10 Tips for Buying a Home in Orange County California
Last Updated: January 5, 2023

10 Tips for Buying a Home in Orange County California

With instant access to beautiful beaches and a host of culturally rich communities, Orange County, California, is one of the most desirable areas to call home on the West coast. 

Orange County, California, is part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area in Southern California, offering access to a stable economy, good job opportunities, and great Southern California weather.

However, snagging a property in the O.C. is competitive and may require some pre-planning and quick action. Here are a few ways to help you purchase a new home in the popular Orange County area.

1. Assess Your Financial Readiness

Are you ready to buy your dream home in Orange County, California? The first step is to ensure you’re ready for the commitment. You can expect to pay premium prices in certain locations throughout the area. As of August 2022, the average home sale price in O.C. was $1,200,000.

That means that you need to have a minimum of $200k stashed for a 20% down payment and an annual salary of around $250k or more. Even if you think you make enough money, how you manage your finances can make a big difference.

For example, if you have a large amount of student loan debt or high credit card balances, your financial health might not be in shape to afford that new home. Before you set yourself up for disappointment, take a look at your numbers with the critical eye of a lender.

A financial assessment will include determining your budget by looking at your debt-to-income (DTI) and knowing how much of a payment you can handle. You’ll also need to know your credit score and how much of a down payment you can manage.

The minimum credit score for most mortgage lenders is between 620 and 650. However, a higher score (720 or above) will get you a more favorable interest rate.

Tip: learn about what you need to buy a home here.

2. Research Home Locations In Orange County

Determining which city within the O.C. you’d like to live in depends on several factors, such as work location, community culture, schools, and amenities. Another major factor is your budget. Orange County is home to 34 cities, all with their own pros and cons.

The three largest cities in Orange County are:

  1. Anaheim
  2. Santa Ana
  3. Irvine

Highlights of Anaheim, California

If you’re looking for lower-cost housing with a rich, diverse culture and plenty of attractions, check out Anaheim. Well below the county median, the average cost to purchase a residence here is $867,139. 

There are parts of Anaheim that are more expensive, such as Anaheim Hills. Some of the homes in Anaheim Hills are priced between $1.8 million to $3 million. Here are just a few of those homes that you can see. 

Another thing to consider before choosing to call Anaheim home is how many people you’ll share the city with. Anaheim is a city of more than 350,000 people, attracting about 25 million annual visitors. This can be a good thing if you have a small business, or it can be a bad thing if you want something less touristy.

If you do want to explore homes in Anaheim, here are some neighborhoods to check out:

  • Downtown Anaheim
  • West Anaheim
  • Southeast Anaheim
  • Northeast Anaheim
  • Anaheim Hills

Highlights of Santa Ana, California

Santa Ana, also popular with Orange County residents looking for a home on the lower end of the cost scale, offers loads of amenities, great schools, and terrific Southern California sunshine with a median home price of just below the $800k mark. 

By most economies, that’s a pretty penny, but if you’re shopping for a home in Orange County–most buyers would call this a bargain.

Santa Ana is also known for:

  • Artist’s Village
  • Historic homes from the 1800s
  • Old court house

Mostly due to their size and lower cost of living, both Anaheim and Santa Ana are often met with apprehension from home buyers hoping to avoid higher crime rates. 

However, just like any other city, Santa Ana has safe parts. If you are concerned about safety, we suggest asking your realtor or checking out the crime there by going to the website crimegrade.org.

You can also go check out the cities neighborhoods

  • Floral Park
  • West Floral Park
  • South Coast
  • Park Santiago
  • Metro Classic
  • Central City
  • Downtown

Comparatively, the city of Irvine is well-regarded as one of the safest cities in Orange County while still boasting more than a quarter million residents.

Highlights of Irvine, California

Over 300,000 residents chose Irvine to be their home. If you ask people in Irvine why they selected the city to live in, they will most likely tell you that it’s a safe and family-friendly place. They constantly rank it as one of the top safest cities in America.

Irvine is also known for:

  • Best places for young families
  • Best park access, park size, investment and popular amenities
  • Education system

The Irvine public school system is very well known in Orange County, with more than 90% of high school graduates attending college. Now that’s impressive.

When selecting colleges, you can attend The University of California at Irvine, Concordia University, and Brandman University.

If you feel that Irvine is a great place to start exploring to buy a home check out the following Neighborhoods:

  • Great Park
  • Turtle Rock
  • Westpark
  • Turtle Ridge
  • Northwood
  • Oak Creek
  • Northpoint
  • University Park

Beach Cities in Orange County

If you are looking for a beach city in Orange county, you will definitely find it here. Orange county has the following beach cities.

  • Seal Beach
  • Sunset Beach
  • Huntington Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Corona Del Mar 
  • Laguna Beach
  • Dana Point
  • San Clemente

Living in a beach city is not cheap but also not impossible to buy a starter home such as a condo. Beach cities offer lots of things to do and have shopping centers that are walkable. 

For a more luxurious lifestyle then, Laguna Beach tops the list. If you’re looking for a place within these city limits, you can expect an average home here to cost $2.35 million. The upside to higher home prices in Laguna Beach is naturally less populated.

There are many cities within Orange county that have affordable homes and once you get familiar with what city you like is best to start getting help from a realtor that knows the area.

3. Enlist the Help of a Realtor to Purchase a Home In Orange County

With a hot housing market and more demand than supply, there is a lot that goes into finding the perfect home. Realtors often have faster access to new listings or even homes that aren’t officially on the market yet. For this reason, it’s recommended to work with a professional realtor.

Plus, you’ll get seasoned advice from a professional who knows what’s hot–and what’s not. Realtors know one thing really well–and that’s the local housing market where they’re selling homes.

In a competitive housing market like Orange County, a realtor can help you negotiate a deal that locks down your dream home.

Working with the right realtor can also ultimately save time and money. This professional can manage your search, streamlining the process of locating and viewing potential homes without wasting valuable time when you’re ready to make an offer.

Orange county is so big that you will definitely need to hire a realtor that knows the area where you are looking to buy your dream home.

4. Identify Which Mortgage to Pursue

A major hurdle experienced by first-time homebuyers, in particular, is a down payment. A typical down payment is expected to be anywhere from 3% to 20% of the purchase home’s value. On a $3 million property, that would be $900K.

Fortunately, there is more than one way to obtain a mortgage if you don’t have the full funds of a down payment. While conventional home loans typically have a down payment requirement, check out these other lending options too:

  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) loans

Special loan programs often come with requirements. For example, some loans offer flexibility to make home ownership easier for first-time buyers. 

These programs might require that you have not purchased a new home in the preceding 36 months. Similarly, VA loans will require that the principal borrower is a United States veteran with an honorable discharge from a branch of service.

Tip: If you are a first-time homebuyer, read this guide to know what to expect.

5. Seek Mortgage Pre-Approval

If you’re serious about purchasing a new home with financing, then it’s critical to seek a mortgage pre-approval. In the real estate world, this is generally considered a requirement before a buyer’s agent will work with you and certainly before you can make an offer. 

In order to do so, you’ll need to submit several financial documents, proof of income, and tax information. While pre-approval can require some legwork, this process ultimately pays off.

A pre-approval letter tells you exactly how much money a bank will loan you to purchase a home. It also shows sellers you’re ready to buy now. As homes are quickly being bought shortly after listing, you might miss out without this important piece.

It’s a good idea to check rates with multiple lenders. While there are some common industry standards, the rates and terms offered will vary from one lender to the next.

If you are ready to get pre-approval apply now.

Start looking at your options

Promise Home Loans is here to help.

6. Visit Homes and Make an Offer

After researching locations, hiring a realtor, and getting your pre-approval, you’re ready to go house hunting. Keep in mind a few things here. Houses are going fast, so plan for a long day of looking and quick feet if you find something you like.

Make a list of the features and amenities that are most important to you before you begin shopping. For example, Orange County is home to big tourist attractions like Disneyland or some of Southern California’s best beaches. 

If these things are important to you, consider the proximity to potential homes as you begin to shop.

If you’re hoping for the charm and character of an older home, begin your search in Northern Orange County, where you will find deep cultural roots and vibrant artisan communities. However, if you’re shopping for luxury, status, or something new–you’ll find newer homes across the southern portion of the county.

Whichever way you go, be prepared to act fast. It’s a seller’s market and homes aren’t staying on the market for long.

In fact, the average home as of March 2022 was only on the market for 38 days. Given that the process of closing after an offer is accepted can take anywhere from 30-45 days, houses are being snatched up quickly after listing. 

While you don’t want to make a hasty decision when buying a home, waiting too long to make an offer could mean losing out on the home to someone else who was sure.

How many homes can you expect to look at? It all depends on personal preferences–how flexible you are willing to be and what’s currently available are variable factors that can change based on circumstances. 

Across the U.S., the average home buyer sees about 10 homes before making a commitment. And when you find one you’re serious about, consider viewing it at least twice.

7. Get an Inspection

To some, home inspections are a controversial subject. In a seller’s market, where there are more buyers than homes available, it’s an extra step that yields little bargaining power. 

After an offer is accepted, a home inspection is typically then conducted by a qualified third party at the buyer’s expense. 

The inspection covers fundamental elements of your potential home’s structure, safety, and overall functioning.

Generally speaking, the homes in Northern Orange County are part of older cities. While the age of the homes provides character, it also opens the door to more problems and potential maintenance costs. 

The southern part of the county is full of newer, more affluent cities filled with newer homes. However, newer doesn’t mean that there are zero problems with the construction. In both cases, a home inspection is an important step.

At a minimum, a home inspection should provide an unbiased opinion from a qualified individual regarding the structure and major mechanical systems in the home, including:

  • Heating System
  • Central Air Conditioning
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Roof
  • Gutters and Water Removal Systems
  • Walls, Floors, & Ceilings
  • Foundation
  • Windows & Doors

While some buyers are opting to skip this vital step due to potentially scaring off sellers, it should be weighed with heavy consideration. After the purchase, anything that goes wrong with the home is now your responsibility. It might not be a good idea unless you have the funds for major home renovations.

8. An Appraisal is a Priority

Suppose you’re seeking to fund the purchase of a new home from a lending resource. In that case, an appraisal is almost always necessary. Unlike the inspection, where you’re responsible for any hidden home defects, failure to appraise your home could fall on your lender.

An appraisal provides an unbiased assessment of the property’s fair market value. In a market where many buyers are coming above the asking price, an appraisal prevents lenders from giving beyond what the home is worth. Therefore, almost all lenders require this step.

9. Attend a Final Walk-Through

After all of the to-do items are checked off, and the lender makes the final approval on financing, there’s one final actionable step to take before closing. That’s the final walk-through of the purchased home. 

Typically this is conducted with the buyer and their realtor within 24 hours prior to signing the papers at closing. Why is a final walk-through necessary? 

A final walk-through allows the buyer to ensure that all requested repairs were made. Additionally, this step ensures that no new issues or damage have been incurred since the buyer was last at the property. If there are, this is the buyer’s last chance to correct them.

10. The Closing Deal

In order to officially obtain ownership of a new property, you’ll have to close the deal. There’s a lot of documentation, including financial agreements and contracts, that you’ll sign here. There will also be several people gathered around the table.

In Orange County, California, home buyers typically pay between 2-5% of the home price in closing costs. 

To make the process go as smoothly as possible on your end, make sure you bring your identification, your financial documents, proof of home insurance, and anything else the bank asks you to bring. 

There’s a lot of paperwork to go over, but don’t skip it. You need to read and understand the terms of your new loan.

If you are just starting your research here is a little more information about Orange County.

Orange County Q & A

What are the top attractions in Orange County, CA?

  • Disneyland
  • Huntington Beach Pier
  • Knott’s Berry Farm
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano
  • South Coast Plaza 
  • Whale Watching
  • Discovery Cube OC

What are the top Private Schools in Orange County, CA?

  • Fairmont Schools
  • Sage Hill
  • St. Mary’s School
  • The Pegasus School

What is the cheapest city in Orange County, CA?

  • Santa Ana
  • Buena Park
  • Anaheim
  • Garden Grove
  • Brea

What are the Top Places to Shop in Orange County, CA?

  • Fashion Island
  • South Coast Plaza
  • Pacific City
  • Irvine Spectrum Center
  • Los Rios Historic District
  • The LAB Anti-Mall

How many colleges and universities does Orange County, California have?

There are 16 Colleges/Universities in Orange County. 

College City
Chapman University Orange
Coastline College Fountain Valley
Concordia College Irvine
CSU Fullerton Fullerton
Cypress College Fullerton
Fullerton College Fullerton
Golden West College Huntington Beach
Hope College Fullerton
Irvine Valley College Irvine
Orange Coast College Costa Mesa
Saddleback College Mission Viejo
Santa Ana College Santa Ana
Santiago Canyon College Orange
Southern California College of Optometry Fullerton
UC Irvine Irvine
Western State College Fullerton

What is the cost of living in Orange County, California?

According to payscale, the cost of living in Orange County is 55% higher than the national average.

Who are the top employers in Orange County, California?

  • Blizzard
  • Boeing
  • Ingram Micro
  • Disneyland
  • Hoag Memorial Hospital
  • University of California
  • County of Orange
  • St. Joseph Health
  • Kaiser Permanente

What is the population in Orange County, California?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 3,167,809 people living in Orange County.

Summing Up Buying a Home in Orange County

If you’re looking to buy a home in Orange County, California, the good news is there are many options. With more than thirty cities to choose from, you’ll find the desired location with a little research. Of course, knowing what you want and having professional help will make the process easier.

Still, knowing what to expect in a hot market along the way is helpful. Preparing ahead of time will help the whole process go smoother and help you get what you’re looking for. 

Ensure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by skipping any steps along the way. In the end, this is your dream home.

Apply here to find out how much you can qualify for in Orange County.

Get Pre-Approved Today

Buy a home or start saving, we make it easy.