Ready to buy a home? Homeownership is a major milestone in anyone’s life — but also one that involves lots of complexities and responsibilities. That’s why it’s important to take the necessary steps before shelling out the down payment. If not done correctly, buying a home can cause major financial regrets that can last a lifetime.
Before signing on the dotted line for your home, consider these tips — from determining where you want to live to all the documents that go along with the purchase:
Research the Neighborhood
You know what they say: location, location, location. Consider factors like crime reports, school options, job market and cost of living. And above all, it has to be a place you want to stay for a while. In fact, experts recommend buyers plan on staying in a new home no fewer than five to seven years.
“You’re going to spend thousands of dollars to get into the home. To get out of it is going to be equally expensive and may possibly cost more when you do it in less than five years or in a down market,” says HSH.com (a publisher of mortgage information and rates) vice president Keith Gumbinger.
Find a Realtor in Advance
“Start to talk to your local realtor six months ahead of time,” says residential broker and former president of the National Association of Realtors Pat Combs. “Most have a good handle on mortgage people in the area. And there are a lot of really cool mortgage programs out there for first-time buyers.” One example would be some local governments that offer interest rate or down payment subsidies to buyers who agree to buy a home in certain areas. Also keep in mind that governments or employers may subsidize teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and other service professionals who might not be able to afford a home in high-priced areas.
Ensuring that you’re pre-qualified for a loan makes the homebuying process a lot easier on you.
“The first-time homebuyer needs to be very savvy and have an upfront pre-qualification letter that will help give the seller confidence that [the buyer] can close the loan and obtain the funds,” explains Mortgage Lender loanDepot President and COO David Norris. Before you even begin your search, make the process of getting pre-qualified mandatory. And along with that, be patient in terms of getting this pre-qualification.
“[Buying a home] is really like finding a job — it’s going to take a lot of time to prepare,” says ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions Certified Housing Counselor Cara Pierce. “That way, when the deal comes along, you’re ready to pounce on it.”
Establish What You Can Afford
You might find that the maximum you’re prequalified for is pretty high — and that doesn’t necessarily mean you should spend that amount on a home. Instead, determine what you feel comfortable spending.
“Each person has to know the difference in his [or her] own mind,” says Combs. “If you’re just getting by with your current rent payment and the lender says you can qualify for more, give it some thought.”
Collect necessary financial documents – There’s a lot of paperwork surrounding home buying that a lender will need. Items such as income tax returns, W-2 wage statements, paycheck stubs, bank and investment account statements, divorce decrees, child support documents, and recent credit card statements. Keep all these documents in one folder, which will keep you organized and ready. This will also help you come up with your budget — what you can comfortably afford as a down payment and monthly payments, as well as taxes, insurance and other expenses.
Try to Keep a Steady Credit History
If possible, during the process of home buying, put off any major changes that can affect your credit, such as switching jobs or purchasing a new vehicle.
“When you sit at the closing table, you will be asked to sign a document that says your credit is the same as it was when you originally applied for the loan,” says Combs. Unless the job is in the same industry and with higher pay, lenders aren’t keen on you changing your financial picture during the process of a pending mortgage application.