Buying a home can be INTENSE. But the more prepared you are for each step, the better you’ll feel.
So, how can you feel confident when you haven’t done anything like this before?
Whether you’re a “newbie” home buyer or you’re buying a second home and need a refresh, now’s a good time to read this guide and get the facts you need.
Why Is 2021 a Great Time To Buy a House?
Because mortgage rates are low right now, you can save a lot of money when paying back your loan.
How much are we talking? You could end up saving tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a 15- or 30-year loan.
At the same time, house prices are going to be climbing for a while because it’s a seller’s market.
According to CoreLogic, a company that gathers and analyzes real estate data, house prices will be 3.5% more expensive in March 2022 than they were in March 2021.
So if you’re serious about buying a house, climbing onto the housing ladder sooner than later may be the way to go.
Buying a House: The Basics of a Not-so-Basic Process
The phases of the home buying process are predictable (see below), but the process will be a little different for everyone. It could be a rollercoaster, or it could be smooth sailing.
Here’s a download of the basics:
|1. Make sure you’re ready||Are you and your money in a “good place”? Should you wait to buy a house?|
|2. Measure your money situation||What’s your credit score? What’s your debt like? What do your savings look like?|
|3. Pick a price||How much can you COMFORTABLY afford to pay for a house?|
|4. Get preapproved||What type of loan do you want? How much will a lender say they’ll loan you?|
|5. Set your house goals||What does the house NEED to have, what would be nice to have and what’s a sweet bonus?|
|6. Find a real estate agent||After chatting with a few of them, which local agent do you vibe with the most?|
|7. Make an offer on a house||What’s it worth to you, especially if you’re competing against other offers?|
|8. Get a home inspection||Did the home inspection uncover issues? How much do you care about them?|
|9. Close on the purchase||What does the lender need you to gather and sign for the purchase to be official?|
|9-ish. Celebrate and move in!||How much do you ⭐ love ⭐ your new home?|
1. Make sure you’re ready to buy a house
Whether now’s the best time for you to buy a house or not depends on where you’re at in life – not just from a money angle, but from lifestyle and career angles, too.
Not trying to freak you out, but owning a house is a BIG commitment – and not an easy one to flake on. The home buying process alone can take a couple of months or more.
If you end up needing to move to another state for work, family or fun, it’s a lot easier (and maybe a lot cheaper) to get out of a lease than it is to sell a house.
2. Measure your money situation (honestly)
Your finances don’t have to be perfect to buy a house.
An “A” in one area might make up for a “C” in another. So maybe your credit score isn’t hot, but your savings are ginormous.
If you’re all-in on buying a house now, your real estate agent and lender will work hard with your specific situation to help you get a place. Be totally transparent with them.
A lender will expect the following numbers before they consider approving your mortgage:
- A credit score above 620 (or 580 depending on your loan type and lender)
- A debt-to-income ratio no higher than 43%
A couple of numbers determining your fate might make you feel a certain kind of way.
But it is what it is.
Just do your best to get your credit score and DTI ratio in a good place (if you haven’t already), and you’ll be on your way to becoming a homeowner.
Your current budget = Your homeownership stress test
Owning your first house could blow up your budget if you’re not careful. And having to stress about paying your bills every month is no way to live – even if it’s in a nice house.
Common homeownership costs in addition to your monthly mortgage payment include:
- Lawn care
- Pest control
- Homeowners association fees
Owning a house doesn’t automatically mean instant bougie life, especially if it’s your first one.
Would you need to remove anything from your monthly budget to pay for owning a house? A lot of folks would suggest cutting out the coffee runs and takeout. Welllll … think long and hard about what makes you happy. And remember there are other ways to save some money in your budget.
Saving a lot = Boss move
First-time home buyers are sometimes surprised by the upfront costs of buying a house. Not you, though. You’ll know ahead of time how much you’ll need in your savings account.
Here are some costs you’ll need to pay with cash before and after getting the mortgage:
- Due diligence fee
- Earnest money
- Down payment
- Home inspection fee
- Closing costs
- Moving costs
Each of these costs will be relative to the price or size of the house.
For example, average closing costs are typically between 3% – 6% of the mortgage amount.
The due diligence fee, earnest money and closing costs are negotiable. Even your closing costs could be covered by the seller if you negotiate for that.
Ask your real estate agent ahead of time for an estimate of all these costs. If you don’t have enough saved up, consider asking someone for gift money or waiting longer while saving more.
3. Pick a price before you pick a house
Knowing what you can spend on a house is part “what you think you can spend” and part “what the lender thinks you can spend.”
To avoid getting your heart set on a house that ends up being more than you can comfortably spend, you’ll want to know how much house you can afford before you even start searching.
If the amount you land on isn’t going to get you what you want where you’re looking, consider looking somewhere else.
There are a lot of under-the-radar places that offer a great balance of lower home costs and higher quality of life.
4. Get preapproved for the W
Remember, finding your perfect home is a marathon, not a race. You need to do your due diligence before you put down an offer, and that means getting preapproved for a mortgage.
Getting a mortgage preapproval letter from a top-rated lender can help you make the winning offer on a house.
Being preapproved shows the seller that you didn’t come to the open house just for the cookies. 🍪 You came to buy a house – and you are not playing!
Getting preapproved lets you know the maximum purchase price you can offer a seller (hint: it’s the amount the lender preapproved you for, or less).
How long it takes to get preapproved for a mortgage
Preapproval only takes a day or two (and sometimes less) and is usually good for 30 – 45 days.
Types of mortgages
Before you get preapproved, decide what type of mortgage you want. Then ask the lender to preapprove you for that specific mortgage. You can choose from a conventional mortgage or a nonconventional mortgage type, depending on your individual circumstances.
Mortgage rate options
The type of loan you get can be further customized by making it one of the following:
- Fixed-rate mortgage: Your mortgage rate stays the same during the life of the loan.
- Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM): Your mortgage rate starts out fixed, then after a certain period of time it changes over the years, subject to market fluctuations.
The longer the mortgage, the smaller your monthly mortgage payment will be, but the more you’ll end up paying over the years because of a higher interest rate.
Shopping for lenders
Smart buyers compare lenders.
Finding the right one can help you not only get a more affordable mortgage but also get your offer accepted.
The right lender will offer you fair, competitive rates and fees for your mortgage.
The right lender will feel like a super-fast partner in the home buying process, not an obstruction.
The wrong lender will ghost you when you need their help to quickly put your offer together in a competitive housing market.
If you’re interested in a mortgage program for BIPOC, LGBTQ or low-income borrowers, look for a lender who specializes in what you need.
5. Set your house goals: Decide what you want
Now that you know what you can afford, it’s time to make your house hunting wish list.
First, are you planning on buying your “forever home” or a starter home that you’ll eventually sell to upgrade into something nicer?
With that in mind, create your list of “must-haves.” Make it short in a competitive seller’s market.
Next, list your “want to haves” and “bonuses.”
For example, maybe you’d love a midcentury open floor plan, but all the houses where you’re looking would need a wall knocked out for that.
Be realistic. Even in a buyer’s market, no one house will have everything you want.
Thinking this through can help you find a real estate agent who knows what to look for.
6. Find a real estate agent (aka your new bestie)
Real estate agents are more than trusty sidekicks. They’re total brainiacs that know the ins and outs of everything you’ll encounter during your home search. This includes:
- Finding listings (quickly!) that have what you’re looking for
- Pointing out things you wouldn’t have noticed in houses
- Assessing any potential repairs the house might need
- Helping you know what to offer for the house
- Negotiating the offer
- Understanding the purchase contract before you sign
- Arranging for inspections, appraisals and the closing
Even if you buy a house entirely online, working with a real estate agent who’s local to the area where you’re searching can be a huge lifesaver.
7. Make a smart offer on a house: good choices
It’s got a front porch, a fireplace AND an AstroTurf lawn that you’ll never have to mow? Aww snap!
Wait! Don’t blow your entire preapproval amount just yet. Your agent will do some digging to help you figure the best offer to make. You want the house – but not if it means paying more than it’s worth.
A non-pushy agent (the best kind) will give you a suggested price or price range, then let you decide if you want to offer that or more.
You might even decide that you want to offer less.
The real, nerve-wracking fun starts now as you wait to hear if the seller accepts your offer.
We would suggest setting up your real estate agent with their very own ringtone. We’re also betting that you don’t pick up calls without a text first – but maybe make an exception in this case! 🎸👍
Before the seller officially accepts your offer, they may choose you as the buyer they want to work with, but throw a counteroffer back at you.
There’s always room for negotiation. If you want to, your real estate agent will help you figure out what to offer back and then do the negotiating for you. They might be able to get the seller to throw you a bone on:
- The house price
- Fixing something before the sale
- Credits for potential maintenance
- A home warranty
- Covering your closing costs
8. Get the home inspection and hope it looks good
Your offer was accepted. Nice! You’re officially “under contract.”
If you’re buying a house, you want a certain level of peace of mind that you’re living in a safe, healthy home. You want a dank house, not a damp one.
The home inspection tells you if there’s any sketchy stuff happening – like a leaky roof, moldy basement, colony of squirrels in the walls – you know, the usual.
You can use the inspection report to negotiate (for instance: a rotted window frame), or back out of your offer (for instance: “Resident Evil” lives behind the basement walls).
9. Get the actual mortgage from your lender
No more preapproval – it’s time to get the real approval.
You can go with the same lender that preapproved you (most buyers do), or you can shop around for the best mortgage rate and terms available to you.
Just move as quickly as you can to get the approval process started ASAP.
What your lender will ask for:
- An application
- Proof of income
- Proof that you are who you say you are
Underwriting can last a month or two after your offer is accepted.
This is when your lender does all their homework … on you! They’ll go over all the stuff you provided to make sure nothing looks wonky and determine if you’re ready for a home loan.
Don’t be surprised if they call you a few times during this process to ask you for details or explanations about anything. That’s normal. Surprises sometimes pop up.
Most importantly, don’t make any of the mistakes that some borrowers do between preapproval and approval, like running up your credit card or getting a car loan before closing on the house.
Lenders require and arrange a house appraisal as a part of the home buying process. The appraiser will use all sorts of appraisal ninja skills to figure out how much the house is worth.
Most appraisals will come back as the amount you’ve offered for the house.
But if yours doesn’t and comes in higher than expected, here’s the scary part:
You’ll be responsible for paying that extra amount by the closing date. If there’s no way you can come up with that money in time, you probably won’t be able to buy the house. If you find yourself in this spot, you can request that a new appraisal be ordered.
The last step to buying a house is the closing process. That’s when the purchase is finalized and the house (and the land it’s on) is moved into your name.
A few days before closing, expect to get a Closing Disclosure from the lender, spelling out the details of your loan and the closing costs that you’ll owe at closing. If anything looks wrong, let your agent know.
On closing day, you’ll sit down with someone from an attorney’s or title agency’s office. (Your real estate agent will probably help you pick the attorney or title agency.)
They’ll go through all the paperwork to make sure you’ve met the requirements of your lender and the seller.
You’ll sign the purchase paperwork, hand over your down payment and closing costs, show the proof of funds from your lender – and then you get the keys.
9-ish. You’ve closed. Celebrate your new home!
After you get the documentation showing that you’re the new homeowner – and before the rush of moving in – run to your car, find the right station and have a dance party in your car.
Don’t be ashamed to rock (or Milly Rock) out while people stare. Hey, you own a house!
FYI: Your lender technically owns the house until you’ve repaid the loan, but that’s for another MoneyTips Guide 😉.