Begin by house hunting online, whether your agent is sending you homes listed on the market through the local multiple listing service, or you're checking out consumer-facing marketing sites like Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com or Redfin. It’s easy to narrow your online searches by setting boundaries around the neighborhood or general part of the city you hope to buy in.
If saving up to pay the total price of a house in cash isn’t reasonable for your family’s timeline, at least save for a down payment of 20% or more. Then you won’t have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the mortgage company in case you can’t make your payments and end up in foreclosure. PMI usually costs 1% of the total loan value and is added to your monthly payment.
Pre-approval is yet another option that is available. For pre-approval a credit check is run and the amount of available down payment is taken into consideration. The lender also looks at any owed debt and even if the person is a first time home buyer. This results in an estimated pre-approved amount that is typically favored over pre-qualification.
Interest rates, including those offered on mortgage, can be volatile and subject to change. A 0.25 percent rise in interest rate can significantly increase your repayment amount, repayment tenure or both. It is advisable to lock the interest rate for the loan in advance, instead of being at the mercy of the market fluctuations which can be a big risk if the rates rise before you finalize your property purchase. Pre-approved mortgage offers the facility to offer you a rate lock, which means that you can secure a favorable interest rate for the loan. Though chargeable rates are subject to multiple factors, like applicant’s credit score, geographic region, property and the type of loan applied for, attempts to lock in at favorable rates can be beneficial.

"This investment shouldn’t be entered into without someone who knows the market, the neighborhood, local trends, specific values, and how to navigate the process," says George Lawton, licensed real estate agent with RE/MAX Over the Mountain in Birmingham, AL. "A Realtor who is your advocate and is looking out for your needs can simplify this process and make it enjoyable. But don’t just hire your neighbor’s mom who does this part time for Christmas money. Interview a few that are recommended by friends and family and see who you feel most comfortable with. You may be working together for months, and you want it to be a good relationship."
Ask your real estate agent for information on crime rates and the quality of schools around your prospective neighborhoods. Calculate your new commute times to see if they seem manageable. Visit the neighborhood at different times and days to check for traffic conditions, noise levels, and if people are comfortable being outdoors. Only choose a neighborhood that you and your family feel good about.
Beyond pride of ownership, it's important to realize another benefit. First, real estate moves in cycles, sometimes up, sometimes down, yet over the years, real estate has consistently appreciated. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight tracks the movements of single-family home values across the country. Its House Price Index breaks down the changes by region and metropolitan area. Many people view their home investment as a hedge against inflation.
While getting pre-approved for a mortgage is not necessary to close a deal, it can help you close the deal quicker. In turn, being pre-approved can give you more bargaining power when negotiating as it signals to the seller that you have strong financial backing. Getting pre-approved for mortgage also allows you to know the limit up to which you can go for purchasing a property. It helps in saving time and effort while searching for the properties that fit into your budget.
This is also a prime time to decide whether you'll hire a real estate agent, if you haven't already. While you're under no obligation to do so, there are several potential benefits to working with one. First of all, an agent can provide access to more home options than you'll likely find yourself, as well as set up viewing appointments. Since home-buying can be an emotional process, an agent can also act as a mediator between you and the seller.
“Realtors do a lot of your groundwork up front for you by contacting listing agents to set up showings and help you negotiate the purchase,” says Brandon Gentile, CEO of the Legacy Group Real Estate Team in Clarkston, Mich. “The best part is, a buyer doesn’t pay for working with a realtor. The service is free for a buyer, as sellers pay all the commission.” For more, see How to Find the Best Real Estate Agent.
Many first-time buyers wait until they’ve found a home they want to buy before taking to a lender, but there are many benefits to getting pre-qualified early. Pre-qualification can help you shop in your price range, act fast when you find a house you want to make an offer on, and catch — and correct — any errors on your credit report before they cause a problem with your loan. This could help save you thousands in the long run because an error on your credit report could result in a lower credit score, leading to a higher interest rate.
In a quick conversation with you about your income, assets and down payment, a lender can prequalify you to buy a house. Getting preapproved takes a little more work. A lender will need to verify your financial information and submit your loan for preliminary underwriting. But it pays off when you begin your home search because a preapproval letter shows that you’re a serious buyer.
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.
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