If you are thinking about buying a home you have to understand some very important things before you spend your money. First, take a look at your budget and determine how a house fits into it. Fannie Mae recommends that buyers spend no more than 28% of their income on housing costs. Go much past 30% and you risk becoming house poor.
This is a major financial transaction in your life, so don’t try to save money when it comes to legal fees. Even if your mortgage company provides a lawyer, hire your own to help draft all documents and to ensure that your interests are being represented at every step of the process.
Many people harbor secret fears about buying a home, and some of those fears are justified. Not everybody is cut out to own a home, and if you’re one of those people, it’s better to find this out now than when you’re under contract.
Renting vs. Buying
You might decide that renting is better for you than buying, because buying a home has its drawbacks.
Reasons to Buy
On the other side of the coin, there are many more benefits to buying. Keep these reasons in mind if you start to get cold feet.
Find a good real estate agent to represent you in the search and negotiation process. The real estate agent should be: amiable, open, interested, relaxed, confident, and qualified. Learn the agent’s rates, methods, experience, and training. Go into exhaustive detail when describing what you want in a home: number of bathrooms and bedrooms, attached garage, land and anything else that may be important, like good light or a big enough yard for the kids. Read more in How to Select a Realtor.
Define the area you’d like to live in. Scout out what’s available in the vicinity. Look at prices, home design, proximity to shopping, schools and other amenities. Read the town paper, if there is one, and chat with the locals. Look beyond the home to the neighborhood and the condition of nearby homes to make sure you aren’t buying the only gem in sight. The area in which your home is located is sometimes a bigger consideration than the home itself, since it has a major impact on your home’s resale value. Buying a fixer-upper in the right neighborhood can be a great investment, and being able to identify up-and-coming communities–where more people want to live–can lead you to a bargain property that will only appreciate in value.
Visit a few open houses to gauge what’s on the market and see firsthand what you want, such as overall layout, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, kitchen amenities, and storage. Visit properties you’re seriously interested in at various times of the day to check traffic and congestion, available parking, noise levels and general activities. What may seem like a peaceful neighborhood at lunch can become a loud shortcut during rush hour, and you’d never know it if you drove by only once.
Line up your financing, set aside a down payment and study the loan programs available. By doing your homework, you will know exactly how much you can pay and what it will cost you.
Order a Free Credit Report
Give yourself time to clean up a credit report that contains mistakes. Dispute errors. Try to reduce your monthly debt obligations now by paying down those loan balances.
Check out places to get a mortgage and compare rates and fees. Start with your own financial institution, then interview a few mortgage brokers and choose a loan product you completely understand.
You will be expected to put down 10-20% of the appraised value of a home. (Note that the appraised value may be higher or lower than the selling price of the house.) If you have $30,000 saved for a down payment, for example, you can use it as a down payment for a home between $300k (10% down payment) or $150k (20% down payment). Putting down less often, but not always, requires you to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which increases your monthly housing cost but is tax deductible.
Find out what ratios lenders are using to determine if you qualify for a loan. “28 and 36” is a commonly used ratio. It means that 28% of your gross income (before you pay taxes) must cover your intended housing expenses (including principal and interest on the mortgage, as well as real estate taxes and insurance). Monthly payments on your outstanding debts, when combined with your housing expenses, must not exceed 36% of your gross income. Find each percentage for your monthly gross income (28% and 36% of $3750 = $1050 and $1350, respectively). Your monthly payments on outstanding debts cannot exceed the difference between the ($300) or else you will not be approved.
Your opening bid should be based on the sales trend of similar homes in the neighborhood. So before making it, consider sales of similar homes in the last three months. If homes have recently sold at 5 percent less than the asking price, you should make a bid that’s about eight to 10 percent lower than what the seller is asking.
As a fairly general rule, homes appreciate about four or five percent a year. Some years will be more, some less. The figure will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and region to region.
Five percent may not seem like that much at first. Stocks (at times) appreciate much more, and you could easily earn over the same return with a very safe investment in treasury bills or bonds.
But take a second look…
Presumably, if you bought a $200,000 house, you did not pay cash for the home. You got a mortgage, too. Suppose you put as much as twenty percent down – that would be an investment of $40,000.
At an appreciation rate of 5% annually, a $200,000 home would increase in value $10,000 during the first year. That means you earned $10,000 with an investment of $40,000. Your annual “return on investment” would be a whopping twenty-five percent.
Of course, you are making mortgage payments and paying property taxes, along with a couple of other costs. However, since the interest on your mortgage and your property taxes are both tax deductible, the government is essentially subsidizing your home purchase.
How do you compare?
According to the National Association of Realtors 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:
-39% of recent homebuyers were first-time buyers, a slight rise from 2011, but closer to the historical norm of 40%.
-65% of recent homebuyers were married couples – the highest share since 2001. Conversely, the share of single buyers was the lowest since 2001.
-For 52% of homebuyers, the first step in the process was taken online.
The typical homebuyer searched for 12 weeks and viewed 10 homes – a decline from 12 homes in the prior year, which speaks to the tightened inventory in many areas.
-89% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker, similar to last year – a share that has steadily increased from 69% in 2001.
When picking a mortgage, you usually have the option of paying additional points — a portion of the interest that you pay at closing — in exchange for a lower interest rate. If you stay in the house for a long time — say three to five years or more — it’s usually a better deal to take the points. The lower interest rate will save you more in the long run.
Getting pre-approved will you save yourself the grief of looking at houses you can’t afford and put you in a better position to make a serious offer when you do find the right house. Not to be confused with pre-qualification, which is based on a cursory review of your finances, pre-approval from a lender is based on your actual income, debt and credit history.