June 14th, 2019
Buying a home may seem like an extensive and complicated process, particularly for first-time buyers. There’s a variety of terms you may have never heard before, there are the negotiations, and the flurry of listings you have to sift through to ensure you’re finding the perfect home for you and your family. But if you familiarize yourself with the home buying process before you even start, you’ll be able to navigate the real estate market with ease and confidence. That’s exactly why we are bringing you this 10-step guide to the home buying process. So whether it’s your first time or you’re an experienced homeowner simply brushing up on your skills, we’ve got you covered.
Before you hit the open houses, make sure that your finances are in order. Buying a house requires a mortgage where a lender fronts you the money and you pay them back over time, a down payment (generally between 5% and 20%), and a good credit score which you will need to know before you apply for a mortgage. A lender will check your credit score to determine whether or not to loan you money and at what interest rate. If they see blemishes in your credit report where you made late payments or had other issues that negatively affected this number, lenders may give you a loan with a bad interest rate or perhaps not grant you a loan at all. So you should know your score and take steps now if necessary to improve it.
At this point in the process, you’ll want to meet with a loan officer – or ideally a few at a variety of mortgage companies. Essentially they will analyze your financial background – your income, savings, assets, etc. – in order to determine how much you can actually afford to spend on a home.
Know that pre-approval for a mortgage is different from pre-qualification for a mortgage. Pre-qualification simplifies your home buying process because it gives you an estimate of what you can afford to borrow and, therefore, what price range to target; but it doesn’t come with a promise from a lender. Pre-approval is a much more painful process because you have to provide a lot of paperwork but by the end of it, you’re guaranteed to be creditworthy and you can really buy a home.
Use a mortgage calculator to estimate your budget taking into consideration your income, debt, savings, and other financial obligations. This will give you a preliminary idea that you can adjust later in the home buying process if necessary.
The home buying process seems complicated but if you familiarize yourself with your local real estate market and have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Now that you have an idea of what you can afford, it’s time to narrow down what you want and need in a home.
Consider all your options starting with location. Is living near family a priority or do you want to live within a short commute of work? Do you prefer the suburbs with its big yards and larger homes or do you want an urban setting where there are typically more activities and restaurants? You should visit potential locations with your family’s lifestyle and commute in mind.
You should also define what type of house you want to live in and if you want to buy a new house or a resale house. There are lots of options when it comes to home type including condos, townhouses, semi-detached homes, duplexes, single-family detached homes, etc. You should take into consideration your current lifestyle and needs but also the future needs of your family that may continue to grow.
A real estate agent isn’t always essential to the home buying process but it’s invaluable to have a trusty guide by your side as you’re buying or selling a home. They have an in-depth understanding of the real estate market, they can give you helpful information on homes and neighborhoods that may not be commonly known, and help you to negotiate the best deal. A real estate agent is a great partner to have particularly for first-time homebuyers. A recommendation from friends or family is the best way to find a real estate agent but if there are no recommendations, choose a real estate agent or agency with a good reputation in the area.
Now for the fun part! There are several ways you can go about finding your future home: your real estate agent will send you listings, you can peruse thousands of listings on sites like realtor.com, you can check the classified ads in your local newspaper, or go straight to the source – go to your target area and find homes with signs in the yards. Then you’ll start making appointments to tour your favorites in person. It’s helpful to take notes on the different places you visit because when visiting so many, it can be easy to forget what you did or didn’t like about specific options. When you’re touring, make sure to check the little, often-forgotten details of the house:
You should also take stock of the neighborhood and surrounding area. What’s the parking situation like? Is it located near points of interest to you: good schools, grocery stores, malls, good restaurants, etc? Are the other homes on the block well-kept?
You shouldn’t rush the home buying process and don’t let anyone rush you through it: not your real estate agent, not your friends or family. Once you’ve found your dream home, it’s time to work with your real estate agent to negotiate a fair offer based on comparable homes in the area. Once you and the seller have reached a price you agree on, the house will go into escrow, which is the period of time it takes to finish the remaining aspects of the home buying process.
Some states require that you get a home inspection before the final purchase contract is signed while in others, the inspection takes place once an offer is finalized. Either way, it’s an incredibly important step in the home buying process and your real estate agent can advise you on when to get this taken care of. The home inspector will check the house from top to bottom and find problems that might make you reconsider your offer (faulty foundation, bugs, mold, etc). While yes, you can renegotiate or withdraw your offer without penalty based on the findings of this inspection, you should rest assured that most problems they might find are fixable.
Now is the time to complete the mortgage application and get a home appraisal. Even if you were pre-approved or pre-qualified, the lender will want to essentially check out the home to ensure it’s a good investment. Similarly to a home inspection, the appraiser – a member of a third party company – will ensure that all parties involved are getting a fair deal.
Closing means you’ve signed all the paperwork including the loan documents and is the day you officially get the keys to your new home! You’ll pay all the parties involved including the down payment for your loan, closing costs, and the fees required to process the loan.
And you’re all ready to move into your new home. Congratulations!
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