On a quest to buy your first home in Houston? Here's where to start.

Updated: Apr 19

So you want to buy a home in Houston?

Sure, you can just walk into an open house and put down a bid. But you’d be living a lot smarter if you built a network of trusted real estate professionals who can help you purchase the right home.

Experts say you should never navigate the home-buying scene by yourself as a first-time home-buyer. There are a lot of hidden catches and things you need to set straight before you can settle into your new place.

In the first of a series from the Houston Chronicle, Houston How To will walk you through the process of buying your first home and general estimates for a timeline.

The homebuying forecast in Houston:

In Houston, the housing market is looking, well, fantastic.

Mortgage rates are expected to be low in 2020, which encourages home sales. In early January, federally backed mortgage company Freddie Mac forecast that low rates for home loans are expected to continue through 2020, with an average interest rate of 3.8 percent for 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates.

“People buy a home for so many different reasons, whether it’s the aspect of investment or maybe the legacy of ‘I grew up in a home that was owned, I’d like to raise family in a home,’” said Omar Enriquez, who manages affordable housing applications at Amegy Bank. “We live in a city where homeownership is just so possible.”

According to the Houston Association of Realtors, single-family home sale rates are ticking up, with homes in the $250,000 to $500,000 range doing particularly well.

“It’s a market where interest rates are at an all-time low, you can get into a house with low to no down payment and it’ll be cheaper than renting,” said Thai Klam, chairman of the Houston Association of Realtors’ Technology Advisory Group.

When and where to start:

To begin, you’ll likely start by looking at homes online. Type in desired zip codes, or look at a map of the Houston area to find current listings on sites like the Houston Association of Realtors, Zillow and Trulia. These sites also allow more advanced searches based on drive time to an employer, subdivisions or amenities like swimming pools.

We've got a few resources of our own. has a HAR search widget atop its real estate page. And if you're old-school, the Sunday print edition's Homes section is full of listings from across the city. There's also our annual home price survey.

Most homebuyers should start the process of looking at homes and connecting with real estate professionals at least six to 12 months prior to purchasing, Enriquez said. That gives time for leases to end and prospective owners to bring up credit scores.

When you’ve narrowed down a selection of neighborhoods or communities, figured out your budget and decide on your must-haves, you’ll want to reach out to two people: a real estate agent or a loan officer.

The real estate agent, who may also be a realtor certified by the National Association of Realtors or a broker who can also advise on financial and legal aspects of a sale, is a professional licensed to help people purchase sand sell housing.

Ideally, this agent will specialize in home buying in your preferred neighborhoods. It’s like taking a vacation abroad: if you want the true experience, you want advice from someone who lives and breathes it rather than a tourist who has only stopped by briefly.

You can save some cash and do the process yourself, but real estate professionals say that’s frustrating for buyers, sellers and the experts who later come in to help with the financial aspect of homebuying. Plus, working with a real estate agent gives you a leg up — they might know about properties soon to come on the market that aren’t yet listed.

Otherwise, start with a loan officer from a financial institution who looks at mortgage applications, determining who’s eligible for a home loan. They can pre-qualify you, requiring an interview to determine if you’re a good candidate to purchase property, or pre-approve you, asking you to bring in financial documents to prove your income, assets and existing debt. The former is quicker, but the latter shows that you are serious about moving in.

Note that you have options to get a loan from a local lender, the federal government or online banks. Online banks like Ally Bank can streamline the process of pre-approvals for loans. Fees and other costs are provided upfront, which can be a big bonus for homebuyers seeking transparency during the process, company officials said.

iBuyers, or internet-based national real estate companies that buy and list homes for sellers who want to avoid the traditional process, have made it easier to buy a home online. Unlike their “cash for homes” counterparts seen on street signs in many Houston neighborhoods, they get choosy about what types and conditions of homes they’ll buy.