17 Mistakes First-Time Homebuyers Should Avoid

Buying your first home can be an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. While many first-time homebuyers are well prepared for this major purchase, they may also make mistakes in the mortgage and homebuying processes.

For example, some buyers may visit houses or start making offers before fully understanding their financial situation. You’ll want to make sure your credit history and credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and overall financial picture will qualify you for a mortgage before you shop.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that first-time homebuyers may make in the buying process and how to avoid them.


  • Ensure your credit is in good shape to get the best interest rates and terms.
  • Credit issues to address include a history of late payments, debt collection actions, or significant debt.
  • Boost your score by paying bills on time, making more than the minimum monthly payments on debts, and not maxing out your available credit.
  • Get a pre-approval letter from a lender so a seller will be more likely to consider your offer.
  • Apply for a mortgage with a few lenders to understand what you can afford and to get the best terms.

1. Not Keeping Tabs on Your Credit

If you or your spouse have credit issues—such as a history of late payments, debt collection actions, or significant debt—mortgage lenders might not offer you their best terms, or they may decline your application. If your score is below 620, you may have trouble getting approved for a conventional mortgage.1

To tackle potential problems in advance, check your credit report before you start the homebuying process. You can request your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Equifax, and Experian) through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Look for errors and dispute any mistakes in writing with the reporting agency and creditor, including and provide documentation to help make your case. For additional proactive help, consider using one of the best credit monitoring services.

Negative items such as late payments or delinquent accounts can stay on your credit report for up to seven to 10 years.2 But you can boost your score by paying your bills on time, making more than the minimum monthly payments on debts, and not maxing out your available credit.


To qualify for an FHA loan, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 580 to use the program’s maximum financing (3.5% down payment). If you have a credit score between 500 and 579, a 10% down payment is required.3

2. Not Taking Time to Prepare

Before you apply for a mortgage, you’ll want to have all your documents and financial information organized so that you can get through the complicated buying process more easily. Buying a home is a long process, and being prepared can reduce hassles.

Before shopping for a home and applying for a mortgage, gather all your financial documents you will likely need for the application process. These can include your W-2 forms, tax returns, pay stubs, or bank statements. Ensure you have enough money for a down payment and for closing costs.

3. Ignoring the Neighborhood

Many first-time homebuyers are so focused on finding a house that fits their criteria that they forget to consider the pros and cons of the broader neighborhood.

Consider the factors about a community that are important to you such as walkability, low crime rates, or highly ranked schools. Perhaps you want a community that is within a short commute to your work. If you focus only on a home’s qualities, you may end up in a neighborhood that you don’t like.

4. Expecting to Find a Perfect Home

If you have a list of criteria for your dream home, don’t make the mistake of thinking you will find a home that checks every box. Most likely, you will find homes that meet most, but not all, of your standards.

When you expect to find the perfect home, you could prolong the homebuying process by holding out for something better. Or you could end up paying more for a home just because it meets all your needs.

Instead of being strict with all your criteria, identify some home features you can be more flexible with and keep an open mind while homebuying. That way, you won’t pass up a great property just because it isn’t perfect.

5. Relying on Emotions

Buying a home can be an emotional process, full of hope, expectation, and frustrations. When you are buying a home, make sure that the financial decisions you make are not based on your emotions. If you get excited about a home, make sure you don’t buy a home just because it makes you happy. You’ll need to ensure you can afford the payments in your monthly budget.

Similarly, avoid buying a home based on desperation. If you’ve been shopping for a while and have not found a home that fits your budget and general criteria, you may feel an impulse to buy a home that is not up to par. Instead, practice patience and find a home that you can afford and that reasonably meets your expectations.

6. Not Factoring in Maintenance Costs

When you buy a home, you’ll likely have to pay more than the mortgage amount each month, but many first-time homebuyers don’t consider these other expenses. When you plan to buy a home, factor in potential maintenance costs, such as replacing aging appliances like water heaters or washers and dryers.

Older homes may require more maintenance that can be expensive such as repairing a foundation or replacing a roof. It’s especially important to factor in repair costs if you are buying a “fixer-upper.” Factoring in potential maintenance expenses can help you buy a home that fits your budget.4

7. Overlooking Government-Backed Loan Programs

First-time homebuyers who are tight on cash can often get down payment assistance through mortgages that are government-backed, such as through FHA loans, VA loans, or USDA loans. In some cases, you may not have to put down a down payment or you may need a down payment of only 3.5%.56

A government-backed loan may also offer other lower requirements for qualifying and can offer competitive interest rates. Taking advantage of the potential better terms you can get with a government-backed loan program could help you buy a home sooner.


Using a government-backed loan program could save you money in the long-term as well as save you money in a down payment, which can help with your immediate budget.

8. Searching for Homes Before Getting Pre-Approved

In hot housing markets, you may be up against multiple bids and stiff competition. In these cases, sellers are usually less likely to consider offers from buyers who don’t have a pre-approval letter from a lender.

A pre-approval letter lists the loan amount for which you qualify, your interest rate and loan program, and your estimated down payment amount. It shows a seller that the lender believes you have the can repay your bills, based on your credit history and score, income and employment history, financial assets, and other key factors. The pre-approval letter also includes an expiration date, usually within 90 days.

9. Not Shopping Around for a Mortgage

When you shop around for a mortgage, you can save money. Applying for a mortgage with a few different lenders gives you a better sense of what you can afford. You can compare the best mortgage products, interest rates, closing costs, and lender fees. Shopping for a mortgage also helps you negotiate with lenders.7

As you compare offerings, pay attention to fees and closing costs, which can add to your total costs. Even small differences in interest rates can add up to significant differences over time.

Keep in mind that some lenders will offer you discount “points,” a way to buy down your interest rate upfront. This increases your closing costs. And other lenders that promote low or no closing costs tend to charge higher interest rates to make up the difference. Closing costs vary widely among lenders but often range from about 3% to 6% of the loan amount.89

In addition to checking with your bank or credit union, you can ask a mortgage broker to shop rates on your behalf. Mortgage brokers aren’t lenders. They act as a matchmaker between you and lenders in their network. They can save you time and money by comparing multiple lenders who have products that fit your needs.

You may want to also research offerings from direct lenders, either online or in-person. You can use a mortgage calculator to estimate and budget some of the costs.

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