How to Buy a House
Getting Your Financials in OrderShopping for a HomeMaking an OfferFinalizing the Deal
Edited by Wes Platt, Ben Rubenstein, Imperatrix, Jack Herrick and 75 others
For many people, it's the biggest financial transaction they'll ever make. That's why doing it right the first time is so important. Sometimes, buying a house can feel like a dizzying set of rules and regulations. Luckily, armed with the right knowledge and know-how, you can start realizing your homeowner dreams — the fast, easy, effective way.
Strengthen your credit. The higher your FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850, the better interest rate you'll qualify for. This is extremely important. The difference between a 4.5% interest mortgage and a 5% interest mortgage can mean tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
- Get a free copy of your credit report so you can see what the lenders see on your credit history. Pay off credit cards and resolve any credit disputes or delinquencies.
Get pre-approved to get the actual amount you can pay. Apply to several lenders within a two week period so that the inquiries do not damage your credit report. Do this before contacting a real estate agent so you have a firm idea of what you can afford, and you don't accidentally fall in love with a house that you cannot afford.
- Seller love buyers who get pre-approved. Pre-approved buyers are almost always given the green light by lenders, meaning there's less risk for the deal to get scuttled in the end.
- Don't accidentally get pre-qualified instead of pre-approved. There's a difference. Pre-approval means that the lender is usually prepared to give you a loan after seeing your financial vitals. Pre-qualified only means that the lender is estimating what you could borrow. It doesn't mean you'll get a loan.
Shop for your mortgage. Wait — why would I shop for a mortgage before deciding on a house? Isn't that totally backward? Not necessarily. Shopping for a mortgage before you decide on a house can be beneficial for one overriding reason:
- You'll know exactly how much you can borrow before you buy your home. Too many people fall in love with a home that they — well — can't afford. They struggle finding a mortgage that covers the cost of the home. Finding a mortgage first and a home second is decidedly less sexy, but it's twice as smart. You'll immediately be able to tell whether a home is in your price range or out of it.
- Think about the sort of down-payment you'll be able to afford. This should be part of your mortgage calculations, although you don't need to know for sure when shopping for a mortgage. Have a general idea in mind. More on this later in the article.
- Find out what ratios lenders are using to determine if you qualify for a loan. "28 and 36" is a commonly used ratio. It means that 28% of your gross income (before you pay taxes) must cover your intended housing expenses (including principal and interest on the mortgage, as well as real estate taxes and insurance). Monthly payments on your outstanding debts, when combined with your housing expenses, must not exceed 36% of your gross income. Find each percentage for your monthly gross income (28% and 36% of $3750 = $1050 and $1350, respectively). Your monthly payments on outstanding debts cannot exceed the difference between the ($300) or else you will not be approved.
If you qualify, check out first-time buyers' programs. These often have much lower down payment requirements. These are offered by various states and local governments. You may also be able to access up to $10,000 from your 401(k) or Roth IRA without penalty. Ask your broker or employer's human resources department for specifics regarding borrowing against those assets.