Buying a home for the first time can be an overwhelming process, from preapproval to closing. While each home-purchase experience is unique, here are some tips for all first-time home buyers.
“The most important thing for first-time home buyers is education,” said Bryan Moran, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage sales manager for the Greater Washington, D.C., metro area. “Education takes many forms,” from home-buyer education classes and knowing your credit score to evaluating your assets, liabilities and monthly cash flow, Moran said. To get a solid idea of how much money is coming in, track your spending for a few months to see where the money is going, Moran said.
Rent vs. buy
Ready to buy a home? “The first question is, ‘What makes you ready?’” said certified financial planner Eric Roberge, founder of Beyond Your Hammock, Boston, Massachusetts. “Are you really ready or is it just a perception? Is it your age or that you’ve been in your job two years, you’ve acquired a certain job title or your parents are telling you it’s time?”
To buy a home or not also depends on what you want to spend your money on.
“Look at your cash flow. Is it healthy? Can you afford a home and still do the things you want to do in your life?” Roberge asked. If buying a home means you’ll have to give up your dream of travel, for example, maybe home ownership is not for you right now, he said.
Get preapproved
Since almost everyone will use a mortgage to buy a home, “you’ll need to get preapproved. This will give you a good idea of what you can afford,” said Floyd Walters, broker and owner of BWA Mortgage, La Canada Flintridge, California.
Don’t wait until you’ve found the perfect home to find a lender or your dream home may be snapped up by someone more prepared. To get preapproved you’ll need at least bank statements for the two most recent months, verification for the source of your down payment, tax returns from the last two years, and a copy of your driver’s license and Social Security card.
Once you’re preapproved, you become a serious buyer and will assure sellers you are more likely to be approved for a mortgage, Walters said.
Find your perfect mortgage
The market offers many loan programs to make buying your first home easier.
“There’s no perfect mortgage. The perfect mortgage is unique to each person,” Moran said.
Thirty-year fixed mortgage rates are at historic lows and a “fantastic” option for first-time home buyers right now, but plenty of other options exist, Roberge said. Talk to a trusted financial professional to sort out what’s right for you, he said.
Determine a down payment
Next, you’ve got to put together money for a down payment.
“The biggest roadblocks to homeownership are the misconceptions: that you need a 20 percent down payment to buy a home, that you need perfect credit,” Moran said. “It’s not true. You don’t need 20 percent down. You don’t have to have perfect credit. You don’t necessarily have to have been in your job for two years,” Moran said.
“A 20 percent down payment allows a buyer to not pay private mortgage insurance, an additional cost that you’ll have to factor into monthly payments,” Roberge said.
It’s perfectly acceptable to put down less than 20 percent and often makes sense for buyers depending on how they want to use their money, Roberge said.
“How will that money impact your cash flow? Could you get a better rate of return if you invested that money? There are so many factors to think about,” Roberge said.
Trust your team
Buying a home is a huge purchase. Surround yourself with people you trust. Talk to friends, family and coworkers to find out who they enjoyed working with and trusted.
“Never be afraid to ask questions,” Walters said. ”Keep asking questions until it makes sense to you. It’s OK to ask the same question more than once. If your lender is responding with jargon, call them on it. Make them explain what they’re saying in regular terms or move on.”