Thinking about buying your first home? Home buying can be a time-consuming and confusing process, but don’t let that intimidate you. We've put together some first home purchase tips and resources to help you reach your goal of homeownership.
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Before you start house hunting, figure out how much in monthly mortgage payments you can afford. A common rule of thumb to follow when figuring out your new home budget is not to spend more than 1.5 times your household income.1 You can also take advantage of homebuyer tools such as a home affordability calculator to help you determine what you can afford to spend. It behooves any first-time homebuyer to research homebuyer programs and grants, conventional loans and down payment assistance before meeting with a mortgage lender to find your best possible mortgage loan options.
If possible, get a mortgage pre-approval letter from your loan officer, which is determined based on things like your debt-to-income ratio, credit report, down payment, loan term, etc. Consider other homeowner expenses such as home improvements, decorating, furnishing, homeowners insurance, homeowners association (HOA) fees and unexpected repairs before settling on a loan amount, but also be realistic about the amount of risk you are willing to take on. Just because you get approved or have the eligibility for a certain home loan amount does not mean it’s in your best interest to borrow that much money.
Once you know your new home price range and budget, it’s time to find a local realtor with a great reputation to help you navigate the buying process and home search — from finding the actual property to negotiating closing costs. It can also be helpful for first-time homebuyers to take advantage of an exclusive buyer agent to help create and guide you through your home buying plan.
As a first-time homebuyer, you may not know the difference between the various real estate titles you encounter: real estate agent vs. broker vs. realtors. Not all real estate professionals are Realtors, but all realtors are real estate professionals.2 Realtors are held to the standards and ethics set forth by the National Association of REALTORS®, while real estate agents simply hold a real estate license in your state. Brokers have additional education beyond the agent level and for that reason can work alone or hire agents to work for them.
Whichever type of professional you choose to represent you, make sure you ask them questions about their experience in the local area and their availability to show homes and answer questions, in addition to contract terms and fees you can expect. Covering these details up front can save you time and energy in the long run.
Buying your first home can be a time consuming, complicated process, but don’t let that stop you from reaching your dream home. You’re taking the right step in educating yourself before you begin the home buying process.
Knowing the right questions to ask can help better prepare you to purchase a new home and understand your limitations. The most important questions to ask are:
- What can I afford?
- Do I have enough for a down payment?
- How much are property taxes and closing costs?
- How much will it cost to move?
- Do I have an emergency fund?
It's easy to get caught up in the moment when buying your first house but there are some critical mistakes you need to avoid. First, don't buy based on emotion or on the house alone. Make sure to research the neighborhood, the commute to work, and other factors before committing to a home purchase. It's also important to apply for a mortgage before buying a home and talking to multiple lenders and mortgage brokers. Most importantly, stay within your price range and don't buy more house than you can afford.