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Buy your first home and avoid these seven mistakes
You’ve been looking at online home listings for months, driving through neighborhoods on the weekends, and saving every spare dime for a down payment. You’re finally ready to take the plunge and buy a home.
Buying a house is one of the most exciting—and stressful—times in your life. You’re eager to find your dream home and start the next chapter of your life, but let’s be serious—a home is a big investment, and you can’t afford to make a hasty, uninformed, or emotional decision.
Here are seven of the most common blunders homebuyers make and how you can avoid them, or at least learn from their mistakes.
1. Failing to check your credit report
Amazingly, Consumer Report’s latest study of credit reports found that 34 percent of consumers had at least one inaccuracy in their credit report. Not all of those errors would have impacted their credit rating to the point that it resulted in a higher mortgage interest rate, but it certainly would have for some.
It’s critical to review your credit report at least three months before you plan to buy a home and apply for a home loan. If you find an error, you’ll have time to dispute it and have it corrected before lenders check your credit report for preapproval. If your credit report is clean, it will improve your credit score and likely impact the interest rate on your mortgage. All consumers can access a free copy of their credit report annually from annualcreditreport.com.
2. Skipping the mortgage pre-approval
There’s pre-qualified and pre-approval. Both show the seller that you’re a serious buyer, but pre-approval requires a credit check and the submission of supporting documentation for income and assets. It will also help you save time by allowing you only to view homes that you already know you can afford instead of falling in love with one that’s outside of your price range. Put in an offer, and a buyer who already has pre-approval has a leg up on a buyer who doesn’t.
3. Missing the hidden costs
Once you find your dream home, most buyers simply calculate their mortgage payment and say, “Sure, I can afford that.” When reality sinks in, you soon figure out that you’ll need to pay taxes, insurance, utilities, HOA, and maintenance fees. These are the hidden costs that may just push you over the top of your budget. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, it might be the closing costs, appraisal fees, escrow fees, and moving costs, among others. You can’t forget about the added costs that come with purchasing a home and the extra responsibility of being a homeowner.
Ask the sellers about their summer and winter utility costs, HOA fees, and property taxes. Talk with your insurance agent about the cost of a homeowner’s insurance policy and ask your broker for an estimation of your closing costs. Gather as many quotes and estimates as you can so that you can make a more informed decision about whether you can afford to buy this home. It’s better to know the truth sooner than later.
4. Waiting for everything on your wish list
In the real world, when do we get everything we want? Even when you’re spending $100K, $300K, or $500K, there will always be a compromise. Here’s our advice: keep an open mind. It’s unlikely that any one home will have everything on your wish list. You’ll need to separate those wishes into wants, like a fireplace or a fenced yard, and needs, like a garage or four bedrooms. You might even label some of them deal-breakers, such as a specific town, school district, or its proximity to your office. Flexibility is a critical component in the house-hunting processes. The goal is to find the home with the most wants and needs that still fits within your budget.
5. Assuming the neighborhood is just fine
You may have found love in a home, but if the neighborhood isn’t up to par, it could be a costly mistake. With a house comes the neighborhood, so take a good look around before you buy—and do your research. Not everything a homebuyer should consider is out in the open.
Think about the reasons you’re purchasing this home. Do you have children? The quality of schools in the area might be an important factor to consider. Visit the schools personally and take a tour. Review information, rankings, test scores, and other analytics online. Drive through the neighborhood at different times of the day and chat with parents as they wait for their kids to come home on the school bus.
Does the neighborhood feel safe at night? How’s the local shopping? Where’s the nearest grocery store or park? These are all questions you should investigate before purchasing a home.
6. Not considering the resale value of your home
You’re buying a home, not selling one, so why worry about resale value? It’s simple. Sooner or later you’re going to want to sell this home, and you’ll need someone to buy it. Don’t buy the home with the railroad tracks running through the backyard just because it has a gourmet kitchen that you’ve fallen in love with—there’s a reason it’s priced below market value and a bonus if you can close in 30 days.
The best approach is to look for a home that offers the general preferences of a typical homebuyer. You can paint, decorate, and furnish to add your personal style, but when you’re ready to sell, whether in a year due to a job transfer or in 40 years when you retire to the beach, your home will appeal to the highest number of prospective buyers.
7. Letting your emotions rule your decision
The decision to purchase a home should be made primarily with your head, not your heart. Yes, you should love your new home. After all, you’re investing a ton of money to own it, and you’ll be living in it every single day. But, you shouldn’t be so enamored that you’re blinded to what it can do to your budget. When you’re already spending such a large amount of money, another $10K or $15K doesn’t seem like very much, but it can put you in a tighter financial situation than you’re prepared to handle. One layoff, job change, illness, or any other situation that causes a reduction in salary can easily cause your dream home to become a burden.
One recommended guideline is to spend no more than one-third of your monthly income on housing costs, which includes your total mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance–no matter how tempting it is.
If you’re in the market for a new home, consider Georgia’s Own for all your home-buying needs. From fixed-rate mortgages and ARMs to jumbo loans and options for first-time homebuyers, we offer dozens of options that can get you into the home of your dreams with little or no money down—and our team of knowledgeable mortgage specialists is ready to help you through each step of the mortgage process. Click here to learn more or call 800.533.2062 to get started today.
Advice for first-time homebuyers
Buying a home for the first time can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared—there are dozens of factors at play, like how much you should budget or the true cost of owning a home. We know this firsthand, so we asked some of Georgia’s Own for their advice to first-time homebuyers. Below are eleven things we wish we had known before buying a home:
You’ll need more money than you think
“You need more money than the cost of the house (earnest money, closing costs, etc.). I didn’t think they were actually going to cash the earnest money check.” – Will M.
“There are lots of costs leading up to the purchase. Be prepared for those extra costs and fees.” – Grace H.
When purchasing a home, you’ll need more money than you think—take earnest money, inspection costs, closing costs, property taxes, and more into account. As a first-time homebuyer, some of these terms may be unfamiliar—like earnest money. Earnest money essentially informs sellers that you’re serious about the offer you’re making—the amount can vary, and you’ll usually get the money back, or it’ll go towards your home purchase.
Consider more than the appearance
“The most important thing about a home is not how it looks. If the size, space, and location will be right for you five or ten years down the road, the rest can be fixed.” – Laura S.
Consider more than just the home’s appearance. While curb appeal is essential—the attractiveness of a home can boost its value by 7% or more—there are other factors you should consider besides looks. If the home has the right number of bedrooms or the location drastically reduces your commute, those are elements that will make your home invaluable to you. If you’re not completely satisfied with the outside of the home, that’s okay—you can renovate later.
Always have availability
“Be available at all times to do whatever’s asked of you, and quickly! The process can be stressful, so be prepared.” – Eve Y.
Even though your buyer’s agent will be doing most of the legwork, you’ll need to put forth effort on your part, too—and that means always being available to do whatever is asked of you and quickly. Your agent may call because there’s urgent paperwork you need to send, or they’re trying to negotiate with the seller and need your immediate input.
You can add funds to your loan
“I wish I had known I could add funds to our loan for renovations. It would have been helpful to know beforehand.” – Kaye E.
If you’ve found the perfect fixer-upper and are wondering how you’ll pay for the renovations, your choices might be better than you think. Various options allow you to add the cost of a renovation to your mortgage, even if you don’t have equity. An FHA 203k Loan or a Fannie Mae HomeStyle® Renovation Mortgage is a government-sponsored renovation mortgage that allows you to finance the cost of buying a home that needs repairs and the cost of renovations, bundled into one loan.
Know the home’s condition
“Look in all of the cabinets and closets. Not to snoop out what they have, but to get a better idea of the condition of the home.” – Rebecca M.
While tackling the house-hunting process, it is acceptable to open closets, cabinets, pantries, and appliances (if they’re staying with the home). Looking inside cabinets and closets can indicate the home’s condition—for example, you can check kitchen cabinets to ensure they open and close properly or that there’s no mold or mildew.
Get a home inspection
“Get a home inspection during the due diligence time frame and request the sellers fix anything beforehand, especially anything major.” – Alex Q.
If there’s one thing you absolutely must do when purchasing a home, it’s getting a home inspection. Inspections are comprehensive reviews of a home’s condition and alert buyers to any major issues—common ones include roofing issues, electrical problems, window and door issues, foundation problems, or chimney damage. Buyers normally pay for their home inspection, but sellers who may be concerned about findings sometimes opt to pay for a pre-inspection. Never waive a home inspection—it may cost a chunk of change now, but it’ll help you save big in the long run.
Consider possible repairs
“Be sure to look beyond just your mortgage payment when considering whether you can afford it. Houses will need repairs.” – Kaitlyn R.
“Purchase at a lower price than your budget so you can get the repairs done your way. Don’t trust the sellers to get the repairs done completely or the way you’d have them done.” – Cassie W.
Consider purchasing a home that is priced lower than your budget to allow for repair funds. Your inspector may find that the home needs a few repairs. While this is typically a seller’s responsibility, there is a caveat—the seller may not have the repairs fully completed, or they may not take care of them the way you would. You can request a concession in an amount that is enough to cover repairs.
Set up bi-weekly payments
“Set up bi-weekly payments from the very beginning! It’ll help so much in the long run and is not something anyone told us.” – Kristin H.
Bi-weekly mortgages allow homeowners to make payments every two weeks rather than every month. Bi-weekly mortgage payments equal 26 half-payments per year—a total of 13 full payments. This helps reduce overall interest costs, plus an extra payment can help borrowers pay off their home loan sooner. However, there is a catch—it’s a firm commitment and cannot be changed month-to-month, so you need to determine if you can keep up with additional payments.
Property taxes can vary
“I wish someone had let us know how property taxes can vary greatly by county!” – Abby C.
When buying a home, there are a few external factors to consider, like property taxes. Property taxes can vary immensely by county, and it helps fund things like education, transportation, emergency services, libraries, parks, and recreation. It’s not regulated by the federal government—instead, it’s based on state and county tax levies. Depending on where you’re located, your annual property tax bill can be lower than your mortgage—in other areas, it could be three to four times your monthly mortgage. Because they’re variable and location dependent, it’s something to consider when you’re determining where to live.
Be prepared for emergencies
“Have an emergency fund! Our septic tank flooded not long after moving in. I wasn’t prepared for the headache or cost involved with fixing it.” – Andy C.
Unfortunately, emergencies happen. Your HVAC unit can break, your appliances can malfunction, your basement could flood, or you could encounter some plumbing issues—just to name a few. Homeowner’s insurance can help offset some costs, but not everything is covered. As a renter, it was relatively easy to handle these emergencies with a quick call to your landlord or property maintenance. But, as a homeowner, these are now your responsibility—and they can add up. Be prepared and have an emergency fund so these unexpected costs don’t drain your bank account.
Stay on top of routine upkeep
“With a house comes maintenance and upkeep. Budget for those extra expenses and stay on top of routine upkeep to prevent major issues down the road.” – Becky B.
As a homeowner, ongoing upkeep and maintenance are essential to preventing major issues in the future. Regular maintenance includes mowing your lawn, cleaning your siding, power washing, cleaning gutters, replacing air filters, or having appliances serviced. You should expect to spend between 1% and 4% of your home’s value each year for maintenance. For example, if your home is $300,000, you should save between $3,000 to $12,000 for annual upkeep. There are a few other factors to consider, too, like your home’s age, size, or the climate in your area.
Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make, so it’s important to understand what truly accompanies homeownership. But, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Ready to start your home-buying journey? Explore your options with the experts at Georgia’s Own.
Jumbo loans 101: Do you need one?
If you’ve never heard of a jumbo loan, it might sound like something you would find in a cartoon movie. But jumbo loans are very real and have gained popularity over the last few years. For the novices in the jumbo loan game, or if you just need a refresher, we’ve compiled some info you need to know before considering a jumbo loan, plus some pros and cons to know before you borrow.
What is a jumbo loan?
A jumbo loan, or a jumbo mortgage, is a type of financing that lends more than the amount of a conventional conforming loan, according to the limits set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA (the maximum loan amount is $510,400 in most counties as of 2020). You may also hear this referred to as a non-conforming conventional loan. While a conventional conforming loan is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, jumbo loans are a horse of a different color in the finance world and are not guaranteed or securitized for lenders.
Why would I want a jumbo loan?
Typically, jumbo loans are used for instances like purchasing an expensive real estate property, purchasing a home in a highly competitive market, or purchasing real estate or a residence in an area that is generally more expensive to buy in, like New York City or San Francisco. Essentially, a jumbo loan allows you to borrow more than you would get with a conventional conforming loan.
What’s the catch?
A jumbo loan sounds almost too good to be true. While many people find that a jumbo loan is a great fit for them, it’s important to understand the commitment involved and the financial implications of taking out such a large loan. Let’s look at some pros and cons of jumbo loans.
More money: As we stated above, the whole point of a jumbo loan is to get more money. If you qualify for a jumbo loan, you will be borrowing more money to buy what you want to purchase. Depending on your goals, this could continue to create a profit for you in the long run – for instance, if you were using the jumbo loan to buy real estate in a prime location that you could then rent out for more money.
Low down payment: For your conventional conforming loans, you can be required to put down at least 20% of the loan amount as a down payment. But a jumbo loan usually only asks for 10% as a down payment, sometimes even going as low as 5%. This means more savings for you up front.
More choices: Flexibility is the name of the game for jumbo loans. You can find one that is fixed over 30 years, or you can find one with an adjustable rate. Due to the nature of jumbo loans and what they are typically used for, it is easier and more common for lenders to tailor the loan to your needs, instead of you borrowing money on terms that are created for a demographic that doesn’t apply to you.
More money: Yes, we realize this is also listed in the “Pros” section. But the jumbo loan is just that – a jumbo loan, meaning you need to be able to repay a jumbo amount of money. This type of loan often even requires you to put aside 12 months of your mortgage payment in savings to ensure that you won’t fall behind on payments.
More work: You will need a high credit score to secure a jumbo loan. It isn’t enough to pay most of your bills on time – you need to have a FICO score of at least 660, and, failing that, be prepared to make a larger down payment. If you think a jumbo loan is in your future, go ahead and start taking steps to improve your credit score.
High income requirements: Most lenders are going to approve jumbo loans for people who have a high annual income. Since they do not have the FHFA backing these loans, they want to ensure that their loan to you can be repaid. This means looking closely at your income, as well as your other financial assets and your loan repayment history. So, again, if you think you will need a jumbo loan to make your real estate dreams a reality, it’s time to lay the groundwork by growing your assets now.
So is a jumbo loan right for you? That’s for you to decide. But if you are still unsure, we always recommend consulting with a mortgage professional who can help you understand exactly what a jumbo loan means for your individual situation. A jumbo loan takes a lot of consideration, so begin researching your options as you plan for your financial future.
How low will they go—is now the time to refinance?
The uncertainty of living during a pandemic brings a lot of questions with it, especially in regards to financial decisions. For instance, deciding whether now is the right time to refinance your house may be a source of stress for you. But don’t worry – we have some thoughts on how you can decide if now is the time to refinance:
You probably learned about the Great Depression while you were in school. But, if you take a closer look at history, you will see that the economy is less like a straight line and more like the path of a yo-yo as it ebbs and flows. Living in one of the low points is never ideal, but rest assured that even in leaner times, refinancing is still possible.
Looking at the Present
So you know what has happened before – now it’s time to look at your current situation. What do you hope to accomplish through refinancing your home? Are you looking for a lower interest rate, or do you hope to adjust the terms of your mortgage? Knowing your goals will allow you to move forward with a plan.
Looking to the Future
Is the house you’re in the one you plan to stay in for the next few years? In other words, will you really benefit from refinancing your home? Look for the “break-even” point on your mortgage options to see if the new payments will make sense for the amount of time you plan to stay in your current home.
Decide if You’re Ready
Your mother probably once asked you if you would do something wrong just because your friends were doing it. The same concept applies here – just because interest rates are low, or because you have seen friends successfully refinance their homes, does not mean it’s the right time for you. Take the time to decide if this is the best step for your current circumstances.
Research the Process
If you have never refinanced before, the process will feel a lot like buying your home for the first time. But it’s still a good idea to research the steps you will need to take and what types of materials you may need to have available, like loan documents or other paperwork. There are multiple resources out there to help you find the information you need.
Find an Expert
Your questions don’t have to go unanswered – talk to someone, like your accountant, about the questions you have and what you can expect from the refinancing process. Someone who is already familiar with your current financial situation will have better insight on what you can handle.
Look for the Signs
Just as you might keep track of deals that car dealerships are offering, it’s a good idea to keep your finger on the pulse of economic developments. For example, while you can’t gauge whether refinancing is the right step for you based off low interest rates alone, seeing those rates go down means you are more likely to get a better rate if you refinance.
Check Your Credit Score
Times are tough, and if your credit has taken a hit since you last refinanced your homes, you may not be able to take advantage of all the options available to you through refinancing. Be sure to check your credit score before refinancing (which we recommend you do regularly anyway) to keep track of any changes.
Consider Your Job Stability
Just like when you bought your home, refinancing factors in a steady income. If you are not sure whether your job will be around in a few months, or if you will be working steady hours, you may want to wait until you are settled into more reliable employment.
Take the Plunge
If you think this is the right time to refinance, then don’t wait – go ahead and start the process. It may take several months to finish your refinancing, so the sooner you can make the decision, the sooner you can enjoy your lowered interest or shortened mortgage term.
Only you can decide if the time is right to refinance, so do your research and consider all of your options. It may not be the right time for you, and that’s okay. If it is, go ahead and take that first step.
Four reasons to consider a mortgage from a credit union
The housing market is booming, and as home sales continue to increase, so does the demand for housing. Pending home sales have climbed 27% year over year, and new listings of houses for sale have increased by 6% within the last year, according to Redfin. Choosing where to acquire a mortgage is a crucial decision—it’s vital to find a mortgage that works best for you and your needs, and where you’ll find the best rate, so you can save money in the long run. If you’re in the market for a home, consider these four reasons to obtain a mortgage from a credit union.
A credit union is a not-for-profit financial institution that is owned by its members rather than shareholders, so it’s able to return profits to and invest in members. That’s why credit unions can typically offer lower rates on loans. As of June 2020, a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a credit union has an average APR of 3.43%, according to the National Credit Union Association. However, a mortgage with the same terms but from a bank has an average APR of 3.52% higher. Even though the difference is small, it still helps you save money in the long run.
For example, if you purchased a home for $300,000 with an APR of 3.43%, your monthly payments would be $1,335. If you buy the same house but had an APR of 3.52%, your monthly payments would be $1,350. You would save more than $5,000 in interest throughout your mortgage period. Dozens of factors determine your APR and providing a loan, so the best way to know what rate you qualify for is to contact the financial institution directly for a quote.
There are dozens of costs and fees associated with acquiring a mortgage—closing costs, origination fees, vendor fees, and other processing costs. Credit unions prioritize helping people over turning a profit. So, when you obtain a mortgage with a credit union, origination fees and processing costs are often reduced. These reduced fees can save you thousands of dollars.
Less likely to sell your loan
Lenders typically sell a mortgage for two reasons: they need to open more lines of credit to lend money to other borrowers, and they make money from the sale. Usually, having your mortgage sold isn’t a big deal. However, when your mortgage is sold, this can sometimes result in confusion regarding where you should make your payment. If your payment is made to the wrong institution, you could incur late fees. Credit unions don’t typically sell their mortgages because their ultimate concern is to preserve the relationship between the institution and the member. Banks, however, are more likely to sell your loan. Even though credit unions don’t often sell their mortgages, it’s best to refer to your contract just to be sure.
Credit unions are often more attuned to their members’ necessities, so they tend to offer a personalized experience. They normally serve a select area, so they’re able to focus on what specifically will benefit its members or how they can help when members are in need. For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many credit unions helped members alleviate financial burdens by providing mortgage forbearances or deferments. Credit unions are dedicated to preserving the relationship between its members and ensuring their best interest is served. Plus, it’s easier to receive services through an institution with which you have a relationship.
If you’re not a member, you can easily obtain membership to a credit union. At Georgia’s Own, there are a few simple ways you can become a member. If you meet the requirements and are approved, all you need is a $5 deposit to establish your membership, which represents your share in the Credit Union. Requirements at other institutions vary.
If you’re purchasing a home, consider Georgia’s Own for all of your financing needs. We offer low rates, up to 100% financing, a program for first-time home buyers, and more—we even provide refinancing. Ready to start making memories in your dream home? Click here to learn more about our mortgage options or apply today.
Six things to do if you’re preparing to sell your house
Selling a house is stressful. There just isn’t any way to sugarcoat it. But there are steps you can take to make the process a little easier – and a little more successful. Here are six things you need to do if you are about to put your house on the market.
1. Fix it up
That loose stair that you’re used to skipping every day or those holes in the wall behind the couch that resulted from an ill-fated indoor skateboarding incident are great examples of things you will want to address before you take any further steps to sell your home.
Even things that don’t pose a physical danger, like the peeling paint on your front door, still need to be worked on if you want your home to sell. Speaking of paint, now is the time to turn your neons into grays – if you have a lot of brightly painted rooms, consider painting them a more neutral color. Yes, people should look past things like paint color, but they often don’t, and it could make or break your success story with selling your house.
Okay, don’t literally try to become invisible – what we mean is that you and the personal touches in your home should not be the most obvious thing a potential buyer sees. It may sound a little harsh, but the goal is to help the buyer feel as though they can make their own home in your house, which is hard to do if you have monogrammed throw pillows covering every inch of the couch.
You don’t have to go through your hallways and take down every single photo, but, at least when you know there will be a showing, try to make your home more neutral all around.
3. Keep it Clean
If you have kids and/or pets, you know how difficult it can be to clean your home in a moment’s notice after a realtor contacts you about a showing. If possible, try to schedule showings in advance, rather than having people stop by anytime. However, since you don’t want to miss an opportunity to show off your house to a potential buyer, you should also try to keep your house “showing-worthy” as much as possible.
You can even practice with your family – assign everyone a specific job, and then give them a signal to start cleaning. See how quickly you can get it done, and soon you will all be pros.
4. Take a Walk on the Wild Side
And by “wild side,” we mean your yard. You may be so used to the out-of-control hedges by your mailbox that you don’t even notice them anymore. But a buyer will definitely notice. Ask a friend or neighbor to walk around your yard and point out some areas that may need a little TLC before you put your house on the market.
Addressing the details outside of your home is just as important as addressing the details inside of your home. Keep the yard mowed, pull the weeds, and give your house the royal treatment to help others see its full potential.
5. Practice Some Feng Shui
Your house is set up to perfectly suit you and your family, which makes sense. However, one size does not fit all when it comes to furniture preferences. Take a look at your current living room arrangement, for example – are there any “bottleneck” areas that disrupt the flow of movement through your home? What about the couch and chairs – do they allow for conversation and group gatherings?
Even if you don’t use your home for these things, interested buyers might, so showing them how they can make this house work for them as well as it has worked for you is important.
6. Be Flexible
Everyone has their own opinion about what looks good, right? So you may spend three hours painting a room a neutral color, only to be told the house looks too plain. You may pull up weeds all weekend and learn that someone thinks your yard is too bare. The truth is, you can’t please everyone, so don’t take every piece of feedback from potential buyers to heart.
If you receive the same feedback over and over again, it would be wise to give it serious consideration. But if one person thinks your kitchen is too small, too dated, too blue, or not blue enough, remember that sometimes your house just won’t be a fit for everyone.
The right buyer is out there – if you put the work in on the front end, you and your family can reap the rewards down the line. Give your house its best chance to be seen for all its beauty, and consult your realtor for any other ideas they have seen work for their clients.
If you’re in the market for a new home, consider Georgia’s Own for all your mortgage needs. With low rates and fees, plus a variety of mortgage products, we’re here to help you in your home buying process. Click here to learn more about how Georgia’s Own can help get you into the home of your dreams.