An interview with Ernie Kyger, Van Metre Homes You’re about to buy your first home, and you have what seems like millions of questions. With so many options (loft/condo? Townhome? Multi-family?) how do you figure out what kind of home is right for you, right now? Plenty of online resources can provide you with general information on where to start your research and tips about the process, but nothing compares to straightforward guidance by a seasoned pro. That’s where our expert comes in. Meet Ernie Kyger, veteran Community Sales Manager for Van Metre’s Lofts at Village Walk, and expert in first-time home buying. Here are some answers to common questions that first-timers ask when they’re ready to buy their first home.

As a first-time homebuyer, how do I decide what type of home is right for me?

When purchasing your first home, don’t think long-term; start by thinking about what your needs will be for the next 5-7 years, and position yourself for the best resale value possible. It’s likely that your first home is not the one you’ll be spending the rest of your life in, so aim for a home that suits your life plan right now. Live in it, get the tax breaks, build equity, and sell the house as your needs change. This will position you for a better resale value down the road when you want to buy your next home. The equity you make can help you get the house that’ll suit you for the next 20 to 25 years.

As a first-time homebuyer, what should I look for in a new home?

First: location. Find a home near your job (or close enough to make your commute easy) or desired school system. If being near public transportation is important to you, explore areas close to a bus route or metro station. Second: Price point. This goes back to evaluating your individual needs right now and planning for the life you currently have (not your longer-term life plan). As a first-time homebuyer, I suggest not getting carried away with expensive features or finishes. Upgraded carpeting, for example, will wear out when you put your house on the market in 5 to 7 years, so it won’t position you for a good resale. Additionally, if and when you decide to sell your home later on, you’ll be competing against every other comparable home in that same location or community, and expensive features will only drive your price up and make it harder to sell. To sum it up: secure what you need for a good price and higher resale value. Related tip: no matter where you’re from, your sense of home is what you grew up with. With that in mind, a first time home buyer should work with an agent because they will know what will put them in the best position for a resale later. For example: in certain communities, you must have a brick front or stainless steel appliances in order to sell your home; in other areas, that might not matter. It takes a while to learn what each particular area tends to favor. A good sales agent will know what you need for your area. Third: The Lot. One thing I would look at — whether it’s my first house or 10th house — is the lot, or site plan. This is where you’ll get more insight into benefits and features that won’t diminish over time, and what could position you for a better resale later on. Look for all the little advantages that make a home unique: is it close to a park or community area? Is there plenty of natural light, or extra parking? You will compete against every house in our community when you put your home up for sale one day. There’s a lot of value in learning how you can differentiate yourself later from other nearby homes.

How do I pick the right location or neighborhood?

Consider locations that make for an easy work commute. In the DC area, explore options near the Beltway, a metro stop, or thoroughfare like I-66, Dulles Toll Road or I-270; those are all very strong indicators of a good location. You should also take school districts into consideration. Even if you don’t have kids, a house within a strong school district will have a higher resale value. Related tip: To get an unbiased idea of what it’s like to live in a certain community, I often recommend having lunch or dinner at a restaurant in the neighborhood you’re interested in. Strike up a conversation with a few locals to find out what they think of the area. You can learn a lot from people who have lived there for a while, and these conversations can often be more candid than those you’ll have with a sales agent.

How do I determine how much I can afford?

When I worked at other home builders prior to Van Metre, they would require me to ask the potential homebuyer for a lot of financial information: how much money they made, how much they owed on credit cards, etc. However, at Van Metre, the process works differently. Van Metre works with approved lenders that will get all that information from the potential home buyer, and all I need to know is if they qualify or not. This system works out well because — let’s face it — money is serious business. So for all things financial, your best option is to work with someone who deals with money full-time, 24/7. If buying from a home builder, go to the builder’s loan officer to determine what you can afford. If you’re buying a resale, the real estate agent will have mortgage bankers that you can work with who will explain the highs and lows of various programs, along with the tax breaks that come with buying a home. I strongly recommend working with a professional mortgage broker to get that information. Related tip: remember that a home purchase is an investment. First timers often experience sticker shock when they start to look into the cost of buying a home. This happened to me when I was younger, too. In the early 80s, I had the opportunity to buy a home in Georgetown for $100,000. I turned it down because it seemed so expensive at the time, but I often think about how much that house is worth now — and what a return on investment I would have made!

How can I get an idea of what I will be paying each month? (Mortgage + related expenses?)

Again, at Van Metre, we work with recommended lenders that can determine what you can afford, and will give you an accurate idea of what you will be paying each month. We also have a mortgage calculator on our website, but that’s mainly a way to get a ballpark figure when you begin your search. A professional mortgage broker will take not just principal and interest payment into consideration, but will also be able to include estimates for taxes, insurance and homeowner association dues, which vary by community. They’re going to give you a full picture, without excluding any hidden costs. We want to make sure all of that information is available to you so that you can make a fully informed decision when you buy your home.

What are some of the common mistakes or pitfalls that first-time homebuyers make?

A common mistake is to have unrealistic expectations coming into the home buying process. Younger buyers tend to get information from their peer groups, which can sometimes be valuable, but other times it’s not realistic at all. Share experiences with your friends and family and ask for advice, but make sure to do your own research, too. Another pitfall to avoid: thinking you have to plan for your entire life, when you should focus on what you will need for the next 5 to 7 years. Don’t opt for a house with a lot of upgrades — it’ll only drive your resale price up and make it harder for you to compete with your neighbor who’s selling a similar house, with the same square footage, for a lower price. Keep location in mind. Nobody buys in Potomac or Great Falls because of the floors, for example; they buy because of the benefits that those locations offer. For your next home (the one you’ll live in for 20-25 years), get all the features and upgrades you want. But for your first home, see it as a stepping stone, and aim for a good resale value. -- Have home buying questions of your own? Contact us directly or tweet at us. We’d love to hear from you.