Buying a Home? Make Sure Your Finances Are in Order First

Below is a guest blog post by Janet Elliot of RE/MAX

Purchasing a new home is part of the American Dream, just as much as graduating high school and college, getting married, and having children. It’s also the hardest part of the dream to achieve; you need patience, resilience, thick skin, and great financial planning.

The latter is the most important aspect of buying a home. With that said, you don’t need loads of money in order to purchase – just decent credit and a solid financial plan. So, before you head out to the local open houses, be sure you’ve first tackled your finances in order to know which homes you can actually afford.

Make Sure You Have the Credit

According to Keith Gumbinger, Vice President of HSH, a mortgage information company, the best mortgage rates are given to potential buyers who have a credit score of 740 or above. However, you can still get a home loan with a credit score of 620; in some cases even a 580 credit score can qualify you for an FHA loan.

Just because you may qualify for a loan at 580, it doesn’t mean that you should apply for one. Lenders use your score to determine whether or not they will lend to you, but also at what rate. Lower credit scores mean higher rates.

The best thing you can do to get your credit score on track before purchasing a home is to get a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com six to twelve months before you go house hunting. This report looks at the three main credit bureaus, giving you insight into your number, and what needs to be taken care of to improve the score.

Doing this up to a year before you start looking allows you plenty of time to increase your score. Mortgage companies aren’t the only ones that look at this number; sellers and real estate agents also look as this number, and it can determine if they will sell to you or take you on as a client. Don’t overlook this step, it’s essential to your success.

Do You Have Too Much Debt?

Your debt is another huge factor when attempting to secure a lender. In fact, it can at times be even more important than your credit score; it’s the first thing they look at when determining your eligibility. The debts they look at include student loans, car loans, credit card payments, and so forth. Ideally, lenders are looking to see if your overall debt plus your potential new mortgage payment is 45% or less than your income.

For example, if your monthly pretax income is $5,000, they want to see that $2,250 or less of it is going toward your mortgage payment and debt. Obviously, the less debt you have, the better. If you can reduce your overall debt by paying off that pesky car loan or student loan, your payment-to-income ratio will decrease and make you a more attractive buyer. In addition, leave older credit lines open, avoid opening new credit lines, stop buying on existing credit, and don’t shuffle your money around; this will leave you in the best position to buy a home.

Set a Budget and Prepare for Your Down Payment

Now that you have your debt and credit score goals where you want them, it’s time to look at your budget and prepare for your down payment. The best way to determine your budget is by using the standard rule when it comes to purchasing a new home. The rule of thumb is to only look at homes that are no more than 2.5 times your gross annual salary. In layman’s terms, if your annual salary is $50,000, look for homes priced no more than $125,000 dollars.

Once you have your max amount, it’s time to speak to lenders to see what your financing options are. You typically will have the choice between two types of mortgages: fixed-rate and adjustable-rate. Fixed-rate mortgages are where your monthly payment and interest rate stay the same the entire time you have the loan, for between 15 to 30 years.

Adjustable-rate mortgages have an introductory interest rate that will change after a specific period of time. Simply put, it could start off at a particular rate for the first two years, but can begin being adjusted annually after that. In general, most real estate agents would suggest that a fixed-rate mortgage payment is the safer financial choice, but every homeowner is different.

Aside from determining your budget and settling on a loan option, you will also need to plan for a down payment. In the best case scenario, you want to have a down payment of 20 percent of the total price of the home, but a minimum of 10 percent down can work for a conventional mortgage loan. Since everyone’s situation is different, some buyers simply cannot come up with that type of down payment.

If you are among those who cannot afford a higher down payment, you can apply for an FHA loan, which can make your down payment as little as 3.5 percent of the cost of the home.

In some cases, if you meet the income limitations of your state, you can even get a five percent down payment loan from traditional loans. Work with your real estate agent and speak with a few lenders to find which style of mortgage and down payment method will be best for your situation.

One Last Thing Before You Make an Offer

Closing costs are another thing to think about before you put in an offer. It used to be you could get some credits for your closing costs and still have your offer accepted, but not so much anymore. To be prepared in the current market, be sure you have at minimum 2.5 percent of the purchase price for closing costs (not including your down payment). This will give you the best chance of putting in a successful offer.

The real estate market is competitive right now, with many sellers taking multiple offers of the asking price and choosing the most solid one. Rise above the competition with closing costs already accounted for. By following these steps, you will be in the perfect position to put in an offer on your dream home. Now it’s time for the fun stuff – heading out to open houses!

janetelliotJanet Elliott has served as a Realtor with REMAX for 28 years in the metro Atlanta area. Janet is also a Certified Residential Specialist or CRS. This is a designation achieved by less than 1% of real estate agents. When not practicing real estate, Janet can be found spending time with family and friends out on the water!

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