Once the seller accepts your offer, it’s time to apply for a mortgage. You typically have 45 to 60 days to fulfill your purchase contract, so you need to move fast. Within three days of submitting your application, your lender sends you a loan estimate, including your approximate interest rate, monthly payment and closing costs. Review this document carefully. To move forward, you need to verify your income and assets. This requires extensive documentation, which is necessary for the lender to ensure you’ll be a successful homeowner who can handle loan payments over the long term.
We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
"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."
Right from an escrow account to real estate attorney, all involved services and entities cost money which can snowball into a big amount. Many such services take advantage of consumers' ignorance by charging high fees. Junk fees, a series of charges that a lender imposes at the closing of a mortgage and is often unexpected by the borrower and not clearly explained by the lender, are a big cost. They include items like administrative fees, application review fees, appraisal review fees, ancillary fees, processing fees and settlement fees. Even fees for legitimate closing services can be inflated. If you're willing to speak up and stand your ground, you can usually get junk fees and other charges eliminated or at least reduced.
Wirtz says one of the things in a home that seems to always break or have issues within the first year of its purchase is the air conditioner. But it’s not always because it breaks down – she says it simply might not be as effective as the new homeowner wants it to be. “It may not be cooling like they’re used to,” Wirtz says. You can either learn to deal with a little less cooling, bring in an HVAC pro to inspect and fix any problems or research any DIY fixes that might get it cooling better – like air conditioner cleaning spray.
Now you're getting into serious home buying territory. Once a bank or mortgage lender gives you a price range for a home mortgage, you can go ahead and attempt to get pre-approved for a home loan. In a pre-approval scenario, a mortgage lender will dig deeper into your personal finances. You'll fill out a mortgage application (and pay a fee to do so), undergo an extensive credit check and answer any questions a mortgage lender may have about your ability to repay a mortgage on time, and in full. If you're approved, you'll receive a conditional commitment from a mortgage lender to green light a home loan for a specific loan amount and with a specific interest rate range. A pre-approval document from a lender is pure gold for a home buyer, as it shows a demonstrated ability to procure an actual mortgage, and shows a home seller that you're a serious buyer.
Before you head out home buying, you should seek pre-approval from a lender for a home loan. This is where you meet with a loan officer, ideally a few at various mortgage companies. Each mortgage lender will scrutinize your financial background—such as your debt-to-income ratio and assets—and use this info to determine whether they're willing to loan you money, and what size monthly payment you can realistically afford. This will help you target homes in your price range. And that's good, since a purchase price that's beyond your financial reach will make you sweat your mortgage payment and puts you at risk of defaulting on your loan.
Before you even look at a single property, you need to know exactly how much you can afford. There are several online calculator tools you can use, but these tools are only estimates. Use these tools as a guide, but then adjust the amount based on your individual situation. How much is your current rent payment? Did you meet that payment each month with ease, or was it a bit of a struggle each month? The payment you can afford right now is a good indicator of what you'll be able to afford in your new home.
Try also to get an idea about the real estate market in the area. For example, if homes are selling close to or even above the asking price, that shows the area is desirable. If you have the flexibility, consider doing your house hunt in the off-season -- meaning, generally, the colder months of the year. You'll have less competition and sellers may be more willing to negotiate.
What to do instead: Ask your real estate agent to help you track down neighborhood crime stats and school ratings. Measure the drive from the neighborhood to your job to gauge commuting time and proximity to public transportation. Visit the neighborhood at different times to get a sense of traffic, neighbor interactions and the overall vibe to see if it’s an area that appeals to you.
Don't dip too far into your savings though. Try to keep at least 3-6 months of expenses set aside for emergencies. After all, you will be responsible for maintenance and repairs now. If you don't have enough money available in your regular accounts, you can access up to $10,000 without penalties from IRAs for a first-time home purchase and your employer's retirement plan may allow you to borrow from your retirement account with a longer time period to pay off home loans. There's always the "family and friends" route too.
Let the serious shopping begin! By now you’ve talked things over with your agent and you both know what you really want and need in a home. Armed with this, your price range and knowledge of the local area, look at listings online and with your agent, who will come up with properties for you to tour. Chances are you’ll discover some new things to love or hate about homes and refine your search.
You can get approved for a home loan by completing a mortgage application. Be prepared to provide proof of your financial data, such as your monthly income, total debt payments, and your credit score. Also, have an idea of how much house you can afford, as well as how much cash you have available for a down payment. Meeting with a mortgage lender before you are ready to purchase a home can also help you set financial goals, such as knowing how much to save up for a down payment, or improving your credit score.
The home inspection is an added expense that some first-time homebuyers don’t expect and might feel safe declining, but professional inspectors often notice things most of us don’t. This step is especially important if you’re buying an existing home as opposed to a newly constructed home, which might come with a builder’s warranty. If the home needs big repairs you can’t see, an inspection helps you negotiate with the current homeowner to have the issues fixed before closing or adjust the price accordingly so you have extra funds to address the repairs once you own the home.
What to do instead: Don’t open new credit cards, close existing accounts, take out new loans or make large purchases on existing credit accounts in the months leading up to applying for a mortgage through closing day. Pay down your existing balances to below 30 percent of your available credit limit, and pay your bills on time and in full every month.
“Transfer documents” refers to the documents relating to the transfer of ownership from the seller to the buyer. Most documents will be signed by the seller and delivered to the buyer for your review. Documents include: 1) deed, 2) bill of sale, 3) affidavit of title (or seller’s affidavit), 4) transfer tax declaration, 5) transfer tax declaration, and 6) buyer / seller settlement statement. It’s important that you do your due diligence and read through the transfer documents to make sure everything says what it should say.
Before contacting a lender, it’s smart to check your credit report. By law, you can get a free report once a year through Annualcreditreport.com. The report pulls data from the three major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Having the information in hand before you talk with a lender lets you dispute any errors in the reporting. Based on your credit report, Fair Isaac & Co. (FICO) assigns you a credit score ranging from 350 to 850. The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate on your mortgage. Scores are based on:
Typically, purchase offers are contingent on a home inspection of the property to check for signs of structural damage or things that may need fixing. Your real estate agent usually will help you arrange to have this inspection conducted within a few days of your offer being accepted by the seller. This contingency protects you by giving you a chance to renegotiate your offer or withdraw it without penalty if the inspection reveals significant material damage.