"Building equity in a home can be a good way to grow your wealth, but it's important that you do so in a way that doesn't stretch your finances too thin," he cautions. "Things can get really ugly when the housing market declines, so it may be a good idea to take out a 30-year mortgage but accelerate your monthly payments as if you had a 15-year mortgage. If you ever need to lower your payment in the future, you'll still have that option."
A lot can be up for negotiation in the homebuying process, which can result in major savings. Are there any major repairs you can get the seller to cover, either by fully handling them or by giving you a credit adjustment at closing? Is the seller willing to pay for any of the closing costs? If you’re in a buyer's market, you may find the seller will bargain with you to get the house off the market.
From this chronological, step-by-step explanation of the home-buying process, you will learn everything you should be thinking about and doing at each point of the process. Sure, the process may still be difficult, stressful and draining at times, but at least you’ll know what to expect and understand what’s happening at every point along the way. You don’t have to rent forever if you don’t want to. (For resources on deciding if you’re ready to be a homeowner, see To Rent or Buy? The Financial Issues and To Rent or Buy? There’s More to It Than Money.)
Homeowners insurance is a contract that protects both you and your lender in case of loss or damage to your property. The contract is known as an insurance policy, and the periodic payment is known as an insurance premium. The monthly homeowners insurance premium is often included as part of the monthly mortgage payment, with the insurance portion of the payment going into your escrow account.
If your available cash doesn't cover your needs, you have several options. First-time homebuyers can withdraw up to $10,000 without penalty from an Individual Retirement Account, if you have one, though you must pay taxes on the amount. You can also receive a cash gift of up to $15,000 a year from each of your parents without triggering a gift tax.
You can also order a free copy of your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com as long as you haven't done so in the last 12 months. One study showed that about 70% of credit reports have errors in them so check to see if there are any in yours that could be hurting your credit score and if so, be sure to have them corrected. It’s bad enough to suffer from your own mistakes. You don’t want to suffer from someone else’s too. Finally, you may want to put a security freeze on your credit reports to protect you from identity theft.
Escrow is an account held by a third party on behalf of the two principal parties involved in a transaction. Since home sale involves multiple steps which takes time that can span weeks, the best way to mitigate the risk of either the seller or the buyer getting ripped off is to have a neutral third party hold all the money and documents related to the transaction until everything has been settled. Once all procedural formalities are over, the money and documents are moved from the custody of the escrow account to the seller and buyer, thereby guaranteeing a secure transaction.
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Your inspector will provide a detailed report of everything in the home that could be repaired. Some of the items may not be a big deal, but some may be expensive or important repairs, such as the need for a new roof or HVAC system. You and your Realtor can request that the seller make some repairs, and the seller will have a few days to let you know whether they are willing to make the changes or reduce the price of the house. If the inspection uncovers major problems, such as termites or an unstable foundation, it can be your way out of a sales contract.
In a seller’s market, experts advise buyers to overlook cosmetic issues, such as loose fixtures, water stains (as long as it’s not the symptom of a larger problem), failed window seals and cracked tiles. However, some buyers might be in the position to negotiate these repairs with the seller. One option is to ask for a cash-back credit at the close of escrow. This will save you some money and you can oversee the repairs yourself.
2) Figure out how much home you can afford. Remember, just because the mortgage company will loan you the money doesn't mean you should take it. There are rules of thumb like not spending more than 28% of your income on mortgage payments, but every person's situation is different. Two people may have the same income, but one may need to save more for retirement or choose to make large private school tuition payments for their kids. Take a look at your current saving and spending needs to see how much you can realistically afford to pay each month and don't forget to leave some room for the potential "hidden expenses" of home ownership like utility bills, HOA fees if applicable, repairs and maintenance.
Seek more than one estimate for expensive repairs, such as roof replacements. A good real estate agent should be able to give you referrals to contractors who can give you estimates. But you also should seek independent referrals from friends, family and co-workers so you can compare those estimates against ones you receive from contractors your agent refers.
Prior to the closing date, the buyer will want to verify with his or her agent, lender, and escrow company that all of the necessary documents have been signed and terms met. If they have not this should be taken care of immediately to ensure that there are no last-minute problems. The buyer will also want to verify what forms of payment are acceptable. On the closing date, closing costs and fees will be paid.
Once a person knows how much he or she can afford in terms of a house, it is time to look at the details of where to live. Often people choose a location-based off of factors such as family and work. Although a person may have a general idea of where he or she would like to own a home, it is important to consider all of the options, including urban versus suburban locations. Urban areas are generally in the city while suburban areas are located at the outskirts of the city. People with families may appreciate the suburban areas, which generally have more schools and larger homes and yards. Urban areas are typically more expensive, but because they are at the heart of the city there are more activities, culture, and restaurants. Small towns and rural areas located outside of large cities are also an option and offer more sedate living than larger more urban areas. A person should visit potential locations keeping in mind his or her family's lifestyle and commute.
Even when your purchase offer has already been accepted, if inspections reveal any problems, you may want to renegotiate the home's purchase price to reflect the cost of any repairs you will need to make. You could also keep the purchase price the same but try to get the seller to pay for repairs. Though you may not have much scope to demand for repairs or a price reduction in case you're purchasing the property "as is," there is no harm in asking. You can also still back out without penalty if a major problem is found that the seller can't or won't fix it.
Before you start looking for a home, you will need to know how much you can actually spend. The best way to do that is to get prequalified for a mortgage. To get prequalified, you just need to provide some financial information to your mortgage banker, such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. Your lender will review this information and tell you how much we can lend you. This will tell you the price range of the homes you should be looking at. Later, you can get preapproved for credit, which involves providing your financial documents (W-2 statements, paycheck stubs, bank account statements, etc.) so your lender can verify your financial status and credit.