Buying a house is a huge step in opening the next chapter of your life. It is a key part of your long-term future and an incredibly exciting goal to achieve. So, if you’re on your way to accomplishing it – congratulations!

The property market can feel intimidating and overwhelming, especially for first-time buyers. If you’re looking for guidance on your real estate journey, then this guide is for you. We are going to break down the entire process in an easy, accessible way, designed to help prospective buyers figure out their next move. This post will focus on Seattle, however, there are many similarities with real estate across the US. Remember, you’ll also have a Seattle-savvy real estate agent, such as Logan Taylor, who will be there to help you find your dream home.

The Emerald City

Seattle is a vibrant city with one foot in the modern technological age and the other in unspoiled natural beauty. Taking up residence here will bless you with museums, food, music festivals, early-morning markets, and hiking trails right on your doorstep. What’s more, property values in Seattle are rising and are projected to keep doing so. It’s also cheaper in the long-term to buy a home in Seattle than rent one.

The Seattle Neighborhoods

If you’re not already familiar with Seattle, one of the first things you should do is conduct some research into different areas of the city to find which one is right for you. Here are some of Seattle’s neighborhoods and what they have to offer:

  • Ballard – Boasts a wide variety of houses, from detached homes on quiet, suburban streets to busy apartment complexes that keep you close to the social scene. With something to suit everyone, this neighborhood is in high demand.
  • Queen Anne – Will never leave you short of something to do. You’ll be spoiled for choice with local restaurants and bars, not to mention a stone’s throw away from the bustling Seattle Center.
  • Capitol Hill – Balances the convenience of being close to downtown Seattle with refreshing hilltop views. Homes range from studios to townhouses to mansions, with residents sharing in the rich nightlife, live music scene, and celebration of individuality.
  • Green Lake – Ideal for those who want to enjoy the outdoors. The lake itself is the primary attraction, with a 2.8-mile looping trail that’s perfect for walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters. There are also countless sports to get involved with, both on and off the water.
  • Maple Leaf – The perfect, community-rich neighborhood for families and those seeking domestic bliss. Maple Leaf features a genuine sense of togetherness, where residents and local business owners are always happy to be in one another’s company.

Finding a House

With your top neighborhood choices in mind, you can now start looking at properties. Finances come first – you’ll want to have a budget in mind, the best way to do this is to get pre-approved by a reputable mortgage broker.

The Seattle housing market moves quickly. With the city in such high demand, the average amount of time a property will stay on the market is continuing to decrease. In order to make a competitive offer, you’ll need to be prepared.

You should also have a good idea of what you’re looking for. One way to do this is to make three lists:

  • Musts – Things that you consider essential. For example, a minimum of three bedrooms or off-street parking.
  • Deal Breakers – If a property has these, they’ll be struck off your list. Common deal breakers are high-crime areas or poor-quality structures.
  • Flexible Features – Things that would be nice to have, but aren’t a necessity. These could include being a short distance from downtown or having a sizeable backyard.

Once you’ve got these worked out, narrowing down the market to find a house will be more straightforward.

Property Viewings

The house looks great on the listing, now it’s time to see it in person. Viewings can take two forms – open houses and private showings. Each has their advantages, and you may well choose to do both. Here are their main benefits:

Open houses…

  • …are most useful when you’re at the start of your search since they allow you to get a tangible, in-person feel for what you want from your future home.
  • …do not require you to have a realtor with you.
  • …remove the pressure to make an offer, as they are a more casual experience.

Whereas private showings…

  • …are best-suited to those who are close to making an offer on a house.
  • …usually have your real estate agent accompanying you, who can help with questions and support the process from your side.
  • …have a more personal feel and allow you to take in the details without the crowd.

You will most likely move from open houses to private showings as you develop a clearer idea of what you want. When it comes to making offers, it would be ideal if you can get a private viewing before the seller holds an open house. That way, if you like the property, you can get the wheels in motion before most people have even seen it.

Pre-Inspections

Pre-inspections aren’t mandatory, but they are advised. While you can take care of scoping things out on the surface, hiring a specialist for a pre-inspection can help uncover any potential problems lurking below.

Even if the pre-inspection does find defects, this could be a blessing in disguise for two reasons:

  1. If the problems are manageable, you can negotiate the price with the seller, aiming to get them to lower it to compensate for the issues.
  2. If the problems are severe and you decide to move your search elsewhere, you at least know you’ve dodged a bullet and won’t find yourself facing unexpected, expensive repairs down the line.

Naturally, pre-inspections can also come with drawbacks. They can slow down the process of closing on a house, meaning someone might get in before you. Alternatively, you could spend money on the inspection, decide to make an offer, and then be rejected anyway. Ideally, you should be able to set some money aside for pre-inspections while still being secure enough that it won’t damage your finances if the process doesn’t come to fruition.

Credit Scores, Loans, and Down Payments

So, you’ve found yourself the perfect neighborhood and sought out a place to call your own. Before moving onto the next step, you’ll need to decide on your loan and down payment options. In the US, there are two main options when securing a real estate loan: Conventional and FHA.

Conventional Loan FHA Loan
Loan is provided by… Banks & private lenders The Government
Minimum down payment 10-20%*, but can be as low as 3% in some cases 3-5%
Credit score needed 620 or higher 580 or higher**
Private Mortgage Insurance Required if down payment is < 20% Always required
Other Pros Costs less per month if your credit score is 720 or higher; more relaxed property standards Option for those with lower credit scores and/or more debt; loan limit adjusts to fit location
Other Cons Requires higher credit score and lower debt; loan limit is the same no matter the location Seen as a ‘riskier’ investment due to lower credit scores; potentially higher monthly mortgage payments

* If you, the buyer, will be living in the property as a primary residence.
** With a credit score of 500-579, you may still qualify, but with a 10% down payment instead.

At the end of the day, which loan is right for you will depend on your unique blend of income, debt, credit score, and the price range of the housing market you are looking at. The median house sale price in Seattle has been in a steady increase over the past decade, reaching $627,000 in January 2021 (Source: Redfin Data Center).

For first-time buyers in Seattle, a down payment will often be below 20%. However, there are assistance programs to help prospective Seattle residents out if they find themselves struggling. FHA loans are also available in this city, meaning you could be looking at a down payment of as little as 3.5%.

Making an Offer

Here we are, the final step. Though possibly the most nerve-wracking one of all, your real estate agent will be there to support you to the end of the whole process. They can advise you on your offer to help you have the best chance of success.

The similarity between the asking price and your offer will depend on several things. For example, the pre-inspection, as mentioned above, may unearth some potential for knocking the number down a little. On the other hand, if you’re feeling competitive, you may wish to go over asking. Ultimately, though, every experience is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice for this part.

What can be said, though, is that you’ve done a fantastic job on getting this far, whatever the outcome. If your offer is rejected, it may sting, but you can come out the other side more experienced and ready to try again. If it’s accepted – well, your new beginning awaits!

Best of luck on your dream home search. We can’t wait to welcome you to Seattle!

Sources

https://kwsanantonio.com/news/open-houses-or-private-showings-which-is-best/

https://myseattlehomesearch.com/

https://pickettstreet.com/blog/2016/05/20/the-pros-and-cons-of-a-pre-inspection/

https://seattle.curbed.com/2019/7/10/18701148/seattle-neighborhoods-advice-where-to-live

https://seattle.curbed.com/2019/7/10/18701148/seattle-neighborhoods-advice-where-to-live

https://seattle.findwell.com/seattle-neighborhoods/

https://seattlemortgageplanners.com/guide-to-buying-a-home-in-seattle/

https://thebalance.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-conventional-vs-fha-loans-4164707

https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/mortgages/fha-loan-vs-conventional-mortgage

https://youtube.com/watch?v=wm9YCmFpIWQ