1. Credit history. Run a credit report on yourself – which is free to do once a year and doesn’t affect your credit by going to annualcreditreport.com and receiving a report from each the three major credit-reporting agencies – and focus on the areas you can improve. You may have credit card balances to pay off, or a few missed student loan payments from a couple years ago. You may also simply need more time to pass from a recent borrowing mistake. The more time that passes from the last blemish on your credit report, the less likely a lender is to consider it a red flag to give you a loan.

It’s important to pay attention to a home's aging big-ticket items before you even make an offer. “A lot of homebuyers are distracted by how cute a home can be,” Portales says, adding that she makes it her job to point out the age of the roof, air conditioning unit, water heater and more to buyers. Then when it comes time to calculate an offer, you should factor in the cost of those pieces that will need immediate replacement when determining how much you think the home is worth.
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.
You might have some empty rooms for a little while, but your budget and your future selves will thank you! And if you find yourself thinking, Oh well, I’ll just put it on credit—stop right there! Debt is dumb. Plus, taking on new debt in the middle of buying a house could delay your approval for a mortgage and make you miss out on the perfect home. Don’t do it!
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.
Mortgage insurance: If you take out a conventional loan and put down less than 20%, it’s possible you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender financially. You can typically request for PMI to be canceled once you reach 20% equity in your home. If you take out an FHA loan, you have to pay mortgage insurance, though you may be able to cancel your insurance once you pay down enough of your loan.
An FHA loan is a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration (this means that if you default, the FHA will repay the note to the bank). Because the loan is insured, the lender typically offers a low down payment required (3.5%, for example) and low closing costs. Anyone can apply for an FHA loan and an FHA loan is easier to qualify for than a conventional loan. Instead of PMI on your FHA loan, you will have MIP (mortgage insurance premium), which stays with the life of the loan. That means that unlike a conventional loan where you can remove the PMI, on an FHA loan, you cannot remove the insurance without refinancing the entire loan (which you have to qualify for in order to do).
Pre-approval is yet another option that is available. For pre-approval a credit check is run and the amount of available down payment is taken into consideration. The lender also looks at any owed debt and even if the person is a first time home buyer. This results in an estimated pre-approved amount that is typically favored over pre-qualification.

This person will be your lifeline through the process. Not so long ago, people didn’t have much to go on when selecting an agent. A postcard in the mail or a name on a sign might have been all you had to consider if you didn’t have a personal referral. But now it’s a breeze to check reviews online. Go ahead and meet with a few agents and ask some questions. Your agent is your chief advocate, confidante and hand-holder in the process so you want to find a good fit.
Once all of the above steps are completed, you’ll be on your way to the closing table. This is when the deed to the home is transferred from the seller to the buyer. Every transaction varies, but plan to sign a ton of paperwork. An attorney or settlement agent will guide you through the process. Then you’ll officially be a homeowner and receive the keys to your new home. Congrats!
And, sure, Jarvis is speaking from the perspective of an agent who has often been close to a sale, only to have a well-meaning relative sabotage it. But chances are, if you start talking to friends who are homebuyers, they'll tell you stories of how a parent or in-law once talked you out of buying a home, and how ever since they've wistfully wondered if they made the right decision.

Especially when you’re in a seller’s market, where there are more buyers than houses for sale, don’t be discouraged if the first house you bid on goes to another buyer. Heyer says a multiple-offer situation tends to be a double-edged sword: “If they don’t get the apartment they’re going to be bummed, at least in a bidding war, and if they do get it, they’re going to instantly feel like they overpaid, which is also a bummer.”
Real estate agents are important partners when you’re buying or selling a home. Real estate agents can provide you with helpful information on homes and neighborhoods that isn’t easily accessible to the public. Their knowledge of the home buying process, negotiating skills, and familiarity with the area you want to live in can be extremely valuable. And best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything to use an agent – they’re compensated from the commission paid by the seller of the house.
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