Buying a condo in Boston is a thrilling prospect, but not knowing what to expect from the process can be daunting, and most first time homebuyers don’t know what they don’t know. Many feel overwhelmed with what they’ve heard about the Boston real estate market - costs, inventory, competition and working with industry professionals, so they hold off on buying and continue to make monthly payments to a landlord, disqualifying them from the many benefits of ownership.
But with rate increases expected over the next year, now is the time for prospective first time home buyers to go for it. To make it easier and more manageable, we put together the 5 best tips to demystify the process and help first time buyers get the most from their Boston real estate purchase.
#1 – Your first step is pre-approval. Before you find the home of your dreams, before you contact an agent, before you even glance at Zillow’s website or start comparing condos in Back Bay to condos in The South End, you should get pre-approved for a loan. Many first time buyers fall into the trap of finding the perfect place before they know they can afford it. It’s a waste of time and emotional energy. You’re much better off knowing what you can afford, finding something in your price range, and being able to quickly make a competitive offer. Make sure your lender clearly outlines the process for obtaining a loan, and all of the documentation you’ll need to provide, as well as the timeline for when they’ll need it. Staying organized can expedite the loan process and make things go more smoothly.
#2 – Take a homebuyer education course. Oftentimes first time homebuyers are dealing with one or more challenges that make home buying seem less attainable than it is. Credit issues, uncertainty about the lending or buying process, lack of savings for a down payment – all of these issues are easily surmountable with the information you’ll gather in a homebuyer education course. There are thousands of organizations throughout the country that provide these courses, and all of them must meet the standards set forth by the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling. This means that all courses are mandated to cover the following 5 critical aspects of home purchasing and ownership:
- Assessing homeownership readiness
- Budgeting and credit
- Financing a condo
- Shopping for a condo
- Maintaining a condo and finances
#3 – Explore neighborhoods during off times. Neighborhoods can look very different at 9pm then they do at 11am. You’ll want to know what your prospective neighborhood is like at both times. Are you a night owl? Then you probably don’t want to live in an area where restaurants advertise early bird specials and stop serving meals at 8pm. You’re better off in a neighborhood like The South End with it's abundance of restaurants, bars and stores that stay open late. If you're attracted to historical charm and like the energy of a neighborhood that bustles with tourist activity on the weekends, check out Beacon Hill condos for sale. If you like the idea of a neighborhood that's somewhat removed from the downtown area but still has easy city access and a lively atmosphere, take a look at condos for sale in South Boston. Also, don’t forget how much traffic patterns can affect a neighborhood throughout the day. You’ll want to travel the roads around your new prospective home during the hours you’re most likely to use them, so you know what your commute will look like and can factor that into your decision making.
#4 – Identify the type of home that fits your lifestyle and needs. There are numerous reasons a person might want to invest in Boston real estate - it's a healthy market with sustainable growth due to the city's abundance of jobs and influx of university-related residents. Most Boston homes are condos or townhomes, so if you want to live in the city it's likely you'll be sharing at least one wall with your neighbors, however there's a huge variety of building types. If you're looking for condos for sale in Back Bay for example, you'll likely notice that the buildings are historic and stately, though many of them are restored and the homes include modern renovations. Many condos in The South End are in new buildings, like those at the Ink Block, with a number of upscale amenities and close proximity to retail and restaurant options (here's a recent list of 7 hot new construction projects in The South End). Real Estate in the Seaport District and Downtown Boston is thriving, again due to an influx of new residential development, so you can expect to find a good selection of luxury condo options.
#5 – Talk with an accountant to understand tax benefits and residential exemptions. As a buyer, you probably already know that one of the main benefits of owning a home is the impact it has on your taxes. But did you know that in Massachusetts owners qualify for an additional tax exemption if the property they own is their primary residence? It’s as easy as filling out and submitting the proper form by the April 1st deadline. Your accountant can provide you with more details about the exemption, as well as the many tax benefits of owning versus renting.
If you’re a first time buyer, it’s likely that you have some anxiety about the unknowns, and that makes sense, because real estate in Boston can be tricky. But if you follow these tips and work with one of our expert agents, you'll have the information and confidence you need to navigate the process like a pro.