We love homes. We’re a nation that loves everything about homes from buying homes to renovating them. We love homes so much that we will watch shows about people buy homes in other countries, just to see the houses and guess which home they’re going to buy. Channels like HGTV are devoted to exactly this! Look around your neighborhood stores as well. How many carry items you’d need to build, repair and replace parts in your home? How many have things you want for your home, from garden centers to furniture to kitchen cabinets?
We also fall in love or at least become somewhat sentimentally attached, with the homes we want to buy. Notting getting your offer accepted when you find that perfect home and decide to bid on it can sometimes be heartbreaking. I say sometimes because you may not get so attached to the home that you feel you’re heart would break – but you could still lose money and time and that is frustrating.
Can you completely avoid this? No. You can do things to minimize the probability. We’ve come up with an extensive list (in a two-part post) of what to do and know before you start the process of buying your next home. The information we’ve provided has been designed to put you in the most strategic position to attain a mortgage, view homes and place your best offer to try and nab that home you want.
As a Prepared Buyer:
1. Check Your Credit Score
Before applying for a loan and certainly before ever making an offer on a house, you should know your credit score. Why is your credit score important? Well, it’s not only the difference between getting a low-interest rate on a home loan versus a high one, but it will also directly impact how much a bank or lender will actually loan you. There are several websites you can use to check your credit score, here are a few to consider: TransUnion, Equifax, Experian. Always consult with a mortgage professional first before you payoff any debtors.
You can check your own score as much as once a day without affecting your credit, also known as a soft inquiry. Hard inquiries are when financial institutions check your credit score, typically when you’re applying for a loan or credit card. Hard inquiries lower your credit score a few points, so try to keep hard inquiries to a minimum.
2. Improve Your Credit Score
Maybe you just checked your credit score and realized it’s not as high as you had expected. Don’t worry, there are a few things you can do now that will help raise your credit score so you can capitalize on a great interest rate.
Though you can easily implement steps to help your credit score, fixing or raising a credit score doesn’t happen overnight. It’s imperative to start now so when you go to apply for a home loan your credit score will (hopefully) be where you want it. Here are three tips to help improve your credit score, and recommended by John Heath, Directing Attorney at Lexington Law:
Obtain and Closely Review Your Free Credit Report: In order to improve your credit score, you first need to know what information is on your credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the option to obtain a free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies once every twelve months. Your credit report contains information including your current and past residences, how you pay your bills, bankruptcies, foreclosures and more. Obtaining and understanding the information on your credit report will help you know what you may need to address in order to improve your credit score.
Use a Credit Report Repair Company to Dispute Errors: Your credit history is 35 percent of your FICO score, and according to a 2013 study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 40 million Americans have something that is incorrect on their credit report. While a late payment or derogatory mark from a creditor may seem harmless, it can have long-standing consequences, in some instances staying on your report for seven years. If you have errors on your credit report, consider working with a credit repair company, who can navigate the complexities of credit repair, contact the credit bureaus on your behalf and help remove any errors as quickly as possible.
Spread Credit Card Debt Across Multiple Cards: If any of your credit cards are close to the maximum utilization point, it will be a red flag to lenders, who see this as an indication that you could be having financial issues. If you have multiple cards, spreading the balance out between them could make sense. For example, instead of having one card that is 90 percent maxed out while two other cards have a zero balance, having a 30 percent balance on each card can help your credit score. Reducing overall debt is always the best option, but spreading out your balance can have a positive impact.
“Improving one’s credit score may take time, but it can be done. Bad credit is not irrevocable,”
said Heath. “Developing good habits and repairing your credit report will help increase your
credit score so you’re able to secure a home loan or a great interest rate with confidence.”
3. Know What You Can Afford
The best way to determine how much house you can afford is to simply use an Affordability calculator. Though calculators such as these do not necessarily account for all of your monthly expenditures, they certainly are a great tool for understanding your larger financial situation.
After you figure out what you can comfortably afford, you can then start online window shopping for houses and really begin to narrow down what you want in a house versus what you can afford. Are you looking at specific neighborhoods? How many bedrooms do you want? Do you need a large yard, big deck, swimming pool, man cave, she shed, etc?
Understanding what you can afford in the area you want to buy will help keep you grounded and focused on what you actually want in a house versus what might be nice to have.
),4. Save Up For a Down PaymentUnless you want to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
You really want to save up for a sizable down payment. PMI is an added insurance charged by mortgage lenders in order to protect themselves in case you default on your loan payments. The biggest problem with PMIs for homeowners is that they usually cost you hundreds of dollars each month. Money that is not going against the principal of your mortgage.
How much should you save for a house? Twenty percent down is typical with most mortgage lenders in order to avoid paying for PMI. However, there are other types of home loans, such as a VA loan if you have served in the military and qualify, that may allow you to put down less than twenty percent while avoiding PMIs altogether.
As an added benefit to having a sizable down payment, you may also receive a lower interest rate that will save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest over time. So start saving now!
5. Build Up Your Savings
Lenders like to see a healthy savings account and other investments or assets (i.e. 401k, CDs, after-tax investments) that you can tap into during hard times. What they really want to see is that you are not living paycheck to paycheck. A healthy savings account and other investments are a good idea in general as it will help you establish your future financial independence, but it is also a necessary item on your checklist of what you need to buy a house in 2019.
6. Have a Healthy Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)
Another key component banks and other lenders consider when issuing loans, and at what interest rate, is your debt-to-income ratio. The debt-to-income ratio is a lender’s way of comparing your monthly housing expenses and other debts with how much you earn.
So what is a healthy debt-to-income ratio when applying for a home loan? The short answer is the lower the better, but definitely, no more than 43% or you may not even qualify for a loan at all. There are two DTIs to consider as well.
The Front-End DTI: This DTI typically includes housing-related expenses such as mortgage payments and insurance. You want to shoot for a front-end DTI of 28%.
The Back-End DTI: This DTI includes all other debts you may have, such as credit cards or car loans. You want a back-end DTI of 36% or less. A simple way to improve this DTI is to pay down your debts to creditors.
How do you calculate your DTI ratio? You can use this equation for both front-end and back-end DTIs:
DTI = total debt / gross income
7. Budget for Extra Costs
There are a lot of little costs that go into buying a house that are overlooked by new home buyers all the time. Though there are some things, such as sales tax and home insurance, that can be wrapped into a home loan and monthly mortgage, there are several little things that cannot be included into the home-buying package and need to be paid for out of pocket.
Though these items can range in price depending on the area, size and cost of the house your buying, here is a list of extra costs you should consider (not all inclusive):
- Home Appraisal Fee
- Home Inspection Fee
- Geological study
- Closing costs*
- Property taxes**
- Home insurance**
- Utility hookup/start fees
- HOA fees
- Home remodeling/updating
- Existing propane gas
- *Closing costs can sometimes be wrapped into the home loan, depending on the agreement with your lender.
- **Property taxes and home insurance can be paid separately or your lender could include it into your monthly mortgage payment.
8. Don’t Close Old Credit Card Accounts Or Apply for New Ones
Closing a credit card account will not raise your credit score. In fact, in some cases, it may actually lower it. Instead, try to pay down the balance as much as you can, while continuing to make your monthly payments on time. If you have an old credit card you never use anymore, just ignore it, or at least don’t close it until after you have purchased your new home.
Opening new credit cards before buying a home is also not a good idea. You don’t want creditors checking your credit or opening new cards under your name, as you may lose some points on your credit score.
The absolute worst thing you can do is max out one of your credit cards, even if the limit on the card is low. If you do, your credit score may plummet. Try tackling your credit cards with the highest interest rate first, then as one gets paid off, focus on the next card until you’re free and clear.
9. Have A Solid Employment History
If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, lenders like consistency, including your employment history. Lenders like to see a borrower with the same employer for about two years.
What if you have a job with an irregular or inconsistent pay schedule? People with jobs such as contract positions, who are self-employed, or have irregular work schedules can still qualify for a home loan. A mortgage known as a ‘Bank Statement’ mortgage is becoming rapidly popular with lenders as more self-employed or what has been referred to as the ‘gig economy’ has taken off.
10. Know the Difference Between a Fixed Rate and an Adjustable Rate Mortgage
The difference between these two types of mortgage rates really lies within their names. A fixed rate loan is exactly that, an interest rate that will never change the moment it’s locked in. You will pay the same amount the very first month you pay your home loan and will continue to pay that same exact amount over the course of thirty years (or however long the loan term is).
An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is typically a mortgage that starts out as a lower rate than fixed interest rates but then is adjusted each year typically resulting in a rate higher than a fixed rate. A 5-1 ARM is a popular mortgage offered by lenders, which is a hybrid between fixed and adjustable rate mortgages. Your mortgage would start out at a lower fixed rate for the first five years, then after that time period has elapsed, the rate would then be adjusted on an annual basis for the remainder of the loan term.