Because while house hunting for the first time can be exciting, tales of regretful home-buying mistakes and the not-so-distant housing market meltdown have also given it a bad rap for being a stressful and confusing process. It doesn't have to be—that's why we created this handy nine-step checklist, which helps explain how to prepare to buy a house—and help safeguard your finances in the process.
Seller wants to sell his house and Buyer wants to buy Seller’s house. Buyer isn’t a millionaire, so Buyer needs to get help from the Lender (bank) to finance this big purchase. Lender agrees to give Buyer a loan under certain conditions (these terms are always advantageous to the Lender so the Buyer must read carefully). Seller and Buyer go through negotiations until they reach the most important substantive terms of their agreement (usually this is the price and a few other things). After Seller and Buyer have an agreement in writing, the closing process begins. The Seller and Buyer need to do their own due diligence to make sure that this deal is a good idea for each of them. Additionally, the Lender has to make sure the property is valued as it should be and that the Buyer will most likely keep its promise to pay the mortgage. After all parties involved – the Seller, Buyer, and the Lender – do their due diligence, they can begin to sign papers and transfer the property. However, if there are any hiccups with any of the parties, the deal may be called off. Otherwise, at closing, title to the property is transferred and the deal is complete.

As well, with student-loan debts high (and, per a recent Federal Reserve study, a deterrent to buying a home), it may be valuable to some first-time buyers that Fannie Mae will back loans to borrowers with debt-to-income levels of as high as 50%. This can mean that first-time homebuyers whose future potential income prospects are good may be able to get home sooner.
Sounds hard to believe, but it’s not rare for new homeowners to be late with their first monthly payment, or to miss it altogether, says Neil Garfinkel, a real estate attorney with Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson in New York City. “Maybe you didn’t fully understand the process. You thought it was being auto-deducted but it’s not being auto-deducted. You didn’t get the bill in the mail. Whatever. Those first couple of payments, from a credit perspective, are really, really important,” he says.
Once you’re ready to start home buying, it’s offer time. Here’s where you’ll thank yourself for working with a real estate agent. They’ll help you determine the right offer to make for a particular house, including things that go beyond the dollar amount. For instance, offering an accelerated closing date or to buy and lease back to the buyer if they can’t move right away may be a smart move in some situations. When you make an offer on a house, the seller may accept it or counter-offer, and then your agent will help you decide how and if to negotiate. Once you arrive at a deal everyone likes, you’re considered under contract to buy the house.
Each month, part of your monthly payment is applied to the principal balance of your loan, which reduces your obligation. The way amortization works, the principal portion of your principal and interest payment increases slightly every month. It is lowest on your first payment and highest on your last payment. On average, each $100,000 of a mortgage will reduce in balance the first year by about $500 in principal, bringing that balance at the end of your first 12 months to $99,500.

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.
My husband and I are planning to buy our first home soon and we have no experience in home buying, so I am glad that I found this article. You make a great point that you should first think about your budget and choose a home that you can afford. Also, I appreciate that you say house hunting can be hard and very time-consuming, so we will definitely think about hiring a realtor to help us with this process.
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!
 A conventional loan is a loan that is not backed by the government (meaning that the government doesn’t make any guarantee that you will pay the mortgage), and therefore, carries private mortgage insurance if you put less than 20% down. Conventional loans adhere to guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and are available to everyone, but are more difficult to qualify for than VA or FHA loans (you need better credit and a steady income, for example).
When you rent a home, you generally only have one payment — rent — and then maybe renter's insurance, which is optional. When you buy a place, your mortgage payment is only the beginning of an array of costs. Homeowner's association fees can be as low as $0 or as high as a few hundred dollars per month, depending on where you live and the amenities and services offered.

Once the property enters escrow, the purchase should be contingent upon it passing a home inspection. Once your offer is accepted, arrange to have an inspector visit the property and identify anything that needs to be fixed. Both you and the seller should receive a copy of the inspection report, after which you can renegotiate with the seller in case anything needs to be fixed. In worst cases, the contingency also protects you in the event that you would like to withdraw your offer.
As a buyer, just keep in mind that mortgage pre-approval is different from mortgage pre-qualification. Pre-qualify, and you're undergoing a much simpler process that can give you a ballpark figure of what you can afford to borrow, but with no promise from the lender. Getting pre-approved is more of a pain since you'll have to provide tons of paperwork, but it's worth the trouble since it guarantees you're creditworthy and can truly buy a home.
Want a trusty home-buying guide by your side? Most first-timers will want a great real estate agent—specifically a buyer's agent, who will help you find the right houses, negotiate a great real estate deal, and explain all the nuances of home buying along the way. The best part? Their services are free to first-time home buyers (since the seller pays the sales commission). Here's how to find a real estate agent in your area.
Don’t let these unknowns deter you. Research and diligence can unlock the mysteries of the process and enable you to buy your first home without feeling too lost or overwhelmed. Plenty of resources exist to explain the process. This tutorial is a great start. We’ll take you through everything from the simple stuff, like finding a place that you like, to the complicated stuff, like applying for a loan.

Variable rate mortgages are also known as adjustable rate mortgages, float up and down on a regular basis, based on the movement of U.S. Treasury bonds. Treasuries are tied closely to the overall U.S. economy, and ebb and flow based on the health of our nation's economy. Variable rate mortgages typically come with lower interest rates up front, but with the potential of seeing those rates rise after an interim period of five-to-seven years after the mortgage loan is signed.

Qualifying for a loan isn’t a guarantee your loan will eventually be funded: Underwriting guidelines shift, lender risk-analysis changes and investor markets can alter. “I have had clients who signed loan and escrow documents, and 24 to 48 hours before they were supposed to close were notified the lender froze funding on their loan program,” says Recchia. Having a second lender that has already qualified you for a mortgage gives you an alternate way to keep the process on, or close to, schedule
Once you’re ready to start home buying, it’s offer time. Here’s where you’ll thank yourself for working with a real estate agent. They’ll help you determine the right offer to make for a particular house, including things that go beyond the dollar amount. For instance, offering an accelerated closing date or to buy and lease back to the buyer if they can’t move right away may be a smart move in some situations. When you make an offer on a house, the seller may accept it or counter-offer, and then your agent will help you decide how and if to negotiate. Once you arrive at a deal everyone likes, you’re considered under contract to buy the house.
You most likely deposited earnest money when you signed the purchase agreement, which is a deposit made to a seller indicating the buyer's good faith, seriousness and genuine interest in the property transaction. If the buyer backs out, the earnest money goes to the seller as compensation. If the seller backs out, the money is returned to the buyer.

Don't dip too far into your savings though. Try to keep at least 3-6 months of expenses set aside for emergencies. After all, you will be responsible for maintenance and repairs now. If you don't have enough money available in your regular accounts, you can access up to $10,000 without penalties from IRAs for a first-time home purchase and your employer's retirement plan may allow you to borrow from your retirement account with a longer time period to pay off home loans. There's always the "family and friends" route too.

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.
First-time home-buyers are sometimes surprised when they see how closing costs can add up. The average amount is 3% to 6% of the price of the home. Given that range, it's a wise idea to start with 2%-2.5% of the total cost of the house, in savings, to account for closing costs. Thus our $300,000 first-time home buyer should sock away about $6,000-$7,500 to cover the back end of their buying experience. Tallying the recommended savings so far, the amount comes to $36,000-$37,500.
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.
Homeowners insurance and property taxes very based on your geographic location. Florida has notoriously high homeowner's insurance rates, where they average $161.08 per month. In Idaho and Wisconsin, rates are a bit lower, averaging below $50 per month, according to Value Penguin. Property taxes average higher in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas and Wisconsin and they're lower in Louisiana, Hawaii, and Alabama.
Wirtz says one of the things in a home that seems to always break or have issues within the first year of its purchase is the air conditioner. But it’s not always because it breaks down – she says it simply might not be as effective as the new homeowner wants it to be. “It may not be cooling like they’re used to,” Wirtz says. You can either learn to deal with a little less cooling, bring in an HVAC pro to inspect and fix any problems or research any DIY fixes that might get it cooling better – like air conditioner cleaning spray.
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:

In order to purchase a home, people must have cash for a down payment. Unfortunately, many people have other obligations and debts that make it difficult to save the type of money that is needed. This is why one of the first steps to buying a home is to save for the down payment. In most cases, lenders require a twenty percent down payment. Buyers may choose to open a savings account in advance, or the down payment may be given as a monetary gift from a family member.


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. 

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.
 A conventional loan is a loan that is not backed by the government (meaning that the government doesn’t make any guarantee that you will pay the mortgage), and therefore, carries private mortgage insurance if you put less than 20% down. Conventional loans adhere to guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and are available to everyone, but are more difficult to qualify for than VA or FHA loans (you need better credit and a steady income, for example).
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.”
This is the fun part! As a buyer, you can peruse thousands of real estate listings on sites such as realtor.com, then ask your agent to set up appointments to see your favorites in person. Since the sheer number of homes can become overwhelming, it's best to separate your must-haves from those features you'd like, but don't really need. Do you really want a new home or do you prefer a fixer-upper? Make a list of your wants and needs to get started, and whittle down your options.
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.
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.
No one loves shelling out money for unexpected expenses, but sometimes that seems like a rite of passage in homeownership. “Most of the time, the unhappy surprises are simply due to people being unaware of the things that can crop up,” says Brad Hunter, chief economist for HomeAdvisor. First-time homebuyers in particular may not know what to expect after closing on a home, and there’s nothing worse than developing buyer’s remorse about one of the largest investments you’ll ever make. Here are eight headaches to prepare for if you’re looking to purchase a house.
A preapproval is based on our preliminary review of information provided and limited credit information only and is not a commitment to lend. We will be able to offer a loan commitment upon verification of application information, satisfying all underwriting requirements and conditions, and property acceptability and eligibility, including appraisal and title report. Preapprovals are subject to change or cancellation if a requested loan no longer meets applicable regulatory requirements. Preapprovals are not available on all products. See a home mortgage consultant for details.
Once you’re ready to start home buying, it’s offer time. Here’s where you’ll thank yourself for working with a real estate agent. They’ll help you determine the right offer to make for a particular house, including things that go beyond the dollar amount. For instance, offering an accelerated closing date or to buy and lease back to the buyer if they can’t move right away may be a smart move in some situations. When you make an offer on a house, the seller may accept it or counter-offer, and then your agent will help you decide how and if to negotiate. Once you arrive at a deal everyone likes, you’re considered under contract to buy the house.

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.
When you’ve made an offer that’s within your budget, your Realtor will prepare the paperwork for you to sign and will submit it, along with your pre-approval letter and your earnest money, which is a good-faith deposit of about 1 percent of the purchase price. All this usually happens quickly, especially if other buyers are interested in the same property.

If you're like most first-time home buyers, you've probably listened to friends', family's and coworkers' advice, many of whom are encouraging you to buy a home. However, you may still wonder if buying a home is the right thing to do. Relax. Having reservations is normal. The more you know about why you should buy a home, the less scary the entire process will appear to you. Here are eight good reasons why you should buy a home.
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.
When you rent a home, you generally only have one payment — rent — and then maybe renter's insurance, which is optional. When you buy a place, your mortgage payment is only the beginning of an array of costs. Homeowner's association fees can be as low as $0 or as high as a few hundred dollars per month, depending on where you live and the amenities and services offered.
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.

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!


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.
Property tax is the amount of money that you are required to pay based on the property’s assessed value. Property tax can be very costly, depending on where you live. This is something you’ll want to consider when calculating how much you plan on spending on your overall homeownership expenses. Property tax payments are usually due annually, but more often than not, they are divided into and included in your monthly escrow payment.

I just want to say thank you for creating a site geared towards younger people who actually want to do something with their lives. Most people treat young people like myself like aliens or freaks or something. I am 21, my husband is too, and we have a daughter who is almost a year and a half. We are both college students, me about to graduate from a community college and go on to a 4 year university, and my husband in the beginning steps of Engineering. Soon, we are looking to buy a home, but we still have about a year or two’s worth of prep. My credit is non-existent, and when it finally does exist, it won’t really be good due to some think-fast decisions that had to be made. My husband has good credit. We knew about that part, but all the other things we didn’t know about you covered pretty well 🙂 I will be a regular visitor to your site, keep supporting us who are under 30!
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