By Katharine Davis, RE/MAX Editor
Yes, I know the leaves are falling, the temperatures are dropping and the holidays are fast approaching. But my sights are set on spring – the season when my husband and I hope to become first-time homebuyers.
Spring may seem ages away now, but fall is actually the perfect time to start planning for a post-winter purchase. In actuality, it’s less about the season – real estate isn’t tied to weather, after all – and more about the time frame needed to properly prepare.
If you’re like me, you dream about buying a house but wake up to the reality of loose-end finances and the overwhelming prospect of a monthly mortgage. You – and, specifically, I – need these extra months to get ready for one of life’s biggest investments.
So how to prepare?
1. Check your credit – Requesting a credit report is actually one of the easiest things you can do; clearing fraudulent activity is one of the hardest. That’s why it’s important to check your credit history early in the process if you’re thinking about buying. If you find something negative on your report, it could take months to clear things up. The U.S. government allows for one free report each year from each of the three national credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Visit annualcreditreport.com for your free reports. It's a great first step.
2. Pay down debt – This might seem like a no-brainer, but banks don’t want to see that you have a whole lot of stuff and not a whole lot of money. Banks need to know you’ll be able to pay their loan first and foremost, and they like to see a high credit score, which debt negatively affects. So start paying off those credit cards, and put off purchasing that new car or making any other major purchases until after you’ve secured a mortgage. Speaking of mortgages…
3. Build a down payment – Conventional wisdom says a down payment should be no less than 20 percent of the home price. A 20-percent down payment is something to shoot for, but it's not necessarily required or entirely realistic, particularly for first-time homebuyers. A 3.5 percent down payment is the minimum required to secure an FHA loan. So although you might not end up bringing 20 percent to the transaction, you will have to prepare to bring some cash to the transaction.
4. Research neighborhoods – This is where the fun starts. If you’re not sure which part of town you’re looking to live, get out and explore! Drive around, walk the streets, visit the shops and eat in the restaurants. If you don’t see yourself living there, then move on to the next community. And don’t forget to research school districts – even if you don’t have children or don’t have children in public schools. Homes in good school districts move the fastest when it’s time to sell – should that day ever come.
5. Get pre-approved – Unless you’re paying cash, nothing shows a seller you’re ready to buy quite like having a pre-approval letter from a lender. Plus, you’ll know exactly how much you can borrow, which can guide you toward properties in your price range. Plan to secure a pre-approval just before you start looking at homes. Meet with several lenders to determine which company you trust most and which one can offer you the best terms and interest rate. Oftentimes, your real estate agent can provide you the names of reputable lenders.
Find a local RE/MAX agent who can walk you through all the steps involved in buying a home and ultimately help you find the one that's your perfect fit.