Buying a first home can be challenging and a little intimidating. Should you grab the first house that you can afford, or is it better to just keep renting? Although there is a steep learning curve if you hope to become a homeowner for the first time, some smart planning can make the process easier and get the most out of the purchase.
How’s your credit?
This is a good place to start. Your credit score is one of the most important factors in qualifying for a mortgage loan, so get a sense of where you stand. You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Check them over for mistakes, unpaid accounts or collection accounts. Be aware of the amount of credit you are actually using relative to your available credit limit. Repairing damaged credit can take time, so start this process at least six months before you start home shopping.
What are your assets and liabilities?
You need to have a good idea of what is coming in and what is going out every month in your household budget. Tracking income and spending for a couple months is a good idea. Lenders will want to know about the regularity of your cash flow. If you are self-employed or work on commission, they may want to see a solid two years of earning history when considering your loan.
Organize your documents
Lenders typically want to see two recent pay stubs, the previous two years’ W-2s, tax returns and the past two months of your bank statements.
How much can you qualify for?
You need to know how much you can afford to spend. There is no fixed debt-to-income ratio required, but you should not plan on spending more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income on housing. Lenders will consider how much other debt you have and how long you’ve been at your current job, in addition to your monthly income.
How much can you afford?
Figure out how much you will need for a down payment and your monthly mortgage payment. You also need to look at the home’s total cost. Be aware of closing costs, property taxes, home insurance costs and how much you plan to spend to maintain or improve the property.
Find a real estate agent
A professional agent can help you find properties in your price range and market area as well as protect you from the problems you may encounter during your search. Your agent will help you find a home, make an offer, negotiate price, get a loan and work through all the associated paperwork. Count on your agent’s expertise as a valuable asset as you make your first home purchase.
You’ve bought your new home -- now what?
Congratulations on becoming a new homeowner! There are still a couple of good tips to keep in mind as your new place becomes your home. First, keep saving. An emergency fund for unexpected, yet inevitable, major expenses arise, such as broken hot water heater or air conditioning system. Also, keep up regular maintenance. Making home repairs while they are small is easier to manage and less expensive.