Finding a Home
What amenities do I need in a home versus what I want?
Make a list of what you would like to have in your new home. Divide the list into two columns: needs (the features the home must have) and wants (nice features to have, but things you could live without). Since you’ll probably be in your home for several years, it’s important to consider future needs as well, such as an additional bedroom if you plan to have children or a yard for a dog. Reference your list when touring a house to make sure that it has what you’re looking for. If you are using a real estate agent, you can provide this list to them so they can find homes that best fit your needs. We’ve created this handy sheet for you to track your needs and wants.
How can I find information about the neighborhood that I want to live in?
Your real estate agent, or websites like Zillow or Trulia, can provide valuable information about areas where you may be interested in living. While price and home amenities often drive the primary decision to purchase, proximity to work, school, and shopping can make a big difference in the overall quality of life. Check out our House Hunting for things to consider in your search for a home.
Home Warranty Policies
Sometimes you will see a home listed that comes with a home warranty, which can provide added assurance that you will not have to pay for a major appliance or other repair within the first year of purchase. These policies vary in what is covered, the out of pocket deductible, and terms, so be sure to review them carefully.
Working with a Real Estate Agent
What's the difference if the listing agent represents me or I hire a selling agent?
A listing agent is in contract with the seller to sell the home at the highest price possible. A selling agent represents the buyer and is responsible, amongst others things, to help the buyer purchase the home at fair price.
While it's legal to have a listing agent represent both parties, you should consider whether you think the listing agent or having a selling agent will best represent and protect your interests in the transaction.
If you go to an open house, it's likely a listing agent, or one of their assistants, will be showing the property. It's common for the agent showing the property to ask if you are "represented". If you are not represented, and desire to make an offer, you have the right to use the listing agent or quickly find a selling agent to negotiate and make the offer on your behalf.
A home inspection provides you with information about the state of the home you intend to purchase. An inspector will look at the structural and functional aspects of the home, property, and its amenities. If the inspector finds something that is out of the ordinary, he/she will note it in the report. While it isn’t a guaranty, this will give you some assurance that there should be limited surprises once you move in. It’s important to review the report carefully so you can determine if there are any serious concerns with a home that may influence your decision to buy it. Sometimes buyers use the outcome of the report to renegotiate the purchase price of a home, if the findings indicate there are costly repairs or issues that should be addressed, or they request that the seller have the issue resolved prior to completing the purchase. You can learn more about home inspections at the American Society of Home Inspectors.
How long does it take to purchase a home once I’ve found one?
A typical closing period is 45 days, some can close quicker when paying cash, or some longer when there are difficult or problems with an aspect of property clearance or financing. Being prepared is a good way to help ensure a smoother and faster transaction, and our Mortgage Application Document Checklist can help.
Do I have to make a 20% downpayment?
No. We’ve seen the headlines too that say you have to make a 20% downpayment to buy a home, but it’s simply not true. While it will depend on your credit profile, there are loan options available with as little as a 3% downpayment. We’ve outlined low downpayment loan options here.
Can my credit card balances stop me from getting a loan?
Yes. It’s important that you don’t increase or take on new monthly debt while you are going through the process of buying a home as it could negatively impact your ability to qualify for a mortgage (even if you’ve been pre-qualified or have already submitted your mortgage application). Be sure to check out our Top 5 Tips to Financing a Home.
Many buyers don’t realize that in addition to your downpayment, you will need to have money to also cover closing costs, which typically range from 1% to 8% of the sale price of a home, depending on where you live.
Closing costs include services that are provided on your behalf during the transaction (i.e. title insurance, closing services, loan fees, etc.), and can also include prepaid items like interest, and hazard insurance. Your lender will provide you with a detailed estimate of these costs so you are prepared for the total amount required to close your purchase shortly after you apply for your mortgage.
Coordinating your Move
Depending on the closing date of your purchase, you may be giving notice to your current landlord or moving from another property that you own. While the professionals handling your transaction will do everything possible to insure a smooth and "on time" closing, it's possible that your closing could be delayed for a number of reasons. Stay in close contact with your mortgage and sales professional to insure that you know the exact date of closing, as well as when you will receive the keys to the property (take possession and move in). Renting or hiring movers, packing, giving notice, and finally moving typically require advanced notice to get service providers, so being in constant communication can reduce the likelihood that you will have issues.
What I Wish I Knew When I Bought My First Home
“Coming up with a 20% downpayment was the single biggest hurdle for me. I wish I had known that I could have bought a home with as little as 3% down. I could have been in a home and building equity so much sooner.”
While it will depend on your credit profile, there are loan options available with as little as a 3% downpayment. Learn more about low downpayment loan options or use our downpayment calculator to find out how long it would take you to save for a downpayment.
“I knew I had to have a downpayment, but I didn’t realize I’d need money for closing costs on top of that. I was so disappointed to think that I’d saved enough, only to realize I was still short because I hadn’t factored in closing costs.”
Many buyers don’t realize that in addition to your downpayment, you will need to have money to also cover closing costs, which typically range from 1% to 8% of the sale price of a home, depending on where you live. Your lender will provide you with a detailed estimate of these costs so you are prepared for the total amount required to close your purchase. If you are planning to make a 20% downpayment, that means you’d really need 21% - 28% of the home’s purchase price to cover all the costs, which can take a long time to save. Luckily there are loan options available with as little as a 3% downpayment, which means you’d only need 4% - 11% of the home’s purchase price to cover costs.
“When I passed my dream home and saw it was for sale, I wasn’t sure if I had enough money for a downpayment, but I called an agent anyway, who put in in touch with a lender. I was thrilled to learn I had enough to make a 3% downpayment and cover closing costs. Thanks to mortgage insurance my dream home is now mine.”
When a great opportunity comes along, you may not have to miss out on getting the home of your dreams. Mortgage insurance can help you achieve the dream of homeownership years sooner – maybe even now. Learn more about low downpayment loan options.
"My lender qualified me for a loan that was larger than I expected. The qualification process took into account my income and credit history, but there are other factors I needed to consider to decide what I could actually afford. For me, I wanted to spend less on a house, so my mortgage payments would be smaller and I had more money left over each month for other things, like eating out and home decor.”
Being pre-qualified for a home is a like having a credit card. You get a limit on what you can spend, but it doesn’t mean you can afford to max it out. It’s important to take a look at all your monthly expenses, both mandatory and discretionary, to determine how much you really want to spend on your mortgage each month without giving up the things that matter to you.
"It seemed like every other day I was asked for another document - employment verification, W-2 forms for taxes, credit card bills, etc. I didn’t have half of this handy and was always tracking something down. I wish I had known what would have been needed and started to gather my documents beforehand. It definitely would have made the process go more smoothly and probably faster too.”
There is a lot of documentation your lender will need from you to verify the information you’ve supplied to them on a mortgage application. Our Mortgage Application Document Checklist can help you get prepared, so you won’t feel so overwhelmed.
“We were so excited to be in our new house, but when the dishwasher stopped working and the hot water heater ruptured within a few months of each other, we were worried about how we’d cover the expense. We used all of our savings for the downpayment and closing costs. We should have kept something for emergencies."
It’s no secret that there are many potentially expensive repairs that come with homeownership. The seller is legally obligated to disclose any known problems with the home and the home inspection will give you a sense of what issues could arise, but there are always unexpected surprises. Some not even related to the house – like losing your job or getting ill... That’s why even if you have enough money to make a 20% downpayment, it may be a good idea to put less money down if it means using all of your savings. That way you have money available to handle the unexpected.
“I had to stop looking at the value of my home on a weekly basis – one minute it was up and then it was down – I kept wondering if I’d made the right choice to buy, or if I’d paid too much. My financial advisor helped me understand that owning a home is an investment in my future. That’s because the longer I own my home, the more likely it is for its value to increase, which means I'm not only building equity, but my personal wealth."
While there are no guarantees, in the long run, the benefits of homeownership – both personal and financial – significantly outweigh the negatives, such as short term property value fluctuations. You can learn more about the Benefits of Owning a Home here.