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Congrats! You’re ready to buy your first home. Before you begin your search, there are some financial basics you need to know so you’re not hit by some serious curveballs. Since we want you to find your forever home without any hiccups, we’ve rounded up eight things a first-time buyer should have on their radar. Got your pen and paper handy?

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You Need to Be *Really* Prepared

Buying a home (especially your first one) can be overwhelming, so before you even begin the process of looking, you’ll want to get all your ducks in a row. Start by meeting with an expert financial advisor, like the ones at Northwestern Mutual. Your advisor will work closely with you to figure out realistic ways to save money so you can actually afford the home of your dreams. Spoiler: You can still buy your daily morning coffee.

Meet Your Advisor 

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You Might Be Able to Work with an Agent for Free

The laws and processes are different everywhere, but in most states, real estate agent fees are paid by the seller, not the buyer. That means you can rely on the expertise of a pro without worrying about exorbitant costs when it comes time to pull the trigger.

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It’s Smart to Put Your Credit Cards on Ice

We get it. It’s super tempting to blow your budget on that new couch from CB2. But you should probably wait until you’ve moved in before you start racking up brand-new debt. Here’s why: Lenders have the right to check your credit up to the day of closing. This means it’s best to steer clear of any big purchases that could ding your bottom line.

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Online Mortgage Calculators Are a False Friend

Sure, they’re an excellent starting point, but you’ll need to speak with an actual mortgage professional to have a clear understanding of what you can buy and what kind of rates you can expect. (A flush bank account, for instance, might get you a better rate; a poor credit history, however, could dock you points.) Make an appointment and talk it out with a reputable lender to find out where you really stand.

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The Nonnegotiables Are the Things You Can Never Change

Remember, you can swap out the shag carpeting and orange walls for hardwood floors and calming blues. What you can’t change, however, is the location, the backyard or the floor plan (well, not without serious permits).

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Paying the Asking Price Doesn’t Mean You’re Overpaying

A smart seller heeds professional advice when listing their home. That’s why you should focus less on getting a “deal” and more on getting a grip on what you feel is fair market value. If the asking price is on par with what you expected, it’s A-OK to offer that.

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Your Offer Isn’t Just About the Money

Yes, the seller wants to know you can actually pay and that you can afford to make a decent down payment (the higher, the better). But other things may factor into their decision. For example, flexibility with the closing date could be more valuable than an offer that’s $5K higher than yours. It also doesn’t hurt to send a letter communicating how much you adore the house and then be super speedy signing all paperwork.

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There’s No Such Thing as a ‘PERFECT’ Home

We know. You want the picket fence, the double-sink bathroom, the easy commute, the right school district and the breathtaking view that doesn’t look directly into your neighbor’s kitchen. But no home is going to check all of your boxes. Rank your must-haves and dream features, and then be prepared to compromise. The right house is the one that comes to you at the right time.

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