Buying a home to call your own a significant milestone in the journey of adulthood. For some, it represents more of an ingrained belief than a purely financial decision. For others, it’s a goal they’ve been working towards for a long time. So, if you’ve made the decision that purchasing a home is important both to your lifestyle and to your peace of mind, there are some crucial steps to consider before you begin house hunting.
- Credit rating—If you own a credit card, you can likely check your credit rating and get a free credit report. If you find some dents and dings in your credit, the consequence is the potential of having to pay a higher interest rate. Make sure you have full documentation of any negative or disputed aspects of your report—the mortgage companies will weigh this very heavily in deciding whether to offer you financing. If your credit rating is less than favorable, gain a clear understanding of what it will take to shine it up before going full tilt into the buying process.
- Budget analysis—Know your numbers. How much are you spending on your rent, debt and other fixed costs? It’s nice to believe you can swing the monthly mortgage, but it’s another thing to know that you can. Understand where your paycheck goes and how much might be “leaking” into unknown places—this is vital before you make that leap. There are so many potential unknowns.
- Debt percentage—33/38 are the numbers to be concerned with. 33% of your monthly income can be devoted to housing costs, while 38% includes consumer debt. If you are outside of these limits, you might not qualify for the mortgage.
- Down payment—Your mortgage company will look closely at the source of your down payment. It will look to your bank statements and scour them for money movement, such as sizeable deposits in and money transferred out. If you are receiving a gift or loan from your family, make sure it’s in place for a long period of time. The mortgage company will also want to make sure you not only have the required down payment funds available, it will make sure you have closing costs ready and available as well. Preplanning is critical.
- Additional costs associated with ownership—In deciding to purchase, you are now signing on to commit to new costs that you might not have previously considered. While you have been paying rent month after month, you will now be taking on Real Estate taxes, maybe an Association Maintenance Fee, additional costs for utilities, homeowner’s insurance and maintenance and repair costs that have never been a part of your normal monthly outflow. For this reason, be sure you have plenty of wiggle room in your budget.
- Interest rate environment and mortgage choices—On any mortgage website, you will be thrust into a barrage of choices that are sure to make your head spin. You will see mortgages that are fixed and variable rate, points (which are prepaid interest), length of time; 10-30 years, and more. Additionally, you will have to decide to lock in a rate or let it float with the mortgage. In order to make a good decision, you need to understand whether we are in a rate environment that is rising, static, or falling. Most importantly, understand the impact your choices have on your cash flow.
- The housing market in your area—If there is anything you want to get a good handle on before you jump in, it is the nature of the housing market in your area. If homes are being bid up as a matter of course, be wary of diving in. Housing prices don’t move in only one direction. If you overpay for a home in a hot market, you might find yourself with negative equity for a long time until the market reignites.