Home prices in most parts of the country are just about as affordable as they are likely to get, and mortgage rates remain super low. Together, those factors mean that many people are thinking about buying a home. Some will be first-time homebuyers, while others will be “boomerang” buyers who lost their homes in the housing meltdown but are now hoping to get back in. Still others may see this as the best time to upgrade to a larger home, downsize to a smaller one, or to move to the retirement locale of their dreams.
The first step when searching for a home is to evaluate the parameters of what you need. Things like square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, these are important characteristics that you’ll need to live with. Buying your first home is a big deal, and there are different levels of motivation that will spur people to start searching. Some people need to find a home in as short as two weeks, other people need to take a little bit more time, maybe two to four months; this is a big decision
Whatever your motivation for buying a home, unless you are going to pay cash for the property, there’s one essential step you must take first: get your credit reports and credit scores.
The reason? Your credit scores will help determine what type of home loan financing you can get, and the interest rate you’ll pay. You’ll want to have plenty of time to dispute credit report errors if you find any, and get them fixed. The last thing you want is to find out at the last minute that you can’t buy your dream home because of something on your credit report that shouldn’t be there.
If you will be buying and financing a home with someone else – a partner or spouse, for example – you’ll each want to get your credit reports and scores. Get them from all three major credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, as they each collect their own data and don’t share corrections with each other.
The three-digit number that represents your credit score will be important when it comes to buying and financing a home. A difference of a few points could make a difference in the rate you’ll pay for your mortgage. Mortgage lenders will typically use the middle of the three credit scores to determine the rate/program for which you qualify.
But that doesn’t mean you need to obsess about your score. Doing so can cause you unnecessary grief. After all:
Trying to tweak your scores based on what you think may help improve them can sometimes have the opposite effect.
There are many different loan programs with different credit score requirements. A loan officer can help you shop around to find the right program to meet your needs.
Keep in mind that you have many scores, not just one, so trying to figure out which scores matter most can be an exercise in futility. When it comes time to apply, your lender will pull the credit scores needed to process your application. In the meantime, you can find out where you stand and get an idea of what factors may be strong, and which may not be. Again, no need to obsess over the number.
When it comes to buying a home, your credit scores can help you secure the financing you need to buy the property and pay it off over time. Your credit scores are a tool to help you achieve your personal and financial goals. If you can get the loan you need with the credit scores you have, then be satisfied with that – even if you don’t have the best score your loan officer has seen!
And finally, it’s important to put your scores in context. Mortgage lenders will look at other factors, like your debt-to-income ratios, employment history, and down payment. As any loan officer can tell you, even a perfect score can’t get you a loan if – for example – the appraisal comes in too low, or if you can’t document your income.