3. Savings for down-the-road expenses. Of course, you also have to take into account maintenance and other potential costs that may come up as a homeowner. If you live in a particularly competitive or pricey market, such as San Francisco or the District of Columbia, it’s reasonable to expect your monthly costs to be higher than 28 percent at the start.
2. How much house can you afford? How good your finances look from a mortgage lender’s perspective isn’t the only thing to examine. You should also look at savings that can be used toward a down payment and determine how much you’d be able to afford on a monthly basis for your principal mortgage payment, interest, taxes and insurance, which Dabit recommends calculating as 28 percent of your gross income. “That’ll help you figure out how much you can borrow and sustain long-term,” he says.
"Many first-time homebuyers will begin to look at properties prior to speaking with a lender, but this is a huge no-no," says Colin McDonald, a licensed real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Blake, in Delmar, NY. "Most Realtors or sellers will not start to show houses to buyers until they've actually spoken with a lender and can provide a pre-qualification letter."
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.
Whether it's the roof, water heater or furnace, aging home systems will need replacement. And that may end up being sooner than you’d like, especially if you didn’t pay close attention to the age and condition of the roof, plumbing, electric and heating and cooling systems when your inspector pointed them out. HomeAdvisor’s 2015 New Homeowner Survey found that 75 percent of homeowners face an unexpected emergency within a year of purchase. To expect the unexpected, Hunter points to the survey’s recommendation that homeowners plan to spend 1 percent of the home’s purchase price on unplanned repairs. Maintaining at least that much in your emergency fund will help keep you from dipping into other savings from year to year.
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.
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.
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.
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!
How to avoid this mistake: Talk to a mortgage professional about getting pre-qualified or even preapproved for a home loan before you start to seriously shop for a place. The pre-qualification or preapproval process involves a review of your income and expenses, and it can make your bid more competitive because you’ll be able to show sellers that you can back up your offer.
That’s why Recchia suggests keeping your risk tolerance in mind. “If you find great security in owning your house, save more money for a large down payment and find a loan that works for you. The higher the down payment, the less in debt you will be; the less debt, the better you will be able to weather economic storms and still own your house,” she says.
This experience happens to many first-time homebuyers. Say that you need a new pair of red shoes, so you go to the mall. At the first shoe store, you find a fabulous pair of red shoes, and they fit perfectly. Do you buy them? Of course not! You go to every other store in the mall trying on red shoes until you are ready to drop from exhaustion. Then you return to the first store and buy those red shoes. Do not shop for a home this way. When you find the perfect home, buy it.
While getting legal aid is optional, it is always better to get a professional legal opinion on your closing documents. The complex jargon often mentioned in the property documents is difficult to understand even for the well-educated individuals. For an appropriate fee, opinion from an experienced real estate attorney can offer multiple benefits, including hints of any potential problems in the paperwork. In some states, an attorney's involvement may eventually be required by law to handle the closing.
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.
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.
Let’s see how this plays out with our example of a $172,600 home. If you multiply $172,600 by the higher 4% closing cost average, you’ll find that you need $6,904 for closing costs. Now let’s add that to your 20% down payment of $34,520. The two together equal $41,424, which is about what you’ll need to save to pay for the down payment and the closing costs on your first house.
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Speaking of mortgages, Gilmour recommends that payments generally not exceed 28% of your monthly gross income—but if you have other high costs, such as private school tuition, it can be wise to pare down this percentage even more. If you're not sure what's realistic, consider seeking help from a financial professional, who can help walk you through an appropriate breakdown, based on your individual situation.
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.
Before you start looking for a home, you will need to know how much you can actually spend. The best way to do that is to get prequalified for a mortgage. To get prequalified, you just need to provide some financial information to your mortgage banker, such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. Your lender will review this information and tell you how much we can lend you. This will tell you the price range of the homes you should be looking at. Later, you can get preapproved for credit, which involves providing your financial documents (W-2 statements, paycheck stubs, bank account statements, etc.) so your lender can verify your financial status and credit.