Local real estate agents provide a guide to each step of the home buying and selling process.

I have yet to start the search for my first home, but it’s definitely been on my mind. Where do I start? Who do I talk to? How much do I need to have saved? Thus ensues an anxious spiral of questions. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of knowledgeable experts in our community.

I talked to several real estate agents around town about everything anyone needs to know when buying or selling their first home, their post-retirement home, and everything in between.

Their advice created a guide that soothed my fears and, hopefully, will soothe yours too.

To start, Re/Max Jefferson City Realtor Joyce Bremer gives great advice for choosing the right agent for you.

“We think it’s extremely helpful for buyers and sellers to get a personal referral, but that whoever you choose to work with can demonstrate three qualities: They have a good reputation, local experience and expertise, and your best interest at heart,” she says.

Starting Out

“A new home symbolizes new beginnings and will house many of life’s fondest memories,” says Ashley Pederson, of Re/Max Jefferson City. “Though this decision is exciting, it can certainly seem daunting and nerve-wracking at times. This stress can be alleviated by fully understanding each aspect of the buying process.”

That’s where an agent comes in. Meeting with a local real estate agent allows you the luxury of an expert getting to know you, what’s best for you, and, correspondingly, where you will be happiest.

For example, Allyn Witt of Keller Williams Realty highly recommends making location a major priority for your starter home. “Knowing that this is a home you won’t be in forever, I’d encourage first-time buyers to purchase in a location known to hold its value so you’ll be sure to get your money back out of it in a few years,” she says. “Your Realtor can help guide you with this. You’ll also want to select a location that complements your lifestyle. What would your commute to work be like? Is your gym nearby?”

Lyla Stark, of Re/Max Jefferson City, recommends keeping finances in mind. “First of all, have a plan for saving. Set a budget and put a certain amount of money away each month. A local lending institution can help with all the financial details,” she says. “Finding the right home can begin a lifetime of enjoyment and a strong financial investment into the future. Finding the right starter home is the first step into building equity that will flow into future investments.”

“We recommend buyers find a good local lender to help identify what price range and what loan program will work for them,” adds Bremer. “This is important not only for first-time home buyers, but also those moving into their dream home, because many times, buyers have to sell their current home in order to purchase.”

Re/Max Jefferson City agent Beth McGeorge says she could write a novel of the many details first time buyers need be aware of when purchasing a home. She has three major tips to consider, however.

First, get pre-approved and know your budget. Be absolutely certain your monthly mortgage payment does not exceed your financial comfort level and leave room to spare.

Two, keep resale in mind. It’s extremely rare to purchase one home and live in it forever. It’s vital to ensure you are purchasing a home with great resale marketability, as it’s extremely likely to be selling in the future (every seven to 10 years on average).

Last, inspect, inspect, inspect . . . but don’t obsess. It’s an absolute must (in Beth’s opinion) to hire a reputable inspector to look at every aspect of your new home. You want to be informed about any potential future or current expenses lurking about. However, be certain you’re not holding the home to an impossible standard. No home is perfect, and it’s important to know what is a justified and reasonable repair to ask the seller to make.

When it’s time to sell, McGeorge recommends leaving the home as “turnkey” as possible. “Modernizing your home to ensure buyers view it as ‘move-in ready’ is great for your investment,” she says. “If buyers are going through your home and keeping a list of what needs updating, that offer price is likely going down with each item written.”

Room for More

“Once the family has increased and another bedroom or more space is needed, it’s time to look for a larger home,” says Stark. “Hopefully, wise investments were made and the previous home was well maintained. Rolling the profit into a larger home is a very good feeling. Homes appreciate in value over a period of time if they have been well taken care of.”

When choosing a home for your growing family, McGeorge recommends getting very familiar with how you live your life. “Don’t follow trends of what’s popular, do what works for you,” she says. “Things like formal dining rooms — some people find them useless and others sit down at the table every single night for dinner. Some people want main level laundry. Well, what if all the bedrooms are upstairs? Then you’re still hauling laundry up and down steps. And don’t assume you have to have a huge yard. Don’t bother if your life is constantly on the go and you’re never home to mow that yard.”

Pederson adds: “Since family is one of life’s greatest gifts, it is a wonderful feeling to find a home in a neighborhood that fits the needs of each family member. A late afternoon drive or stroll through a neighborhood is a great way to determine whether the area is a good fit for you and your loved ones. Another important but often overlooked aspect of home searching is assessing the commute during peak hours, like rush hour. A trial run is the easiest way to determine whether the commute is suitable during the afternoon rush.”

Your Dream Home

If you decide this is not your forever home, Witt has some selling advice. “A fresh coat of neutral paint can make your worn and lived-in house feel like new in the eyes of buyers,” she says. “Although all your family photos on the walls may look great to you, removing personal items and clutter can help buyers picture their personal belongings in the space and, in turn, help sell the house.”

If you’ve reached a point in your life  where you’re financially comfortable, you may be on the path to finding or building your dream home.

The consensus from every real estate agent I talked to about buying your dream home is to simply know what you want. If you have pets or outdoorsy children, look for a big yard. If the kitchen is the heart of your home, look for a large, updated version. Do you want a pool, a man cave, an office, etc.? And, of course, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms is of vital importance. Whether you’re looking to buy the perfect home outright, fix up an older home, or build from scratch, make sure you know exactly what you want from day one.

If you’re building or remodeling your dream home, Realtors urge caution in the event you may decide to sell down the road.

“Remember when eventually selling your dream home to not be too emotionally attached,” says Witt. “Just because it’s your dream home doesn’t mean it’s the dream of every buyer that comes to look at it. Price it fairly so it doesn’t end up sitting on the market for an excessive amount of time.”

“One common item to consider when selling your dream home is that every dollar invested in custom features is not always recouped dollar for dollar,” adds McGeorge. “High-end custom finishes do not always recoup the highest return on investment. For example, imported marble from Italy may be exactly what you wanted, but the next buyer may not pay the exact premium for it. Buyers will pay top dollar for top-notch quality, but they won’t overpay. That being said, this is your dream home you’re talking about. If you’re being financially responsible and not getting yourself into a stressful financial bind, go for it!”

And Stark reiterates, “Being able to have a home paid for and transfer the investment from your previous home into your dream home will be such a good feeling.”

Settling Down

“Before you know it, the kids are all married and have homes and families of their own,” says Stark. “So what do mom and dad do with this huge dream home they have raised their family in and enjoyed? Downsizing is the word. It’s time for less work, less space, and more time to relax and enjoy their time.”

Both Stark and Witt recommend town homes to accomplish this, particularly “If you’re looking to avoid lawn care and snow removal responsibilities,” says Witt.

McGeorge says: “We are careful to ask exactly what ‘downsizing’ means to them. Some are looking for less yard to take care of. For some, it’s fewer square feet to clean and maintain, and sometimes the move is to stop climbing steps. If looking for less lawn maintenance, then a condo may be a great fit. If looking for fewer square feet, then a home with no upper level or basement is a good fit. Be realistic on how much storage you actually need also. Some people get themselves into too much of a downsize for their needs.”

“Downsizing is an important decision that can be tricky, as there are various details to consider,” adds Pederson. “The first and most important is to decide how long you intend to stay in the new home. Each person’s situation and circumstances will differ. However, if you’re getting a loan, a good rule of thumb is to plan to reside in the home for five or more years. Your home sweet home should accommodate you as long possible.”

Wherever you are in the process, don’t try to go it alone. Talk to an expert and try to heed their advice. Buying and selling a home is a huge venture with many details to consider. A real estate agent can really help keep you on track and keep your anxiety low. Good luck and happy hunting!

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