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Unlock the Door to Homeownership: 7 Tips to Make It Happen

These seven steps can help you navigate your homebuying journey.

Buying your first home can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. It’s a huge step in life and a major financial investment, but with the right knowledge and resources, you can help make it a smoother process. This guide will walk you through the seven essential steps to take to make your dream of homeownership a reality. From understanding your finances and credit to finding the perfect home and closing the deal, we’ve got you covered.

7 Tips to Owning a Home
Have you dreamed about owning your own home – but you aren’t sure where to start? Let’s look at the seven steps you’ll take on your journey to become a homeowner.

  1. How Much House Can You Afford?
    The first step is estimating how much house you can afford. The 28/36 rule can help you calculate this.
    To qualify for a mortgage, lenders prefer that you spend no more than 28% of your gross monthly income on your mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and any homeowners association fees.

    Lenders also prefer that you spend no more than 36% on total debt. This includes your mortgage principal and interest, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and any homeowners association fees, plus car loans, student loans, credit card debt, and anything else you owe.

    Lenders use the 28/36 rule to evaluate a borrower’s creditworthiness and to ensure that they will be able to afford the mortgage payments over the long term.

    When considering how much house you can afford, you’ll also need to consider additional ongoing costs – like utilities and repairs – as well as upfront costs, such as a down payment. Borrowers who put down 20% or more on a home typically qualify for lower interest rates, which can save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. If you put down less than 20%, you will usually be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly mortgage payment.

    It’s important to note that putting down 20% is not always necessary or feasible for everyone, and there are other options, such as FHA loans. These loans generally require a lower down payment, but your monthly payment may be higher because you will have less equity in the home.

  2. Mortgage Preapproval
    To demonstrate to sellers and real estate agents that you are a serious real estate buyer, you’ll want to get a preapproval letter, which is a statement from the lender that they have reviewed your financial situation and confirmed your ability to take on mortgage payments.

    During the preapproval process, the lender will review your financial record and assess your current situation to determine that you would be a good risk. They want to understand your ability to pay back a loan based on your debt-to-income ratio and credit history.

    To prepare for your preapproval letter, follow these steps:

    • Focus on your debt-to-income ratio: Ensure that the amount of your potential mortgage payment, along with your other debts, does not exceed 36% of your income.
    • Review your credit report: Your credit report offers a glimpse into your debt repayment habits and is crucial to the lender’s decision-making process. Check your credit report to understand what information your lender will see.
    • Know your credit score: Your credit score is an essential component of your overall credit picture. You can obtain your credit score for free from credit scoring websites or from your credit card issuer. A credit score of 670 or higher is considered good, while a score above 800 is excellent.
  3. Choose a Real Estate Agent
    Next, you’ll want to choose a real estate agent to help you through the home-buying process.

    When choosing a real estate agent, look for someone with experience in the local real estate market. They will have a better understanding of the area and be able to provide valuable insights. Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a real estate agent:

    • Track record: Look for an agent with a track record of success in your local market.
    • Knowledge: Choose an agent who is knowledgeable about the type of property you’re looking for.
    • Satisfied clients: Check the agent’s online reviews and testimonials to gauge their reputation and level of customer service.
    • Licenses: Make sure the agent is licensed and affiliated with a reputable brokerage.
    • Communication: Choose an agent who communicates effectively and is responsive to your needs and concerns.

    Once you’ve chosen your agent, they will assist you as a licensed professional to help protect your rights, get you access to homes for sale, and manage the complex buying process.

  4. House Hunting
    Now comes the fun part – finding the kind of home you want and where you might want to live. With a clear understanding of your budget, you can now focus on finding the perfect home that matches your lifestyle and preferences. Do you like the space and privacy of a single-family house? Or is the condo or townhouse life more your style?

    Keep in mind that you should consider several costs beyond just the purchase price. These may include:

    • Homeowners association (HOA) fees: These typically cover services such as grounds maintenance, pool upkeep, and snow and trash removal, among others.
    • Maintenance costs: These can vary depending on the age and condition of the home.
    • Commuting expenses: Costs can vary based on proximity to major transportation hubs and access to public transportation.
    • Property taxes: These can vary significantly based on the neighborhood.

    When choosing your desired location, also consider the quality of schools in the area, local amenities, and the state of nearby development. Let your agent know your housing budget and what you’re looking for in a home. They can help you narrow down your search.

  5. Make an Offer
    Once you’ve found the home of your dreams, it’s time to take the next step and make an offer. Your real estate agent will draft the purchase offer and present it to the seller, as well as assist you in negotiating any counteroffers. After your offer is accepted, there are still a few important tasks to complete before the sale is finalized.

    • Deposit earnest money: An earnest money deposit is often required as soon as your offer is accepted. This deposit, typically between 1% and 3% of the sale price, is a demonstration of your commitment to the home purchase and is held in an escrow account. The funds can be applied toward your down payment or closing costs, and it’s important to have clarity in the contract about when and how you can retrieve the deposit in case the sale falls through.
    • Finalize financing: Once your offer is accepted, inform your lender and proceed with choosing your mortgage type, completing the necessary paperwork, and potentially locking your interest rate. Once you do this, refrain from making any large purchases or increasing your debt, which could affect your credit score.
  6. The Home Stretch
    You’re almost there! But before you can close on the house and pick up the keys, there are a few final tasks that will need to be completed by both you and the lender. These include:

    • Professional appraisal: A lender appraisal is a professional evaluation of a property that is conducted by a certified appraiser. The appraiser will assess the value of the property, taking into account factors such as the size and condition of the property, any improvements that have been made, and comparable sales in the area.
    • Title search: The lender will also do a title search, which is the process of researching the history of a property to determine the ownership of the property, and to identify any liens, judgments, or other issues that may affect the property.
    • Home inspection: You’ll want to have the home professionally inspected. The inspector will assess the home’s overall condition and identify any potential issues or necessary repairs. It’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of the property’s condition before you make a purchase decision.
    • Homeowners insurance: You’ll also need to obtain a homeowners insurance policy to protect your new home and its contents.
    • Walk-through: Before the closing, you and your real estate agent will walk through the home you are buying to make sure the property is in the condition agreed upon in the sales agreement. This is also the time to check to see if any repairs you negotiated to be made after the inspection have been completed.
  7. Closing Day
    It’s time to put pen to paper and make your new home official. You’ll meet with your real estate agent, the seller’s agent, a representative from the title company, and other professionals to sign all the closing documents. After all the signatures are in place, you’ll provide certified funds – usually cashier’s checks or a wire transfer – for the down payment and closing costs. On average, closing costs for buyers usually come out to be between 2% to 5% of the loan amount or about $2,000 to $5,000 for every $100,000 worth of the home’s value.

    And finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the handover of the keys to your new home! Take a deep breath, give yourself a pat on the back, and relish in the excitement of starting this new chapter.

Putting It All Together
Homeownership has lots of financial and lifestyle benefits – but it can be a challenge for any first-timer. That’s why it’s important to have a trusted financial partner – who can help you every step of the way. If you’re ready to begin your journey, contact one of our friendly mortgage specialists today.