Before you start looking for a house, you need to have a prequalification letter in hand. This letter is basically proof that a lender will loan you a certain amount of money. This is your ticket to putting an offer on a house. People with excellent credit scores, can have their pick of lenders and the most competitive rates. If your score is somewhere in the middle, you might have to spend more time shopping around to get the lowest rate.
You can buy a home without a Realtor, but there’s really no reason to do so. Because in most cases, the seller of a home pays the real estate commission. So, as a buyer, you have nothing to lose. (Some real estate firms do charge a fee to buyers; if you don’t want to pay for their services, look for a Realtor that charges sellers exclusively.) And having a Realtor on your side can help you all the ins and outs of buying a home, which can be confusing.

If saving up to pay the total price of a house in cash isn’t reasonable for your family’s timeline, at least save for a down payment of 20% or more. Then you won’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the mortgage company in case you can’t make your payments and end up in foreclosure. PMI usually costs 1% of the total loan value and is added to your monthly payment.
“The time to confirm that the Bank of Mom and Dad is ready, willing and able to provide you with help for your down payment is before you start home shopping,” says Dana Scanlon, a realtor with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Bethesda, Maryland. “If a buyer ratifies a contract to purchase a home with an understanding that they will be getting gift money, and the gift money fails to materialize, they can lose their earnest money deposit.”
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.
Many realtors will not spend time with clients who haven't clarified how much they can afford to spend. And in most instances, sellers will not even entertain an offer that’s not accompanied with a mortgage pre-approval. That's why – if you don't have all cash (how many first-time buyers do do?) – your next step is talking to a lender and/or mortgage broker.
Gannon Forrester, an associate broker with Warburg Realty in New York City, says adjusting to the price of properties is the biggest challenge for first-time homebuyers in a pricey market like Manhattan – especially for those who haven’t lived in the area for long: “For someone [coming in] from outside New York, it’s a big culture shock of what the sticker price is.”
A real estate agent isn't always a necessity when it comes to buying a home, but he or she can be an invaluable tool for those who do work with one. An agent will understand the real estate market and lead homebuyers to the homes that they want to see. As a result this will save the home buyer time and frustration. The recommendation of friends or family members is one of the best ways to choose a real estate agent. If there are no recommendations, choose a real estate agent or agency that has a good reputation in the area. The agent should be a buyer's agent dedicated to working in the best interests of the buyer. The agent should also be someone who listens and has no problem answering any questions that are asked of him or her.
What to consider instead: You can put as little as 3 percent down for a conventional mortgage (note: you’ll pay mortgage insurance). Some government-insured loans require 3.5 percent down or zero down, in some cases. Plus, check with your local or state housing programs to see if you qualify for housing assistance programs designed for first-time buyers.

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! 🙂
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.
What to do instead: Ask your real estate agent to help you track down neighborhood crime stats and school ratings. Measure the drive from the neighborhood to your job to gauge commuting time and proximity to public transportation. Visit the neighborhood at different times to get a sense of traffic, neighbor interactions and the overall vibe to see if it’s an area that appeals to you.
Once a seller accepts your offer, the closing process will begin. Keep things running smoothly by knowing what to expect when closing on a house. The average closing process takes 41 days, which gives you plenty of time to tackle closing items.(5) A real estate agent will schedule the remaining steps, from home inspection to final walkthrough, and keep you informed about any road blocks.
How to avoid this mistake: If making a minimal down payment is an accomplishment, the choice is simple: Don’t buy discount points. If you have enough cash on hand, the value of buying points depends on whether you plan to live in the home longer than the “break-even period.” That’s the time it takes for the upfront cost to be exceeded by the monthly savings you get from a lower interest rate.
Now that you have a budget, you’re in a better position to meet with a lender and discuss loan options, current interest rates and how much you can borrow. Once you find a loan that fits your needs, get a prequalification letter, which estimates your borrowing power based on your financial information. Keep in mind prequalification is not a commitment to lend. You will need to submit additional information for review and approval. Still, having this letter in hand when you make an offer shows sellers you are serious and gives you some negotiating leverage.
As a part of active approval, such contingencies must be removed in writing by certain dates which should also have been stated in your purchase offer. However, in some purchase agreements, contingencies are passively approved (also known as constructive approval), if you don't protest them by their specified deadlines. It therefore becomes important for buyers to understand the approval process and abide by taking necessary actions by the mentioned dates.
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All too often it feels like the problems in a home have a snowballing effect, but you don’t have to go broke tackling them all at once. “Day one, [homeowners] won’t have to tackle all those projects,” Hunter says. “They can use the list of items found by the home inspector as a checklist and prioritize the items on that list and create a budget.” You should immediately address those problems that create a health or safety issue, such as a broken step or leak in your roof that could lead to mold. But replacing an older dishwasher can wait until next year, when you have more room in your home repair budget.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30. Comments have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser, nor are they reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. It is not our partner’s responsibility to ensure all posts or questions are answered.
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