Buying your first home is a big deal! There’s a whirlwind of feelings involved from the excitement of getting your house keys to the stress of trying to figure out what exactly is it going to cost. First time home buyers (FTHB) have a lot of questions along the way, and your home buying team should be able to answer each and every one, but reading this list of 10 tips/FAQ answers will put you on the road to home ownership, feeling comfortable and confident.
Get Pre-Approved (or better, pre-underwritten)
The worst feeling in the world is finding your dream home, saying “YES! Let’s put in an offer!”, and then swiftly losing the house to someone else while you’re getting a pre-approval, which every serious seller will require with an offer. Getting a pre-approved long before looking at homes will help you in several ways. Your loan officer can help you figure out how much you
qualify for and how much house leaves you with a comfortable payment. They can also review your credit and offer tips on improving your scores (better credit scores = more loan options, better rates, and lower costs).
Even better, many lenders -we may be biased, but we recommend Mason McDuffie ; ) – will get a full underwriting approval for you before you even find a home! This gives you a huge advantage over other buyers who only have a pre-approval, especially in a seller’s market. You can put in an offer with no financing contingency, and have the same power of a cash buyer! To learn more about pre-underwriting, discuss it with your loan officer when applying and being pre-approved.
Build Your Credit
As we mentioned above, if you start your pre-approval process early, you’ll have time to maximize your credit scores. This gives you the most loan options along with better rates and terms when compared to lower credit score borrowers. This can save you money up front, and even more money in the long run, as even small differences in interest rates add up over time.
Organize Your Funds
Lenders will usually require a 2 month history of the assets you’ll be using to buy your home (down payment and closing costs). This means 2 months complete statements for things like checking and savings accounts. If you have many large deposits, money transfers, and cash moving around a lot, this could create a headache in documenting your assets for the lender.
If you can, get your cash together in an account you’ll be using, and keep it there. This way, your lender can simply review your statements and call it a day without asking you for additional documentation.
Freeze Your Credit
Since you were smart and went over your credit before looking for homes, you’ve had time to get it maximized and in the best possible spot. Now don’t move! Opening new accounts, having people look at your credit, and increasing balances on credit cards can all damage your credit scores, and financing large ticket items like furniture or a new car could sabotage your home buying dreams altogether.
If you must make a financed purchase or open a new account, talk with your loan officer first to make sure it won’t have any negative impact on your home buying plans.
Find a Great Real Estate Agent
Why is this so low on the list? It’s not because it’s not one of the most important moves you’ll make in buying your first home. A real estate agent’s job is to help you find the right home and guide you through the contract process. But they can’t help you if you aren’t in a position to buy a home, or aren’t even close to prepared. So we recommend getting well prepared first, but…
It’s strongly recommended that you use a great real estate agent (emphasis on great). Sure, your 3rd cousin Eddie may have his real estate license, but if he’s not a good agent and isn’t going to give you a professional level of experience and guidance, it’s best to take a hard pass.
Your real estate agent will help you search, negotiate, and get your offer accepted, but that’s only the start – a home buying experience is a paperwork-abundant tornado with multiple people (and their personalities) involved. When you have a good real estate agent, you have an advocate in your corner, and you won’t notice the craziness behind the scenes (well, at least not as much). Without a good agent, that craziness is guaranteed to keep you awake at night and turn what should be an exciting time into a miserable one. Trust us on this one – a good real estate agent is worth their weight in gold, especially when buying your first home.
Consider More Than the House
You may come to hate even the most perfect house if the commute to work is killing you every day. You may love the space in your master bedroom, but never sleep there because of street or train traffic right outside your window. Do you love the house enough to live there 24/7 because you have no local recreation or entertainment?
When buying a home, you need to consider the house, the yard, the neighborhood, and the surrounding areas. For the best buy, make sure you’re buying a home you love in an area you’ll enjoy living.
Get Inspections (and a Survey)
When buying your first home, you’ll want to know what kind of shape the house is in, even the parts of the house not shown in listing photos. A professional inspector will be able to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly on the investment you’re about to make. There’s nothing worse than spending a ton of money on a new home, then getting hit with even bigger bills when the home repairs start piling up. A home inspector can help you avoid that pitfall, and offer up great advice on maintaining your new home.
If you’ve got land or property boundaries you’ll want to have a survey as well (some states require one). Knowing what land belongs to you is incredibly important when it comes to using your yard, and putting on additions (and knowing what land is yours when your neighbors do additions to “their” property).
If your lender says you’re pre-approved for up to $300,000, don’t buy a $350,000 house. A beautiful house means nothing if you can’t enjoy your home. A mortgage payment that leaves you strapped for cash each and every month is a major mistake if it means you have no room for savings, financial planning, or fun. Sure, you’re going to love your home, but make sure you’re buying with enough financial room to enjoy getting away from it from time to time, too.
Keep Reserves and Savings
Though there are positives to putting down a larger down payment, and sometimes buying points, spending more up front isn’t always a wise move. Life happens, so you want to make sure you’re leaving room for emergencies. Having money to address things like a leaky roof or water heater replacement, along with life’s other curve balls, is a smarter move than dumping all of your money into your new home, even if it means putting less than 20% down.
Your loan officer can guide you through the options, and work with you to determine how you can get the most financially savvy mortgage while making sure the other areas of your financial life remain in great shape, too.
Think Today and Tomorrow
When you’re buying a home, how long will you be calling it ‘home’? You may need to consider short and long term goals in determining your perfect home. Do you plan on having a family within a few years? Maybe that extra bedroom isn’t a bad idea. Do you regularly have guests and entertain? Additional bathrooms and an outdoor entertaining area can make the post-party clean up much more pleasant. Keeping in mind your short term and long term plans & goals will ensure that you enjoy your house today, tomorrow, and however long you call it home.
Buying a home is a big deal, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful process. If you use our tips and hire good professionals for help with your home search and mortgage, the process can be streamlined, and the road to home ownership can be an easy one to travel. For questions on the home buying process and help with getting prepared, call your Mason Mac loan officer today.