Buying a home is one of the largest purchases you'll likely make, and it's important to make sure your financial house is in order. Start by reviewing your bank accounts and billing statements to get a handle on how much money you're making and spending each month. If you're planning to buy a house with someone else (like your spouse), review their finances as well, and then ask yourself some questions:

You'll want to know in advance that you likely qualify for a home loan, and that's where a credit check can prove invaluable when you buy a house. Your credit check will track your financial health using data from the three primary credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Your credit score from each agency can range anywhere from 350 to 800. The higher the credit score, the more likely you'll be granted a home loan, and the more likely you'll pay a lower interest rate when securing a home mortgage (that's because a high credit score will be viewed by a mortgage lender as a lower-risk loan proposition). In your run-up to your credit check, avoid taking out any loans or credit -- that will raise your credit risk level in the eyes of lenders -- and make sure you pay down any debt owed, and ensure you've got a good track record of paying your bills on time.
You can also order a free copy of your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com as long as you haven't done so in the last 12 months. One study showed that about 70% of credit reports have errors in them so check to see if there are any in yours that could be hurting your credit score and if so, be sure to have them corrected. It’s bad enough to suffer from your own mistakes. You don’t want to suffer from someone else’s too. Finally, you may want to put a security freeze on your credit reports to protect you from identity theft.

Once the buyer has found the perfect home, it is time to make an offer on the property. This is an area in which a real estate agent is invaluable. He or she will base the offer price off of comparable homes that have sold recently in the area. The agent will draft a contract that is agreeable to the home buyer. The contract will include the price of the offer, as well as terms that the seller and the buyer will need to meet in order to achieve a successful transaction. The agent will ensure that the contract meets all of the necessary legal requirements.
In addition to having a down payment, a first-time home buyer will need a decent credit score. This three-digit number is a numerical summary of your credit report, a detailed document outlining how well you've paid off past debts like for credit cards and college student loans. A lender will check your score and report in order to estimate the odds that you will deliver your monthly payment to them, too. In turn, they will use this info to decide whether or not to loan you money, as well as how much, and at what interest rate.
Your property taxes are a fixed percentage of your home’s value based on the tax assessor’s appraised value of your home. Property taxes are paid to township or county in which the home is located. You will pay this tax annually, semiannually or as part of your monthly mortgage payments (the tax portion of the payment will go into your escrow account). The local tax assessor’s office can provide you with a specific property tax rate.
An FHA loan is a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration (this means that if you default, the FHA will repay the note to the bank). Because the loan is insured, the lender typically offers a low down payment required (3.5%, for example) and low closing costs. Anyone can apply for an FHA loan and an FHA loan is easier to qualify for than a conventional loan. Instead of PMI on your FHA loan, you will have MIP (mortgage insurance premium), which stays with the life of the loan. That means that unlike a conventional loan where you can remove the PMI, on an FHA loan, you cannot remove the insurance without refinancing the entire loan (which you have to qualify for in order to do).
Having bad credit is not an uncommon problem for Americans, and it should not discourage you from the home buying process. Saving up for a larger down payment of 20 percent or more will be required with anyone with a credit score below 580, to help demonstrate that you will be able to manage a mortgage. Those with a credit score above 580 can qualify for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, with a down payment requirement of 3.5 percent. Home buyers can also consider taking out a private loan, but should be prepared to pay high fees and interest rates. Finally, taking out a conventional loan is still possible if you are able to demonstrate financial stability, and that you will be able to manage mortgage payments.
Several years ago I remember a friend advising me to purchase a house before I was ready, and now I have been curious about the repercussions of purchasing a house outside your financial capabilities. I appreciate that you specifically pointed out that you should never stretch to buy your primary residence thinking that you can take cash out or flip it for a quick profit in a few years. Thank you for the advice regarding financial planning in purchasing real estate!
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other's products, services or policies.

How to avoid this mistake: Ask a mortgage lender about your first-time home buyer options and look for programs in your state. You might qualify for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan or one guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs that doesn’t require a down payment. Federal Housing Administration loans have a minimum down payment of 3.5%, and some conventional loan programs allow down payments as low as 3%.

Once you’ve made sure the property is in the agreed-upon condition, you’ll set a date to meet with the required parties. Different areas have different requirements as to who must be present, so you might meet one or all of the following: the escrow or closing agent, the attorney — who could also be the escrow agent, someone from the title company, the mortgage lender, and the real estate agents.


Buying your first home can be a daunting task. But millions of people have been there before you and survived. If you do your homework, you'll have the best possible chance of finding a place you can afford for a price you can handle. The big surprise for many first-timers is that they need to finish the first five steps on this list before they can even begin to look for a home.


It’s more fun to look at homes than it is to talk about your finances with a lender. So that’s what a lot of first-time home buyers do: They visit properties before finding out how much they are able to borrow. Then, they are disappointed when they discover they were looking in the wrong price range (either too high or too low) or when they find the right home, but aren’t able to make a serious offer.
Chances are your home inspection report will turn up some problems with the home — but, keep in mind, not all repairs are created equal. There are major issues that will likely need to be dealt with before a lender will honor a home loan, such as structural problems and building code violations. In these cases, the homeowner is responsible for repairs before the sale can go through.
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