Congratulations on your decision to purchase your first home! Knowing that you’ll become a homeowner very soon is exciting, yet as a first-time homebuyer, it’s essential not to underestimate what it takes to navigate the path to homeownership. It may look simple on the surface: scouring the internet for homes and places to live, going to open houses, driving through neighborhoods, and so on. However, it requires, a well-thought-out plan because, after all, you don’t know, what you don’t know.
Use this guide to help you move through the various planning stages of becoming a first-time homebuyer to have a successful, positive experience.
1. Educate yourself
Information is king, so take time to learn as much as you can before beginning your homebuying journey. There are many resources available to help you become an informed and confident homebuyer and prepare for the necessary activities leading up to your home purchase.
2. Assess your financial stability
The most important step for purchasing a home is determining what you can afford and whether a lender will approve you for a loan.
Analyze your financial health
It’s essential to use this prep time to analyze your finances and make any necessary adjustments. Perhaps make a spreadsheet of all your financials, including current employment income, savings, and investments along with any other sources of income that can strengthen your financial resume. In addition, take note of your consumer debt, personal loans, lines of credit, judgments, liens, collections, and other liabilities, all of which play a role in your debt-to-income ratio.
Determine if you need credit counseling
Lenders generally view your creditworthiness through your credit score. If your score is below 620, consider credit counseling to get you on the right track. Contacting government-sponsored organizations like the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation; (Freddie Mac), or the Federal National Mortgage Association; (Fannie Mae), can educate and walk you through the steps needed to build or repair your credit and financial health.
Weigh your spending habits
Unless you have already set up a stick-to-it budget, it’s easy to overspend on nonessential items. Take a peek at areas where you can cut back, if at all, and plunk that additional money into your savings. For instance, you could shop for cheaper auto and health insurance or lower-interest-rate credit cards or even purchase generic brands at the grocery store when possible. Perhaps put your retirement savings on hold for a short period until you’ve saved enough money for your down payment. And because every drop in the bucket counts, you may be able to cover those closing costs as well!
Consider sweat equity for your down payment
Usually, the biggest challenge buyers encounter is saving enough money for a down payment. However, there may be a solution if you’re adept at working with your hands—sweat equity. This program allows you to utilize your construction skills; the labor and materials you purchase before closing and using them to complete your own home renovation are considered personal funds which will go toward your down payment.
3. Consult with various lenders
It’s OK to do initial online research to gauge current interest rates and loan programs; however, determining what you can afford and obtaining mortgage preapproval will ultimately hinge on several factors. This includes your financial status, down payment amount, and creditworthiness. So set aside time to meet with at least two to three lenders to discover which loan program may be best for you. During this due diligence, be sure to have them walk you through the entirety of the mortgage process and have them explain how all the costs, fees, and interest rates are tabulated to avoid confusion and surprises at the end. You can also reach out to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who can help demystify the mortgage process and reduce barriers to homeownership, and offer solutions for affordable and equitable home loans for first-time homebuyers.
4. Find a real estate agent
Only a knowledgeable real estate agent can provide you with the most up-to-date information on current market conditions—they always have their eyes and ears open to know what’s occurring in the local area. Not only can they help you find a home that meets your financial capability and personal requirements and desires, (including neighborhoods, school systems, and lifestyle needs) but they will also guide you as you move through the home buying process: showings, negotiations, contracts, and other ancillary items that can arise.
Use this guide to planning the stages of becoming a first-time homebuyer to have a successful, positive experience.