When you’ve selected a Realtor, start searching in earnest for your new home. Your real estate agent will find properties that he or she thinks you may like, but you can also search on your own. Check out internet listings, drive around and look for yard signs, and ask around to learn about houses that may be available in the neighborhoods you want. In a seller’s market, where available properties may be limited, try to exhaust all your options—not just Trulia, Zillow, and whatever your Realtor sends your way.
For most buyers, this is when the butterflies really show up. Once you’ve found a home you want your agent will work with you to craft an offer. Remember, the listing price is only a starting point. Your agent will understand the market and help guide you to make the most attractive offer, whether it’s below, at or above listing price. Are there any contingencies to your offer? Will you require an inspection? These are all things your agent will help you with. Once you’ve submitted the offer you get to wait. It will seem interminable. You may get neither a simple yes or no but a counteroffer to consider. It can be something of a dance. If you get a solid “no,” it’s back to Step 5. If you get to a “yes,” celebrate!
Throughout the process, your mortgage lender will likely request various documents from you, such as updated pay stubs, current tax records, and other items that may have changed since pre-approval, as well as information about the home insurance policy you plan to purchase. Try to respond as quickly and accurately as you can, providing the needed information as soon as possible. Your promptness will help move your loan through the process faster and help ensure you can close on time.
VA and USDA loans: Certain veterans, active members of the military, and qualifying residents of designated rural areas can qualify for a 0% down-payment housing loan -- mortgage-insurance free as well -- from the Veterans Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In this case, first-time home-buyers could walk into a $300,000 house for just the closing costs, plus the suggested six-month buffer.
Home inspection, a physical examination of the condition of a real estate property, is a necessary step to not only know about any problems with the property, but also get a look and feel of the surroundings. If you find a serious problem with the home during the inspection, you'll have an opportunity to back out of the deal or ask the seller to fix it or pay for you to have it fixed (as long as your purchase offer included a home-inspection contingency).
FHA loan: Depending on property location and other, personal factors, you could qualify for a home loan from the Federal Housing Administration. In most cases, you'd be expected to make a down payment of approximately 3.5% (with a 1.75% insurance premium, and at a 4.25% interest rate). A down payment on our $300,000 model: $10,500. Together with closing costs and a buffer, savings required would be $26,916-$28,416. Notice, however, that you're paying a great deal more than in the non-FHA model when it come to the higher mortgage-insurance premiums -- some $43,485 over 103 months. Still, the FHA plan may be more manageable for some, as the initial down payment is smaller and insurance payments are spread out.
Fixed rate mortgages are just what they say they are -- mortgage loans that allow borrowers to "lock in" a fixed interest rate over the complete loan period (typically 15-to-30 years.) There are upsides and downsides to fixed-rate mortgages, depending on the direction of interest rates. If rates spiral downward, the loan borrower is stuck paying the higher interest rate stated on the mortgage loan contract. On the other hand, if interest rates climb, the borrower's fixed interest rate insulates them from paying the added costs linked to mortgage loans with soaring interest rates after the mortgage is signed.
You will have to provide proof of employment and proof of income to qualify for your mortgage. This shows the lender that you are creditworthy. It’s usually not great to quit your job during the home-buying process for this reason. Some lenders may ask for employment verification later in the home-buying process, so your approval could actually change if you take a lesser paying job during the home-buying process.
Ask your real estate agent for information on crime rates and the quality of schools around your prospective neighborhoods. Calculate your new commute times to see if they seem manageable. Visit the neighborhood at different times and days to check for traffic conditions, noise levels, and if people are comfortable being outdoors. Only choose a neighborhood that you and your family feel good about.
Qualifying for a loan isn’t a guarantee your loan will eventually be funded: Underwriting guidelines shift, lender risk-analysis changes and investor markets can alter. “I have had clients who signed loan and escrow documents, and 24 to 48 hours before they were supposed to close were notified the lender froze funding on their loan program,” says Recchia. Having a second lender that has already qualified you for a mortgage gives you an alternate way to keep the process on, or close to, schedule

My husband and I are planning to buy our first home soon and we have no experience in home buying, so I am glad that I found this article. You make a great point that you should first think about your budget and choose a home that you can afford. Also, I appreciate that you say house hunting can be hard and very time-consuming, so we will definitely think about hiring a realtor to help us with this process.
Homeowners insurance and property taxes: You’ll typically have to prepay homeowners insurance and property taxes at closing, and you should pay them on an ongoing basis as long as you own the home. The cost varies depending on your home and location. If you have an escrow account set up, these charges are rolled up into your monthly mortgage payment. But if you don’t have an escrow account, you’re in charge of paying them on your own, and you may have the choice of paying them monthly or annually.
8. Secure a loan. Now call your mortgage broker or lender and move quickly to agree on terms, if you have not already done so. This is when you decide whether to go with the fixed rate or adjustable rate mortgage and whether to pay points. Expect to pay $50 to $75 for a credit check at this point, and another $150, on average to $300 for an appraisal of the home. Most other fees will be due at the closing.
FHA loan: Depending on property location and other, personal factors, you could qualify for a home loan from the Federal Housing Administration. In most cases, you'd be expected to make a down payment of approximately 3.5% (with a 1.75% insurance premium, and at a 4.25% interest rate). A down payment on our $300,000 model: $10,500. Together with closing costs and a buffer, savings required would be $26,916-$28,416. Notice, however, that you're paying a great deal more than in the non-FHA model when it come to the higher mortgage-insurance premiums -- some $43,485 over 103 months. Still, the FHA plan may be more manageable for some, as the initial down payment is smaller and insurance payments are spread out.
The best way to pay for a home is with cash! Not only does it set you up for building wealth, it streamlines the real estate process. If you did get a mortgage, you’ll have a final step before you can close on your home: getting final approval. Your lender will dig through the details of your finances to finalize your mortgage. Whatever you do, don’t open a credit card, take on more debt, or change jobs once you’re under contract. That’s a stupid idea anyway! Plus any changes in your financial situation can jeopardize your loan process.
Homeowners insurance and property taxes: You’ll typically have to prepay homeowners insurance and property taxes at closing, and you should pay them on an ongoing basis as long as you own the home. The cost varies depending on your home and location. If you have an escrow account set up, these charges are rolled up into your monthly mortgage payment. But if you don’t have an escrow account, you’re in charge of paying them on your own, and you may have the choice of paying them monthly or annually.
In any case, consider picking a mortgage with a fixed rate for the longest time that you think you'll be keeping the home. That's because you could see your monthly payments jump up on a variable rate mortgage if interest rates keep climbing. On the other hand, fixed rate mortgages start with higher interest rates so it may not make sense to pay more to lock in a fixed rate for longer than you need it.
The spender in me knows that’s easier said than done. When my husband, Winston, and I moved into our first home, I had so many visions for what our home could look like! It was hard for me to accept the fact that I could only decorate one room at a time, but I knew our future money goals were more important than me spending all our savings at the furniture and home stores.
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!
To find someone, interview several buyers' agents—this means they exclusively represent you, and not the seller, as well—until you identify someone who understands your needs and makes you feel comfortable. As a final step, check your state's real estate licensing board's website to ensure they're registered, and don't have any complaints or suspensions logged against them.
You will have to provide proof of employment and proof of income to qualify for your mortgage. This shows the lender that you are creditworthy. It’s usually not great to quit your job during the home-buying process for this reason. Some lenders may ask for employment verification later in the home-buying process, so your approval could actually change if you take a lesser paying job during the home-buying process.
While 20 percent is ideal, you don’t necessarily need that large of a down payment to buy a home. There are loan programs that cater to first-time home buyers, such as the FHA loan, which allow for down payments as little as 3.5%. Even some conventional loans allow for down payments as low as 3 percent. And certain loans, such as VA loans for veterans and military or USDA loans for buyers in rural areas, don’t require a down payment at all.
Because while house hunting for the first time can be exciting, tales of regretful home-buying mistakes and the not-so-distant housing market meltdown have also given it a bad rap for being a stressful and confusing process. It doesn't have to be—that's why we created this handy nine-step checklist, which helps explain how to prepare to buy a house—and help safeguard your finances in the process.
Pre-approval requires the lender to pull the credit information (see Step 1) and assess your financial situation. The lender will then give you a letter that states the amount they would be willing to lend you. If you get in a multiple-offer scenario, being pre-approved may give you an edge because the seller will have more confidence that you will be approved for a loan large enough to purchase their home.
So what is a good credit score? You can expect a good mortgage rate at anything above 720. Home buyers who pursue an FHA loan can usually secure a loan if their credit is 580 or over. FICO scores are available at www.myfico.com for a one-time or monthly fee. Once you know your score, you can find out what interest rate you will likely qualify for by researching interest rates on Zillow.
Ask to be present during the inspection, because you will learn a lot about your house, including its overall condition, construction materials, wiring, and heating. If the inspector turns up major problems, like a roof that needs to be replaced, then ask your lawyer or agent to discuss it with the seller. You will either want the seller to fix the problem before you move in, or deduct the cost of the repair from the final price. If the seller won't agree to either remedy you may decide to walk away from the deal, which you can do without penalty if you have that contingency written into the contract.
What's clear is that home buyers have options, and while the savings required to get a first home can climb to the neighborhood of $50,000, they can also come in around the mid-twenties. There are also assistance plans available from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, featuring 3%-5% down payments, and each comes with it own pros and cons. First-time home-buyers should also look into state and local plans. The research you invest in your process ahead of time can greatly affect what you have to save up before turning the key to your new front door.
During your house hunt, you may find a house that looks great at first glance. Then, as you walk through a few of the rooms, you notice problems with the house — maybe the floors squeak or the kitchen island is off-centered. After walking through the house, you come to realize that someone simply put lipstick on a pig, and this house is in questionable shape.
Variable rate mortgages are also known as adjustable rate mortgages, float up and down on a regular basis, based on the movement of U.S. Treasury bonds. Treasuries are tied closely to the overall U.S. economy, and ebb and flow based on the health of our nation's economy. Variable rate mortgages typically come with lower interest rates up front, but with the potential of seeing those rates rise after an interim period of five-to-seven years after the mortgage loan is signed.

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 inspector will provide a detailed report of everything in the home that could be repaired. Some of the items may not be a big deal, but some may be expensive or important repairs, such as the need for a new roof or HVAC system. You and your Realtor can request that the seller make some repairs, and the seller will have a few days to let you know whether they are willing to make the changes or reduce the price of the house. If the inspection uncovers major problems, such as termites or an unstable foundation, it can be your way out of a sales contract.

As long as you have lived in your home for two of the past five years, you can exclude up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple of profit from capital gains. You do not have to buy a replacement home or move up. There is no age restriction, and the "over-55" rule does not apply. You can exclude the above thresholds from taxes every 24 months, which means you could sell every two years and pocket your profit—subject to limitation—free from taxation.
How to avoid this mistake: Figuring out how much to save is a judgment call. A bigger down payment lets you get a smaller mortgage, giving you more affordable monthly house payments. The downside of taking the time to save more money is that home prices and mortgage rates have been rising, which means it could become more difficult to buy the home you want and you may miss out on building home equity as home values increase. The key is making sure your down payment helps you secure a payment you’re comfortable making each month.
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.
You can find for-sale properties through listing websites, local publications and your real estate agent. Start touring homes to develop a sense of what you want and don’t want in your home, as well as what type of inventory is available in your desired neighborhood. Once you find a property that meets your needs, work with your agent to negotiate a fair price with the seller.
PMI stands for private mortgage insurance. As part of qualifying for a conventional loan, you will have to get PMI if you put down less than 20%. Once your equity in your home reaches 20%, you can get the PMI removed (lowering your monthly mortgage payment). However, with an FHA loan, the insurance stays on the loan for the life of the loan, regardless of the equity in the loan. The private insurance on an FHA loan is called mortgage insurance premium (MIP). There is no way to avoid MIP on an FHA loan.
You’re almost home. Once your mortgage is approved and at least three business days before you close, you receive a closing disclosure. It lists the fees you must pay, which typically total 2 to 5 percent of the home price. Read this closely and tell your lender if anything seems off. Know what to bring to your closing—such as your ID and any payments that are due. If you have a cosigner, that person needs to be there. Most of the time is taken up carefully signing forms. Once the loan closes—which may take a couple days—the funds go to the seller, you get handed the keys and the home is yours!
If you already own a home, simply call your insurance agent and let them know you’re buying a new home. They will handle writing a new policy. If you don’t have an insurance agent, now’s the time to find one because your lender will require homeowners insurance. Even if you don’t have a mortgage, insurance is a critical part of protecting your investment. You’ll also want to give utility companies your move-in date to establish service. There’s nothing like moving into a cold, dark house because you didn’t get an account with the power company!
Wouldn't it be great if buying a home were as simple as it is in a game of Monopoly? All you'd have to do is find a desirable neighborhood, hand the bank a few bucks, and you'd receive a house. Of course, the home-buying process is a bit more complicated in real life (especially for first-time home buyers), but it's not impossible. Competition among buyers in many markets has gotten intense, so if you're serious about homeownership, you'd better get your act together. To point you in the right direction, we've prepared a road map of the home-buying process. From choosing the right professionals to signing that final contract, here are the typical steps you need to be aware of.

When you’ve found a local lender, you’ll have to submit your financial information to get pre-approved, including tax forms and W-2s, recent pay stubs, savings, retirement accounts, and debt obligations. After reviewing all of this information, the lender will let you know the size mortgage for which you can qualify and provide a letter that shows you’re pre-qualified. In the meantime, keep track of all those financial forms and add new pay stubs and bank statements to the file, as you’ll need them again. That pre-approval letter usually expires after 60 or 90 days, so if you haven’t found your home before it expires, you’ll just have to resubmit the paperwork.
Closing costs: These are fees you have to pay when you close on your mortgage. They’re based on the individual purchase, but can vary from 2% to 7% of the purchase price of the home, but they’re often split between the buyer and seller. According to Realtor.com, buyers typically pay 3% to 4% in closing costs and sellers typically pay 1% to 3% (you can try to negotiate who pays which closing costs). With some closing costs, you have to use a certain service, but with others, you’re allowed to shop around for a better price. Here are some common closing costs.
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