Ask the settlement agent for copies of all the paperwork you'll sign before closing, so you can carefully review them at your leisure. You'll be putting your John Hancock on several items, including the HUD-1 settlement statement, which details all of the costs related to the home sale; the Final Truth-in-Lending Act statement, which outlines the cost of the loan and the interest rate; and your final mortgage paperwork.
The good news? There is a tried-and-true formula, involving multiple good financial steps and habits, that can lead you directly to the purchase of your dream home, and on a fast schedule, too. The downside is simple and direct -- if you don't follow the home buying formula, your chances of landing a new home are significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
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.

Homeowners insurance and property taxes: You’ll typically have to prepay homeowners insurance and property taxes at closing, and you should pay them on an ongoing basis as long as you own the home. The cost varies depending on your home and location. If you have an escrow account set up, these charges are rolled up into your monthly mortgage payment. But if you don’t have an escrow account, you’re in charge of paying them on your own, and you may have the choice of paying them monthly or annually.
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During your house hunt, you may find a house that looks great at first glance. Then, as you walk through a few of the rooms, you notice problems with the house — maybe the floors squeak or the kitchen island is off-centered. After walking through the house, you come to realize that someone simply put lipstick on a pig, and this house is in questionable shape.
When you’ve selected a Realtor, start searching in earnest for your new home. Your real estate agent will find properties that he or she thinks you may like, but you can also search on your own. Check out internet listings, drive around and look for yard signs, and ask around to learn about houses that may be available in the neighborhoods you want. In a seller’s market, where available properties may be limited, try to exhaust all your options—not just Trulia, Zillow, and whatever your Realtor sends your way.

Here’s why: The lender’s mortgage decision is based on your credit score and your debt-to-income ratio, which is the percentage of your income that goes toward monthly debt payments. Applying for credit can reduce your credit score a few points. Getting a new loan, or adding to your monthly debt payments, will increase your debt-to-income ratio. Neither of those is good from the mortgage lender’s perspective.
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.
Realize it will be an emotional process. This tip goes for first-time homebuyers especially, Lewis said. Your emotions in the process can range from the excitement of finding a home, the anxiety tied to making an offer or the disappointment of not getting that house. "When you go into the process knowing that you're going to have these huge emotional ups and downs, you can weather them more easily," Lewis said.
The home buying process is a considerably high-stakes endeavor, especially for first-time home buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors, buyers under the age of 36 have made up the largest proportion of home buyers in the U.S. over the last four years. Of this proportion, 66 percent of the buyers purchased a home for the very first time. Whether you are a first time home buyer or someone in need of a refresher, this comprehensive guide to the home buying process is just for you.
A lender will help you determine exactly what you can afford and, therefore, which houses you should be considering. To arrive at a purchase price, you’ll factor in expenses like homeowners insurance, association dues, and utilities to make sure you can comfortably make your mortgage payments. The lender will then identify the total amount of money it's willing to lend you.
Having bad credit is not an uncommon problem for Americans, and it should not discourage you from the home buying process. Saving up for a larger down payment of 20 percent or more will be required with anyone with a credit score below 580, to help demonstrate that you will be able to manage a mortgage. Those with a credit score above 580 can qualify for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, with a down payment requirement of 3.5 percent. Home buyers can also consider taking out a private loan, but should be prepared to pay high fees and interest rates. Finally, taking out a conventional loan is still possible if you are able to demonstrate financial stability, and that you will be able to manage mortgage payments.
A title search and title insurance provide peace of mind and a legal safeguard so that when you buy a property, no one else can try to claim it as theirs later, be it a spurned relative who was left out of a will or a tax collecting agency which wasn't paid its dues. A title search is an examination of public records to determine and confirm a property's legal ownership, and find out what claims, if any, are on the property. If there are any claims, those may need to be resolved before the buyer gets the property. Title insurance is indemnity insurance that protects the holder from financial loss sustained from defects in a title to a property, and protects both real estate owners and lenders against loss or damage occurring from liens, encumbrances, or defects in the title or actual ownership of a property. 

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.


Buying your first home can be a daunting task. But millions of people have been there before you and survived. If you do your homework, you'll have the best possible chance of finding a place you can afford for a price you can handle. The big surprise for many first-timers is that they need to finish the first five steps on this list before they can even begin to look for a home.
Find out how familiar the agent is with the areas you want to look at. If they have little expertise and no network in the neighborhood, then you won’t get the agent advantage of being the first to see a house (sometimes even before it’s listed) or getting expert advice on price. Plus, neighborhood knowledge saves the buyer time because an agent will likely know exactly where to look and what houses to show based on your needs.
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