Buying your first home is a thrill. Browsing homes online, daydreaming when driving through neighborhoods, and creating a Pinterest board to save remodeling ideas is great fun. But don’t let the excitement of buying your first home cause you to make silly mistakes.
Here are the most common and avoidable missteps for first-time homebuyers.
1. Falling in love with a home before applying for a home loan
Many first-time buyers start by looking for a home before applying for a mortgage. What happens if you actually find a home you want to buy? Without pre-approval, you have no way to make an offer on your dream home. Instead, start by applying for a home loan. That way you’ll know how much you can afford as well as have a letter of approval showing that you are a qualified buyer.
2. Going over on your budget
A little bit here and there may not cause too much harm. But going over your homebuying budget can eventually cost you your home if you’re unable to make payments. In other words, just because you were approved for a $300k home loan may not mean that you can afford the monthly payment.
Instead, consider the required monthly payment as well as how much you qualify for. Make sure that you can comfortably make the monthly mortgage payment and avoid the temptation of buying more than you can afford.
3. Rushing to move
Buying a home in 2019 is much faster than it was two years ago thanks to digital convenience, but the actual process of moving still takes time. Rushing to move could cause cost you –and the last thing you want to do is charge up your credit card or tap into your savings to cover a rushed relocation.
Instead, plan well ahead of time to save up for your downpayment, extra for buying appliances and furniture, packing supplies, a moving company or truck rental, and other “surprise” expenses for moving.
4. Being casual with credit use
One of the first things we do when you apply for a home loan is pull your credit. However, many first time homebuyers don’t realize that it’ll get pulled out again just before closing to make sure that nothing has changed. If significant changes are found, then your approval status could also change!
Instead, attempt to keep your credit the same or, if possible, improve it. Try to keep existing balances down to about 30 percent of the credit limit and make your payments on time. You also want to avoid opening new credit cards and keep your credit rotating on the ones you currently have.
5. False believe a 20 percent down payment is necessary
You don’t NEED a 20 percent down payment to buy a home. You can buy a home with 0-3 percent down. The advantage of having a 20 percent down payment is that you can avoid the cost of private mortgage insurance (a requirement if you put less than 20 percent). However, many home loan programs allow for little down, so there is no need to spend years saving for a large downpayment.
Instead, consider an FHA loan. It requires only 3.5 percent down or sometimes even zero down. If you’re a veteran or qualify for a USDA loan, there are even more perks! VA loans are for active-duty and veteran military service members as well as for their spouses. They don’t require a down payment, but a funding fee is sometimes necessary. USDA loans are meant for moderate- to low-income borrowers that want to buy homes in rural areas. There are specific eligibility requirements and some qualify for zero down.
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A lot of buyers, especially first-timers, worry about whether or not they’re going about their home search the right way.
On the one hand, buyers fret that if they find their “dream home” too early, they might be missing out on something better. But, on the other, if the process takes a while, they worry that they’ll never find a home that works for them. The FOMO is real.
Keep reading to find out if you’re on track with your home search and what you should do if you find that you need to go back to the drawing board.
How many homes should you see?
Honestly, that depends. While we understand the impulse to try and rely on hard-and-fast statistics, homebuying is a truly personal experience rather than a science.
Trust your intuition. You know your needs, likes, and dislikes better than anyone else. You’ll know when you’ve landed on the property that makes the most sense for you to call home.
That said, though, there are a few things you can do to help speed your search along:
If you’ve been looking for a while and haven’t really found anything that meets your needs, it might be time to redefine search criteria. Sit down and take some time to think about which features you really need to have in your new home versus which are more nice-to-have, wishlist items.
Narrowing your search
Sometimes, narrowing search criteria can get tricky. If you’re unsure of where to start, try using the following as a starting point.
Focusing in on a particular area is one of the easiest ways to refine your search. You can start by doing research into different neighborhoods by you. Think about what you commute to work will look like, if the area has amenities that you enjoy, the quality of the school district, and home values.
With that in mind, though, you getting too hung up on a particular zip code can also limit your criteria. The key is keep an ideal location in mind while still staying open to possibility.
Bedrooms & bathrooms
When searching for a house, you should have a firm idea of how many bedrooms and bathrooms you’re after. Whether you’re just looking to accommodate yourself and the occasional guest, are thinking about starting a family in the near future, or want the option to convert a spare bedroom into an office, this information will surely help narrow your search.
We advise against compromising on this feature because, while it is possible to put an addition on later, doing so takes a substantial amount of time and effort. More often than not, homeowners find that they would rather put their home on the market than go through the hassle of trying to renovate it to fit their changing needs.
This is the big one. Once you have the above two details settled, it’s time to narrow your search results further to only those homes that you can truly afford. If you’ve already applied for a pre-approval, that number can be a good place to start. However, remember that a pre-approval shows the maximum amount that you can ask for in a loan. You may not want to borrow up to that amount once you factor in the rest of your monthly expenses.
To find a more comfortable sale price, we recommend using a mortgage calculator to get a sense of what your monthly payment could look like at various loan amounts and interest rates. Then, once you’ve landed on a number that works for you, try plugging that into your monthly budget to get a sense of how the payment will feel in addition to your other costs.
The good news is that once you’ve narrowed your search down, your pool of available properties will likely be much smaller than it was before – and much more targeted to meet your needs. From here, your search will be about zeroing in on your perfect match on the basis of which property was the best fit for your personal tates.
You’ll know when a property feels like it could become home versus when you’d be trying to make the best of an imperfect situation. Keep hunting until you find the former.