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7 mistakes to avoid when purchasing your first home
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 ready to make the home-buying plunge.
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 a few 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, the Federal Trade Commission’s last large-scale study of credit reports found that 26 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 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 purchase 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 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? Check the local crime reports and registered sex offender list. 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.
What is a Jumbo loan?
If you’ve ever purchased a home, you know that there are a variety of mortgage loans available to buyers. There are FHA, VA, construction, and subprime loans, fixed–rate, adjustable-rate, and interest only loans. There’s also one called a jumbo loan, which clearly implies it’s going to be huge. Wouldn’t you agree?
If you’re thinking about a jumbo loan, there are a few things you should know. After all, you’re investing in your dream home, and it’s important to be well educated on the type of debt you’re taking on to help fund it.
Conforming vs. non-conforming loans
A conforming loan is one whose loan amount falls within the servicing limits for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In other words, it’s the maximum loan amount that can be purchased from lenders by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored agencies, and sold to investors for the purpose of providing liquidity in the mortgage markets. This frees up the cash necessary for lenders to continue writing real estate loans for other borrowers.
Currently, the conforming loan amount is $424,100 for a single-family home in all States, except for Hawaii and Alaska and a few federally designated high-cost markets.
Regardless of its high credit quality, if the mortgage amount exceeds the conforming loan limit, it is considered a jumbo loan or a non-conforming loan. Jumbo loans are not eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and the lender bears all the risk.
Jumbo loan requirements
Because jumbo loans have higher purchase limits, they’re typically used to purchase luxury homes, vacation homes, or even investment properties. While traditional mortgage loans have strict lending standards, jumbo loans have even more demanding requirements.
Jumbo loans pose an additional amount of risk for lenders, mainly due to the size of the loan. That’s one reason that the down payment requirement is typically 20%. Generally, if a jumbo mortgage loan defaults, a home of that caliber is unlikely to sell quickly and for full price. The lender mitigates some of the risk by requiring a certain amount of equity in the home. Interest rates for jumbo loans are typically a little higher than conforming loan rates as well. Most often, a 1/4 to 1/2 percent increase would be a fair expectation.
Borrowers will also be required to demonstrate financial strength, too. Their debt-to-income ratio should be roughly 45 percent, and they’ll need to plan on a required reserve amount that could potentially be as high as 20 percent of the value of the loan.
If you are able to meet the requirements, a jumbo loan might be the right fit for your financial situation. Of course, there are other options. Be sure to speak with your lender to help you decide which product meets your mortgage needs best.
Adding it up – how to determine what your total monthly payment will be
Ready to take the leap into home ownership? Hopefully, you’ve saved enough money for a down payment, met with an advisor at your local credit union to discuss your finances, and have already been pre-approved for a mortgage. If so, congratulations, you’re well on your way!
The process can be exciting, but let’s slow down for just a minute. Regardless of the amount for which you’ve been approved, you need to look at your monthly expenses and realistically think about what you can manage. A mortgage payment is a big responsibility.
One number new homebuyers focus on is what their monthly payment will be. Sometimes homebuyers are surprised when they close on a home and find out that their mortgage payment is higher than what they originally thought. Buying a home should be a happy time, so let’s take a look at what will make up your actual monthly payment.
What will my payment include?
There is more to your mortgage payment than simply the cost of your new home. Your payment can be divided into two components: principal and interest. The principal is the amount of money that you borrowed; the interest is the amount of money the lender charges for lending you the money. In the early years, the majority of your mortgage payment will be paying down interest, and only a small percentage will go to accumulating equity in your home. Over time, however, the principal portion of your mortgage payment will increase, and the interest portion will decrease.
Your total monthly payment might also include homeowner’s insurance and property taxes that may be held in an escrow account. You make the payments to the lender in your mortgage payment and when the bill comes due, the lender will make the payment from your escrow account.
An escrow account is an account that is set up by your lender on your behalf. A portion of each mortgage payment will be deposited into your escrow account to pay for certain property-related expenses that are only due once or twice per year. Because the lender is in charge of making the payment, they can make sure it’s made on time and the property is not at risk.
Was your down payment less than 20% of the purchase price of your home? If it was, your mortgage payment will likely also include mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance lowers the risk to the lender, so you can be approved for a loan that you might not otherwise qualify. It protects the lender in case you fall behind on your payments. The cost of mortgage insurance varies, but your lender will be able to discuss it with you during the loan process.
No surprises here!
When you’re aware of all that’s included, you can better budget for your monthly expenses. No one wants to be surprised when it comes to their finances, especially when you’re locked into a 30-year loan. Visit your local credit union for more information, answers to your questions, or help calculating your estimated monthly mortgage cost.
Home Equity Loans: What questions should you ask before applying?
If your home’s current market is worth more than the total amount of your remaining mortgage payments, then you’ve built up equity in your home. Many people who have equity in their homes are able to apply for home equity loans and use that portion of equity–or ownership–as collateral for the loan.
Remember when home mortgages were upside-down? Home values are making a comeback after the Great Recession and borrowers are taking advantage of the opportunity to withdraw cash for major expenses or improvements. If you’re in the market for a home equity loan, here are some things you’ll want to consider before you sign on the dotted line:
Do you have enough equity in your home?
Your combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV) plays a critical role in the approval of an equity loan. Your CLTV ratio is the calculation of your current loan balance plus the additional equity loan amount divided by the appraised value of your home. Generally, lenders require your CLTV to be 85% or less.
What type of home equity loan do you need?
Home Equity Loan
The traditional home equity loan offers the borrower a single lump sum to be repaid over a specific period of time, up to 30 years, at a fixed interest rate. Home equity loans are generally used for large expenses, like replacing a roof or paying off credit card debt, and are ideal for borrowers who need cash for a one-time event. It’s often referred to as a second mortgage, complete with closing costs and notarized signatures.
Home Equity Line of Credit
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is another type of home equity loan where the lender approves smaller sums of cash up to a fixed amount, similar to a credit card. Its flexibility allows the borrower to withdraw cash as needed and pay interest only on the amount that is withdrawn. Although repayment doesn’t begin until a predetermined date in the future, there is often an annual fee. HELOCs are ruled by adjustable interest rates, but they can be converted to a fixed rate loan once the repayment period begins.
HELOCs are ideal for borrowers who need frequent access to cash to pay contractors during a remodel or even a recurring quarterly tuition bill. They also offer the benefit of not having to pay interest on the loan amount until it’s actually withdrawn.
A mortgage is a mortgage
Regardless of the outstanding amount, the term, or the interest rate, a home equity loan or a HELOC is still a second mortgage. Just as in your first mortgage, the interest you pay is usually tax-deductible, to a certain limit, and rates are generally lower than you’d be charged on a credit card.
You shouldn’t forget, however, that the second loan is secured by your home, which subjects your property to additional risk. You can be foreclosed upon if you’re unable to make your monthly mortgage payments. Be sure to treat your home equity loan or HELOC with just as much importance and seriousness as your first mortgage.
Applying for a second mortgage could be a wise financial decision and a step forward in helping to organize your finances. Consider all of your options and consult with a financial advisor to see if a home equity loan might be a good fit for managing some of your larger expenses.
4 reasons to buy a home instead of renting
The financial benefits of buying a home compared with renting have yoyoed over the years, especially of late. If you’re sitting on the fence, here are four circumstances in which it may be a better bet to buy.
If interest rates remain low
From a financing perspective, if this isn’t the best time to buy a house, it’s pretty darn close.
The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage, the most common variety, has hovered below or near 4% for several months now. For comparison’s sake, if you bought 10 years ago, the average interest rate was 6.41%. In 1996, it was 7.81%, and in 1981 it was a whopping 16.63%.
Although the Federal Reserve has begun to inch rates upward, it is likely that it will do so slowly and that it will be a while before the cost of borrowing to buy a home stops being historically low.
If home prices level off
Home prices rose steadily in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s before plunging around 2007, and in the past few years they have been climbing again. Different markets have seen different trends, of course, but generally what’s at play is supply and demand: More potential buyers than houses available means sellers can dictate terms and get top dollar.
But something interesting is happening: The oft-told story that millennials are renting for longer or living with their parents nowadays is not entirely accurate. No, people in this age group (born between 1981 and 1997) want very much to own a home, but they are putting it off because of real and imagined difficulties in affording it.
That could mean fewer potential buyers and a cooling of the upward surge in home prices. While others wait, you could pounce.
If rental costs continue rising
Real estate researcher Reis Inc. reports that apartment rents rose 4.6% in 2015. In hot housing markets such as California and the Pacific Northwest, rents are going up by about 14% per year. According to Zillow, the median asking price nationwide for a rental was $1,575 per month in early 2016.
The monthly payment on a $200,000 mortgage — about the average in the U.S. — with a 4% interest rate would be just over $950. Even with taxes, insurance and maintenance, it’s tough to make a financial case in favor of renting.
If you want to save money
Home values over the past 70 years have generally tracked with inflation. Yes, you could make more money in the stock market. But we’re talking real life, not investment advice. Consider two things:
- Your rent is locked in for a year or two, then will go up. Your mortgage payment can be the same for 30 years.
- If you are raising a family, it seems all but impossible to save money. But when you sell the house after 30 years (or 20 or 10), someone will hand you hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that could put the kids through college or finance your retirement.
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Buying a home? Budget for more than just mortgage costs
Buying a home is one of the most important purchases you’ll make in your lifetime so it’s important to make sure you set realistic expectations about how it will affect your monthly budget. Your mortgage payment will make the largest impact, but there are additional costs you should consider before signing on the dotted line.
Bigger house, bigger bills
Chances are you’re living in an apartment or smaller accommodations before purchasing your new home. You probably have a good idea of the types of expenses you’ll incur, but with more square footage, expect those expenses to increase, like heating and air conditioning and gas and electricity. Will you have a luscious green lawn that needs watering? Count on a higher water bill, too. And if you’re looking forward to a second TV in your new man cave then even your cable bill will be bigger!
In the south, a termite bond is often needed. Pest control is recommended quarterly. You may pay homeowner association fees if you live in a subdivision or condominium, plus homeowner’s insurance and higher property taxes. You should also set aside a little cash each month for repairs and maintenance.
When you close on your home, you’ll also have to pay the moving company. Obviously not a monthly cost, but it could be a hefty one that you should consider. There’s also the cost of furniture or appliances that you’ll need…a refrigerator, washer, and dryer, lawnmower, or anything else you’ll need relatively soon. Will you use credit to purchase these items? They can easily turn into monthly expenses by way of a credit card bill, so be sure to account for those payments, too.
Knowing is the key
This list of expenses is not meant to deter you from home ownership. People manage their expenses every day living in their dream homes—and you can, too. If you are aware of the additional expenses you can make the necessary adjustments. Maybe you prioritize some other purchases or even consider a smaller sized home so financially you can live more comfortably within your budget.
Knowing what you can afford is the first step in making a smart, educated decision. By tallying up your monthly expenses along with your mortgage payment before you make a purchase, you’ll be better prepared for happily ever after in your new home.