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.
First-time home-buyers are sometimes surprised when they see how closing costs can add up. The average amount is 3% to 6% of the price of the home. Given that range, it's a wise idea to start with 2%-2.5% of the total cost of the house, in savings, to account for closing costs. Thus our $300,000 first-time home buyer should sock away about $6,000-$7,500 to cover the back end of their buying experience. Tallying the recommended savings so far, the amount comes to $36,000-$37,500.
This is also a prime time to decide whether you'll hire a real estate agent, if you haven't already. While you're under no obligation to do so, there are several potential benefits to working with one. First of all, an agent can provide access to more home options than you'll likely find yourself, as well as set up viewing appointments. Since home-buying can be an emotional process, an agent can also act as a mediator between you and the seller.
What to do instead: Don’t open new credit cards, close existing accounts, take out new loans or make large purchases on existing credit accounts in the months leading up to applying for a mortgage through closing day. Pay down your existing balances to below 30 percent of your available credit limit, and pay your bills on time and in full every month.
Let the serious shopping begin! By now you’ve talked things over with your agent and you both know what you really want and need in a home. Armed with this, your price range and knowledge of the local area, look at listings online and with your agent, who will come up with properties for you to tour. Chances are you’ll discover some new things to love or hate about homes and refine your search.
To begin, check your credit report to make sure there are no errors on it. Credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, are available for free once every 12 months. If there are errors, then contact each agency and report the mistake. You can also check your credit score for free with Bankrate. The goal is to raise your credit score before you shop for mortgages.
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