homebuyer because chances are you will outgrow this home or experience another life event such as a job change and you will need to (or want to) sell. Things to look for here are the amount of masonry (brick or stone) included on the façade, architectural accents and a feel that the homes, while they may be attached, all are different from each other. Variety and materials used are two of the most important factors in resale. Of course the price you pay getting into the home and the location of the home are still most important. One method of determining resale value is to look at the public records for homes that have sold repeatedly in the community and see what the price trend is.

4. Customization

The opportunity to put your personal touches on a home only exists if you are purchasing a new home which is one of the reasons we suggest looking at building a home. However, the ability to customize will vary greatly from builder to builder. Make sure your builder will allow you to change kitchen layouts, move window locations, add a drop zone area, remove walls or change bathroom locations versus the plan. For example, you may want to have two master suites for a potential roommate, an elderly parent, or a child returning to the home and the builder should be willing to undertake these design changes. At Kay Builders, we pride ourselves on allowing more changes than most – if not every – other builder in the area.

5. Important Options

When on a tight budget it is important to pick options carefully. Start with those that increase functionality and comfort then move on to architectural items if
the budget permits.

We always advise customers to look at electrical and lighting upgrades first. Adding recessed lights, pendant lights, under-cabinet lighting, additional cable outlets, well-located switches and additional electrical outlets help improve the usability of the home. These items are relatively inexpensive and can cost so much more to add later on.

Adding well placed windows to allow additional natural light is a relatively inexpensive way to improve ambience; and a whole house humidifier and water softener are must haves for comfort. Hard surface countertops, hardwood or tile floors, upgraded kitchen cabinets, stainless appliances and large floating kitchen islands are also very popular upgrades given the continuing trend of investing in the kitchen. Kay Builders includes many of these items as standard. Then we urge customers to look at outdoor living. It is important to leave some room in the budget for a deck or paver patio. Some of the popular discretionary upgrades if budget permits include tray or cathedral ceilings, oak steps, custom trim and
finished basements.

Although this seems like a great amount of information to absorb, don’t be intimidated. Buying your first new home the right way can truly be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life and will provide years of enjoyment to come. After working so hard to get ahead, why not enjoy the fruits
of your labor?

Rick Koze is the president and owner of Kay Builders, Inc. (www.kaybuilders.com) a leading homebuilder and developer operating exclusively in the Lehigh Valley. The company has four active communities locally. A graduate of Emmaus High School, Koze holds a B.A. in Economics from Yale University. In addition to his construction business expertise, he has more than 16 years experience working with Fortune 500 companies.

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