Preapproval is the second step in the mortgage process. You complete a mortgage application and provide detailed information to the lender (although you will not yet have a house picked out most likely, so the property information can be left blank). The lender will approve you for a specific amount and you will get a better idea of your interest rate. This puts you at an advantage with a seller because the seller will know you’re one step closer to getting a mortgage.
“Realtors do a lot of your groundwork up front for you by contacting listing agents to set up showings and help you negotiate the purchase,” says Brandon Gentile, CEO of the Legacy Group Real Estate Team in Clarkston, Mich. “The best part is, a buyer doesn’t pay for working with a realtor. The service is free for a buyer, as sellers pay all the commission.” For more, see How to Find the Best Real Estate Agent.
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.

Almost 95 percent of all home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few clicks of the mouse, homebuyers can search through hundreds of online listings, view virtual tours, and sort through dozens of photographs and aerial shots of neighborhoods and homes. Spend some time defining your goals and have a pretty good idea of the type of home and neighborhood you want. By the time you reach your real estate agent's office, you are halfway to home ownership.
A first-time homebuyer is defined as a buyer who has not bought a home over the past three years. In that sense, bounce-back buyers, those who had a short sale or foreclosure, are also entering the marketplace. A CoreLogic report says about one-fourth of all foreclosure and short sale homeowners are back in the market, and those numbers average about 150,000 per year.
From this chronological, step-by-step explanation of the home-buying process, you will learn everything you should be thinking about and doing at each point of the process. Sure, the process may still be difficult, stressful and draining at times, but at least you’ll know what to expect and understand what’s happening at every point along the way. You don’t have to rent forever if you don’t want to. (For resources on deciding if you’re ready to be a homeowner, see To Rent or Buy? The Financial Issues and To Rent or Buy? There’s More to It Than Money.)
Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make in your life — and one of the largest sources of stress for many first-time buyers is the financing process. Unless you’ve done a ton of research, getting a mortgage can feel confusing or even a bit overwhelming. The good news is you can have a smoother and less stressful experience by avoiding these common mistakes:
For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"
Thank you for the wonderful advice. I particularly liked what you said about considering the mortgage fees, and all other things that you will have to pay for when getting a house, to ensure you know what you can afford. My brother is in the market for a home, and was wondering what he should know. If he were to consider these things into his budget, he could know what house he could afford, and move forward with peace of mind.
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.
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.
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.
Home ownership is a superb tax shelter and our tax rates favor homeowners. Sometimes the mortgage interest deduction can overshadow the desire for pride of ownership as well. As long as your mortgage balance is smaller than the price of your home, mortgage interest is fully deductible on your tax return. Interest is the largest component of your mortgage payment.
First-time home buyers tend to pay more than experienced buyers would pay for the same house, according to research conducted by two economists with the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In their analysis of appraisal data from more than 1.7 million home sales, FHFA economists Jessica Shui and Shriya Murthy concluded that first-timers overpay by an average of 0.79%, which was nearly $2,200 per house, according to the data set they examined.
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.

Getting pre-qualified for a home loan is a critical step in the mortgage process. Do so by approaching a mortgage lender or a bank and provide them with the necessary loan document information to get approved for a home loan. That includes your annual income, your household debt and your household assets -- and in some cases, your tax returns (especially if you own your own business.) Once you provide this information to a lender, they'll review your data and come back with a mortgage amount you're likely qualified to obtain. Normally, there is no cost to you for a mortgage pre-qualification, and you won't likely undergo a credit check -- not yet, anyway.


As a first-time home buyer, you probably don’t have a ton of money saved up for the down payment and closing costs. But don’t make the error of assuming that you have to delay homeownership while saving for a huge down payment. There are plenty of low-down-payment loan programs out there, including state programs that offer down payment assistance and competitive mortgage rates for first-time home buyers.
A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyer's market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.
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.
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.
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).
In a quick conversation with you about your income, assets and down payment, a lender can prequalify you to buy a house. Getting preapproved takes a little more work. A lender will need to verify your financial information and submit your loan for preliminary underwriting. But it pays off when you begin your home search because a preapproval letter shows that you’re a serious buyer.
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.

Try also to get an idea about the real estate market in the area. For example, if homes are selling close to or even above the asking price, that shows the area is desirable. If you have the flexibility, consider doing your house hunt in the off-season -- meaning, generally, the colder months of the year. You'll have less competition and sellers may be more willing to negotiate.
Now that you’ve found a home you want to buy, it’s time to agree on a price and sign a contract. Depending on the market you’re in, you might be able to negotiate with the seller on the price or extras, like appliances and other goodies. If there are multiple offers on the house, then your negotiating powers are all but nil. This is where you can rely on a trusted, knowledgeable real estate agent to guide you.
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