Property Virgins Host Sandra Rinomato's Must-See Advice For First-Time Homebuyers

Sandra Rinomato, a Canadian real estate expert and TV personality, knows buying your first home is no small feat. As the original host of HGTV's hit series "Property Virgins," Rinomato helped first-time homebuyers navigate the complex rollercoaster of emotions that often results from this experience. 

Guiding them through the process from beginning to end, she made it possible for these hopefuls to gain an understanding of the market, nail down exactly what their must-have checklist should entail, and ultimately help them understand what they can actually afford to spend.

Her successful stint on the series spanned from its inception in 2006 until 2011, when she announced on Facebook that she was leaving to pursue other professional ventures — namely the show "Buy Herself," which also quickly became an HGTV hit. With plenty of professional and commercial success under her belt, Rinomato is now sharing her biggest real estate tips for all first-time prospective homebuyers.

Be ready to act quickly

As a rule, Rinomato says first-time buyers should be ready to move quickly, as desirable properties tend to be snatched up fast (via HGTV). This is especially true in hot real estate markets in which homes sell as soon as they hit the market. She cautions that well-maintained properties tend to move even more rapidly and are getting harder and harder to come by.

Part of being ready to act at a moment's notice is simply knowing what you want upfront. Rinomato says being confident in the locations and styles of homes you desire can save a lot of time and improve your chances of finding something you love before someone else. Another key factor in this process is ensuring your finances are in order before even starting to look at homes.

Because a house can be listed and sold in an instant — and with financing taking days or even weeks to secure — Rinomato warns that you run the risk of missing out on a property you love by waiting to finalize things, per HGTV. She says falling in love with a house prior to securing your financing is an excellent way to set yourself up for heartbreak. After all, you run the risk of losing it to someone who did have all their ducks in a row.

Find out exactly how much you can afford

A home is likely the most expensive and substantial investment you'll ever make, which is why it's important to ensure you're in a good place financially to take on such a big commitment. Budgeting helps you understand exactly what type and size of house you can afford and prevents you from wasting time looking at others that don't make sense.

As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to comfortably afford a mortgage that's three times the amount of your income, according to CNBC. In addition to mortgage payments, consider setting aside part of your budget for closing costs, which are usually up to 2% of the home's total price. 

Nerd Wallet also emphasizes the importance of knowing exactly how much of your monthly income will be spent on other recurring expenditures, like student loans and car payments. Weighing your income against your monthly bills is an important step in determining how much you can afford to spend monthly on a mortgage.

No matter how much you may love a house and want it to work out for you, the reality is that sometimes it simply won't fit into your budget. Rinomato urges buyers to walk away if the price feels too steep or if they have doubts about whether they'll be able to keep up with payments.

Lead with your head, not your heart

Buying your first home is exciting, and it's easy to become overwhelmed by emotions when finding a property you absolutely adore. In fact, it can feel like a first date, leaving you filled with butterflies, adrenaline, and excitement. Perhaps you walk into the living room and picture yourself entertaining family and friends for the holidays, sitting on the front porch drinking coffee, or relaxing after a long day in the bathroom's beautiful clawfoot bathtub. 

While Rinomato understands these feelings are normal, she cautions buyers against letting their love for a house blind them from seeing any potentially deal-breaking issues. That's why she urges first-time buyers to lead with their heads instead of their hearts when doing a thorough inspection of the property (via HGTV). Older homes especially can have serious electrical, plumbing, or even foundation issues that aren't always visible to the naked eye, which is why it's so important to have a professional inspection done.

Such a review protects your entire family from potential health and safety issues while also safeguarding your investment. In fact, according to Investopedia, an inspection is so important that many lenders won't even consider financing a property without one. Ultimately, Rinomato warns first-time buyers to know when to walk away if the inspection uncovers too many issues.

Be realistic and open minded

While everyone wants to find their absolute dream home, the reality is houses are expensive, particularly those that are move-in ready and don't require a laundry list of updates. According to Statista, the majority of first-time homebuyers are either Gen Z or millennials who are in different stages of their careers and adulthood. In fact, approximately 81% of Americans ages 23 to 31 who bought a house in 2021 were first-time buyers.

This younger demographic tends to not be as established financially, as many are working to pay off student loans or are even still in school. Because of this, the budget of a first-time homebuyer is often more modest than other demographics of buyers. While a smaller budget is not inherently a bad thing, Rinomato urges this cohort to be open-minded and realistic during the buying process.

Having a house meet every item on your checklist is ideal, but certainly isn't realistic, especially with a modest budget. When it comes to affordability, understand you may need to sacrifice certain aspects of your dream home. With that being said, Rinomato says it's important to view a house through an imaginative lens and see it for what it could be — not necessarily what it is at first glance (via HGTV). Indeed, a little TLC goes a long way.

Understand the market

Prices of homes fluctuate based on real estate trends, and therefore, so does the number of houses you can afford. Before making an offer, it's important to understand a bit about the local market, including the value of similar homes nearby. Understanding the fair market value of a home will help determine how much you should offer.

To complicate things, a competitive market is often a breeding ground for bidding wars, which can lead to paying well above a home's asking price. Rocket Mortgage says this is because a hot market means there are fewer available homes than there are interested buyers, often leaving buyers willing to pay more to beat the competition. Though it's easy to get caught up in one-upmanship, never overbid and blow your budget. If you want to remain competitive, Rocket Mortgage suggests offering anywhere from 1% to 3% over the asking price — as long as you can afford it.

Conversely, Rinomato says if a home is priced unusually low compared to the area market value, it's usually a good indication that the sellers are hoping someone will overpay (per HGTV). While you ideally want to pay as little as possible, low-balling can actually trigger a bidding war, causing you to overpay or miss out on a property you love.