Buying your first house is exciting. You get to go out and find a place to call your own and create memories. While this is a fun time, the reality is that buying a house is the most expensive investment you’ll ever make.
The National Association of Realtors reports the average sales price of new houses was over $233,000 as of 2016. You may see that and think it’s impossible to buy a house, but it’s not if you follow these steps.
Get Your Finances in Shape
It’s imperative that you get in financial shape before buying a house. If you’re not in shape, you’ll find homeownership to be far more difficult than it needs to be. In order to get in the best shape, focus on these things:
- Keep your credit utilization ratio low. If you’re using a majority of your available credit, this will send a red flag to most lenders. You can lower this by paying off as much debt as possible without impacting savings efforts.
- Lay low with new credit. Applying for new credit cards or getting a new car loan sends a similar signal to most lenders. If you can, make sure you have no new activity in the 6-12 months prior to applying for a mortgage.
- Start saving money. “Prospective homebuyers should get into a strong habit of saving 10-20% of every paycheck. They’ll need a strong savings rate to save a down payment, and after they buy, they’ll need to keep the habit going,” says G. Brian Davis, Director of Education at SparkRental.
The aspect of saving can’t be overstated. You will need money for a down payment, closing costs and more.
Think Beyond the Down Payment
Many first time homebuyers know they need a down payment. Having a healthy down payment helps you secure the best interest rate, avoid Private Mortgage Insurance if you have a down payment of 20 percent, and potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage.
However, what many homebuyers don’t think about is closing costs. Realtor.com reports you need to plan on closing costs totaling 2-7% of the cost of the house and that’s in addition to your down payment. “Buyers know to expect a down payment and some closing costs, but are often surprised by the extent of the closing costs. They often don’t realize they need to pay for the appraisal and the home inspection up front,” says Davis. These closing costs include a variety of fees that you pay at the time you close on a house, but you also need to be prepared for one-off items you’ll need to pay for out of pocket at the time of service. These items can easily cost over $1,000, so it’s best to be prepared for those expenses.
Find the Right Realtor
Finding the right realtor is vital to having a good home-buying experience. They’re your representative, so you want to make sure you find someone with whom you feel ‘at home.’
Don’t go with the first realtor you meet. Instead, interview a few to find one you like. “One step that can make a dramatic difference in a buyer’s experience is actually interviewing multiple agents before deciding on one to use in their buying effort,” says Jon Boyd, Broker/Manager at The Home Buyer’s Agent. Ask friends or family members for recommendations of realtors they’ve worked with and like. Just make sure you pick someone who knows your situation, what you want and is excited to help you.
Get Pre-Approved for Your Mortgage
Getting a mortgage can be a challenge for first-time homebuyers. You can simplify the process in one big way – by getting preapproval before you even look at houses.
Preapproval works like this, you go to the lender, and they look at your entire financial picture. They ask for things like:
- Pay stubs
- Last two years tax returns
- Last two years’ W-2s
- Most recent bank statements
- Credit report
- Statements of all savings/investment accounts
This seems like a lot of work, but in the end, they tell you how much they’re willing to lend you. You don’t have to take that much, of course, but it helps you look more serious to sellers and helps you cement your budget.
Get Prepared for Life After Move-in Day
Congrats, you bought your first house! Now you can ease up financially – right? Wrong! Many homeowners don’t realize the expenses don’t end after you sign for your mortgage.
If anything, they can increase, and you need to be prepared for those expenses – much of why lenders like to see a healthy savings balance before giving you a mortgage. Some of those expenses are:
- Insurance and taxes
- HOA fees
- Home repairs
However, if you’re prepared and have a healthy cash flow you can weather most anything homeownership will throw at you.
Buying your first house is an exciting, but expensive time. With a little work beforehand you can set yourself up for success.