You’ve made the decision: You’re ready to buy a house and experience all the joys and trials of homeownership. But now what? Buying a home is a complicated endeavor that many first-time buyers know little about. These nine steps walk you through the basic process of buying your first home and into the wonderful world of homeownership.
Improve Your Credit Score
The higher your credit score, the better the mortgage rate you’ll be offered. Check your FICO score and strategize how you can increase it before applying for a mortgage. A score of 760 or higher secures you the best mortgage rates, while 620 is about the lowest conventional lenders will accept. FHA loans are available to buyers with scores as low as 580.
Mortgages allow buyers to spread out the costs of homeownership over many years, but there are still a lot of upfront costs when buying a home. In addition to a down payment of 3.5 percent to 20 percent, depending on your intended loan type, you’ll need to save money for closing costs (2 to 5 percent of a home’s purchase price) and a home repair emergency fund.
Determine What You Can Afford
The rule of thumb is to spend no more than 35 percent of your pre-tax income on housing, including your mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance, HOA payment, and other expenses. However, that rule doesn’t take all your household expenses into account, like existing debt payments and child care. To avoid buying a house you can’t afford, follow Money Under 30’s advice and spend no more than 25 percent of your after-tax income on housing.
Research Your Mortgage Options
Increasing your credit score isn’t the only thing you can do to secure a good mortgage rate. According to Consumers Advocate, different lenders may offer different mortgage rates, so it’s wise to shop around. Know which type of mortgage you’re looking for before meeting with lenders. Lenders vary in the programs they offer; if you’re buying with poor credit or a low down payment and plan to use a government-backed loan like an FHA, VA, or USDA loan, you’ll need to find lenders that offer those products.
Get Preapproved for a Mortgage
Mortgage preapproval shows agents and sellers that you’re a serious buyer. In fact, Lending Tree warns that some agents won’t show you a home without preapproval. When you get preapproved for a mortgage, a lender examines your finances to determine exactly how much they’re willing to lend you. Avoid being swayed into buying a more expensive home by a mortgage approval that’s higher than your budget. Only you know the full picture of your finances, not your lender, so make sure you plan carefully.
Decide What You Want in a Home
Now that you know your budget and are certain you can get a mortgage, it’s time to start thinking about what you want in a home. Look at several online listings to see what type of home you can afford within your budget and desired geographical area. Then, list the features that are most important to you, starting with unchangeable characteristics like location, neighborhood, lot size, and square footage.
Hire a Real Estate Agent
A great real estate agent makes all the difference, especially for first-time homebuyers. The right agent understands what you’re looking for, finds homes that fit the bill, and negotiates to get you the best possible price.
Shop for a Home
Attending open houses, scheduling viewings, scouring online listings — these are the things people picture when they think about buying a house, but in reality, it’s a small portion of the home buying process. Nonetheless, it’s an emotional undertaking. Stick to your list and your budget, and keep communication open with your spouse and agent. HGTV offers additional tips to make your house hunt go smoothly.
Make an Offer
When you find a home you love, you’re ready to make an offer! However, don’t get ahead of yourself; formulating an offer is a nuanced process, and you’ll need to work with your realtor to determine the right offer price and negotiate the terms of sale.
Buying your first home is a major step, and you want to do it right. Before you start sketching out your dream home, read up on the homebuying process. When you head into homeownership as an informed consumer, you can make a choice that’s good for you and your financial future.
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