Is this the year you buy your first home, or upgrade to a better home? It’s no secret that searching for a home that fits every want and need can be a frustrating process. Kim Clarke, founder of Xcel Properties, shares his top seven tips to secure your dream home in 2014.

1. Prioritise your needs and wants
It’s easy to get carried away with add-ons and extras. Map out what you can afford to spend and then outline what you ‘need’, sourcing what this will cost you. If you have a reserve to play after that, you can then begin choosing the luxuries that you ‘want’. If this is your first home, consider purchasing a new-build that you can afford that’s also a great investment. That way you’re only paying for what you need right now – an upgrade to a larger or more luxurious home can happen when you’re ready.

2. Take advantage of low interest rates
With interest rates currently sitting at a 40-year low, now is a better time than ever to apply for a mortgage. Remember to factor in at least a five per cent rate increase over the life of your mortgage to help determine how much you can afford to borrow and the size of your repayments.

3. Buy a house and land package
Being on a similar price level to second-hand properties, house and land packages are an increasingly popular choice in suburbs with room for growth. These communities in development maximise choice in terms of the size and shape of the land, and the positioning, size and design of the home – including all the key features buyers need to suit their living needs.

4. Apply for grants
Don’t forget to search online to see if you’re eligible for a government first home buyer’s grant. Some states such as Queensland offer up to $15,000 to those buying a new home.

5. Negotiate with builders
Do your homework by researching builders in regards to reputation and price. One increasingly popular way to research is through online reviews and forums. Choose your top five builders and source costs. Let each know what the other is offering. It’s likely that they’ll be able to compete on price or offer additional extras. Remember, a quick and cheap service is not necessarily the best service.

6. Ensure the community is a good fit for you
While the property is important, it’s the community that makes it a home. Before buying, take the time to speak with the neighbours, try the amenities and find information about funding of local facilities, reputation of the local schools and public transport. If you’re looking into a development, a good development should have a sales team that takes you around the neighbourhood and discuss the plans and services in our community.

7. Use the First Home Savers account
For those whose first-home purchase is a longer-term plan, the First Home Saver Account can help. Each year the government will make a 17 per cent contribution on the first $6000 deposited into this account each year – that’s an additional $1020 each year. Withdrawals can only be made after four years. First Home Saver accounts are available from some banks, building societies, credit unions, friendly societies, life insurance companies and super funds.

Are you thinking of buying a home this year?