Making your first investment in a home is a big deal. A combination of angst and anticipation on a steep learning curve. At the moment, the inventory of possible buys is low and lenders are being selective. Be aware and be wary. The better prepared you are the greater your chances of success.
Even if you have the burden of student debt, now at an all-time high average of $30,000 per graduate, it can be done, but it requires an astute approach. On the plus side, interest rates continue to be relatively low, so now is the time. A suggested timeline for home-buying includes:
A year in advance:
Get serious about the figures. Trulia.com has a “rent-or-buy” calculator that would help you decide if buying is in the cards or whether it would be wiser to continue renting. At the moment nationwide, buying is 38 percent cheaper than renting. Feed in your data and see how you score. Get your finances in order. Spend the year saving money and, if possible, paying down debt. An FHA loan requires at least 3.5 percent down. Conventional mortgages call for 10 percent to 20 percent. Are your jobs stable? The potential mortgage institution will want to know. Be studying the housing market to learn what appeals to you. Browse the Internet listings and save the ones that you think you’d really like to see.
Six months to go
Order free credit reports and eliminate any mistakes before they come to the attention of a potential seller. Pay your bills on time and if you have a few bucks left at the end of a pay period, apply them to debt. Don’t take on new debt. Approval for mortgage applicants requires a minimum credit score of 755. Zillow.com has an online calculator that will help you estimate what you can afford for a new home, based on income, savings and debt. Look at tax rates in the target area you propose. Don’t court disappointment by overestimating what you can afford. Try to forecast future expenses. Maintenance on a home adds, on average, 1 percent to the cost of home owning.
Three months out
You’re ready, armed with the information you need. Now determine what type of mortgage you want to pursue. Fixed mortgage rates, now at about 4.4 percent, could go up to 5 percent this year, according to industry forecasts. A 7/1 adjustable-rate loan carries interest of only 3.5 percent now. For the sake of that lower rate, however, you run the risk that you could stay in the home longer than seven years and face a sharp interest rise. That’s why 92 percent of mortgage borrowers stick to fixed-rate loans. Many banks will pre-approve a mortgage loan based on income and credit. That’s a huge advantage when the actual search for a home begins.
Time to go
Find a realtor in the area where you want to buy. Screen to be certain the person you select will serve the best interests of your home purchase. Good questions to ask: How does the realtor go about finding listings and how are potential bidding wars handled?
That’s it. Happy house hunting!