"Building equity in a home can be a good way to grow your wealth, but it's important that you do so in a way that doesn't stretch your finances too thin," he cautions. "Things can get really ugly when the housing market declines, so it may be a good idea to take out a 30-year mortgage but accelerate your monthly payments as if you had a 15-year mortgage. If you ever need to lower your payment in the future, you'll still have that option."
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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.
You can get approved for a home loan by completing a mortgage application. Be prepared to provide proof of your financial data, such as your monthly income, total debt payments, and your credit score. Also, have an idea of how much house you can afford, as well as how much cash you have available for a down payment. Meeting with a mortgage lender before you are ready to purchase a home can also help you set financial goals, such as knowing how much to save up for a down payment, or improving your credit score.
Down payment: Unless you’re getting a loan backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or U.S. Department of Agriculture, you’ll probably need to put some money down. While there are benefits to putting down at least the old standard of 20% of the home’s purchase price — one of them often being a lower interest rate — some lenders now offer conventional loans for as little as 3% down, and Federal Housing Administration (or FHA) loans allow as little as 3.5% down.
Arrange for a home inspector to look over the property. The real estate agent can help locate a reputable inspector for the task. A qualified inspector will check the foundation of the home, plumbing, electrical systems, the roof, walls, and visible insulation. An inspector will also look for signs of mold, asbestos, and pests. A home inspection is generally one of the steps to buy a house that is being resold.

First-time homebuyers are often moving from rentals that use less energy (gas, oil, electric, propane, etc.) and water than a larger new home will. It is easy to be ambushed by soaring rates when your new house has ceilings higher than your rental – or older windows that leak air. Then there are unexpected utilities, such as buying gas to power a lawnmower. These costs can blow a budget.
The home buying process is a considerably high-stakes endeavor, especially for first-time home buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors, buyers under the age of 36 have made up the largest proportion of home buyers in the U.S. over the last four years. Of this proportion, 66 percent of the buyers purchased a home for the very first time. Whether you are a first time home buyer or someone in need of a refresher, this comprehensive guide to the home buying process is just for you.
Note that if our home buyers had saved $60,000 for the down payment, their monthly bill would drop to some $1,600, eliminating the need for mortgage insurance. But in our model, mortgage insurance accounts for just $1,356 annually over 6.5 years in the $60,000-down-payment case -- or $8,800 total. Turns out that's a lot less than saving the additional $30,000 to hit the 20% down-payment mark. And so, if savings are an issue, first-time buyers might take on the insurance in exchange for a lower down payment.

There are rules lenders follow to determine what you can borrow, such as the 28/36 rule, which says that a homeowner should spend no more than 28 percent of their gross monthly income on housing expenses, and no more than 36 percent on overall debt. But buying a home also comes with significant upfront costs, such as the down payment and closing costs, so you’ll want to make sure you have savings left for emergencies and other unexpected expenses after you close on your new home.


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.
When you get a mortgage, your lender may require you to set up an escrow account. A monthly escrow amount is added to your mortgage payment. The escrow payments goes toward real property taxes and insurance that you would otherwise have to pay once or twice a year. Instead, you generally will pay a monthly payment and the money sits in escrow to be paid by your lender when it’s due. This escrow payment is above the principal and interest portion of the mortgage payment and is required. 
The winning bid isn’t always about price – the seller wants to feel confident about the entire transaction at the end of the day. If your bid includes your preapproval letter as opposed to a competing buyer’s prequalification, or you’re willing to let the seller take a little more time to move out, your offer might be the package the seller chooses.
Escrow is an account held by a third party on behalf of the two principal parties involved in a transaction. Since home sale involves multiple steps which takes time that can span weeks, the best way to mitigate the risk of either the seller or the buyer getting ripped off is to have a neutral third party hold all the money and documents related to the transaction until everything has been settled. Once all procedural formalities are over, the money and documents are moved from the custody of the escrow account to the seller and buyer, thereby guaranteeing a secure transaction.
Despite the District of Columbia having the fifth-highest cost of living out of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., the nation's capital is the 25th best affordable place to live. The District’s median blended annual household income – the median total income for households (rather than individuals) that rent or own a home in the area – is more than $95,000. This makes the blended annual cost of living – factoring in mortgage payments, rent, utilities and taxes – of slightly more than $25,000 comparatively affordable.
The home buying process can take anywhere from one month to a few years, depending on the unique experience and expectations of the home buyer. On average, a home buyer can spend one to two months searching listings, several weeks to negotiate and close a deal, and then make the first mortgage payment several weeks after that. With these variations in mind, a home buyer can realistically expect for the home buying process to take roughly three months.
P&I is the principal and interest you pay your lender each month. The principal is the amount of money being borrowed. The interest is the cost of borrowing the principal. Principal and interest account for the majority of your monthly payment, which may also include escrow payments for property taxes, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and other costs.
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.
I’m a big proponent of the Dave Ramsey line of thinking when it comes to home ownership – buying a house costs you money in the short term but is an asset in the long term. What does this mean? It means that you need to have money to buy a house. Comparing rent to a mortgage payment is not how you decide whether you should buy a home. In fact, most pros suggest that you have an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months in place and put between 10-20% down when you buy a home.
When you’ve made an offer that’s within your budget, your Realtor will prepare the paperwork for you to sign and will submit it, along with your pre-approval letter and your earnest money, which is a good-faith deposit of about 1 percent of the purchase price. All this usually happens quickly, especially if other buyers are interested in the same property.
When determining how much mortgage you can afford, base this amount on what you are earning today. That is, the income that you and your spouse earn from stable sources. If you're in your last year of law school, for instance, don't assume that you will be earning much more money in a year or two, so you can afford a larger payment. If your wife is expecting a big promotion, don't base your mortgage payment off of her potential salary increase. No one can predict the future, and although you may very well be in a better financial situation a year down the road, there is no guarantee.
Many first-time buyers wait until they’ve found a home they want to buy before taking to a lender, but there are many benefits to getting pre-qualified early. Pre-qualification can help you shop in your price range, act fast when you find a house you want to make an offer on, and catch — and correct — any errors on your credit report before they cause a problem with your loan. This could help save you thousands in the long run because an error on your credit report could result in a lower credit score, leading to a higher interest rate.
Mortgage insurance: If you take out a conventional loan and put down less than 20%, it’s possible you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender financially. You can typically request for PMI to be canceled once you reach 20% equity in your home. If you take out an FHA loan, you have to pay mortgage insurance, though you may be able to cancel your insurance once you pay down enough of your loan.
I believe some of the best advice is to PREPARE! I hear so many people say “Ok, we wanna buy a house now” and it’s like…WOAH WOAH WOAH…you can’t just go out & get one! There’s several things that need to happen beforehand. Unfortunately, money management is not a strong point for many of us young folks, but I’m getting better at it (and helping my husband do the same!). Thank you! 🙂

Great article, very helpful. I love how you mention getting both of the partners’ credit scores in shape and saving money for a down payment. You have to start preparing for a new home long before you actually buy one. My husband and I have been working towards it for a few years, and we are finally ready to start looking! I am so excited and nervous at the same time!
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