Buying your first home is a huge milestone. From the last night in your rental to walking through your front door on closing day, homeownership makes many firsts in your future possible. It’s an incredibly exciting time, but it’s also stressful if you aren’t armed with the right information.
Understanding the home buying process is the start of the journey that leads you towards successful homeownership. Take a look at these eight helpful first-time home buyer tips to help you start on the right foot.
Home Shopping Tips
As you start your home search, it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the bells and whistles available in today’s homes. Start with the basics, determining what you need (let the wants come later!) and make every effort to improve your credit and finances during this stage of the process if you haven’t already.
1. Do what you can to position yourself as a good loan candidate.
Avoid any moves that might make you appear less than stellar of a borrower.
For example, don’t close an existing credit card account, take on more debt, fall behind on bill payments, or make any large purchases. All of these actions could potentially reduce the amount of financing you qualify for, result in higher interest rates, or cause a lender to second guess approving your application.
2. Begin raising your credit score.
Credit scores are not the be-all-end-all of home buying, but they are significant for first-time buyers. Fixed-rate mortgages often require a credit score in the 620+ range. First-time home buyer options such as FHA loans require a score of at least 580. Do what you can to raise your score as much as possible, and practice the financial habits discussed above.
3. Scout for homes that match your lifestyle.
Assess your lifestyle now, but also five to ten years or more down the road. Planning on raising a family? Search for homes with adaptable floor plans that include additional bedrooms or bathrooms. Looking for a low-maintenance home for one? Choose managed properties that offer the amenities you need to support your lifestyle.
Consider how your needs might change over time and narrow your search down to homes that fit the bill while offering flexibility over the years.
Mortgage Selection Tips
Being aware of the various home loan options will make a huge difference in how you end up financing your home. There are pros and cons to most of the options on the table so it’s important to understand all that’s available to you.
There are five main types of home mortgage financing:
- Fixed-Rate Mortgages: Mortgages with a set interest rate that do not change.
- Adjustable-Rate Mortgages: Mortgages with interest rates that rise and fall over established periods of time.
- VA Mortgage Loans: These home loans are specifically geared towards veterans looking to purchase a home.
- FHA Mortgage Loans: These federally-insured mortgage options are great for first-time home buyers who may not qualify for conventional loans due to lower credit scores and lack of downpayment.
4. Opt for a stable monthly payment.
First-time home buyers are usually better served by fixed-rate home mortgages that offer steady and predictable monthly payments. This prevents surprises or financial emergencies in the future.
5. Choose a term length that reflects your housing goals.
Shorter-term lengths (such as 15 years) provide much lower interest rates, although monthly payments will be higher. Conversely, longer terms may come with higher interest rates, but lower monthly payments. Understand term length variations and how they impact your monthly payment before you move forward.
6. Make a savings goal.
Once you know how much your home will cost, start putting away a little money each month to get closer to your homeownership goals.
Home Buying Tips
When you are ready to purchase your first home, be sure you’re working with a financial institution that has your best interests in mind and will work to protect your most valuable asset.
Credit unions, like 1st Advantage, are positioned to help you save you more money while offering individualized support and service during the home buying process. This includes ensuring that you make an ideal downpayment and don’t buy more home than you can afford.
7. Ensure that you have enough money to make the minimum down payment.
The exact amount of money you need to buy a home depends on the mortgage you select. FHA loans require a minimum down payment of 3.5%. 3% down payments are available in fixed-rate home mortgages for applicants with prime credit scores, although subprime scores may rise as high as 20%.
Talk to your mortgage lender about the ideal downpayment for your unique situation.
8. Know exactly how much home you can afford before making an offer.
Not sure how much home you could afford to pay for at your current level of income? Use the calculator below to determine the mortgage size best suited to your lifestyle.