For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"
The good news? There is a tried-and-true formula, involving multiple good financial steps and habits, that can lead you directly to the purchase of your dream home, and on a fast schedule, too. The downside is simple and direct -- if you don't follow the home buying formula, your chances of landing a new home are significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Contingency clauses also offer a form of protection. "A mortgage financing contingency clause protects you if, say, you lose your job and the loan falls through or the appraisal price comes in over the purchase price. Should one of these events occur, the buyer gets back the money he used to secure the property. Without the clause, he can lose that money and still be obligated to buy the house," explains Justin Lopatin, a mortgage planner with American Street Mortgage Co., to MSN.
You can get pre-qualified for a mortgage, which simply gives you an estimate of how much a lender may be willing to lend based on your income and debts. But as you get closer to buying a home, it’s smart to get a preapproval, where the lender thoroughly examines your finances and confirms in writing how much it's willing to lend you, and under what terms. Having a preapproval letter in hand makes you look much more serious to a seller and can give you an upper hand over buyers who haven’t taken this step.

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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.
Almost 95 percent of all home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few clicks of the mouse, homebuyers can search through hundreds of online listings, view virtual tours, and sort through dozens of photographs and aerial shots of neighborhoods and homes. Spend some time defining your goals and have a pretty good idea of the type of home and neighborhood you want. By the time you reach your real estate agent's office, you are halfway to home ownership.
Being under contract means you can still back out if you learn anything unexpected about the house. And a home inspector is the one who finds any potential surprises. It’ll cost around $300 to $500 for your home inspection, but it’s well worth saving you from buying a house with a major problem. Your agent can often help you find an inspector, or you can go through the American Society of Home Inspectors.
Before you start working with a Realtor and seriously searching for you home, you should find a mortgage lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage. It shows your Realtor and the sellers that you’re qualified to purchase a home, and it ensures you know the price range you should be looking for. In a competitive market, many sellers won’t consider an offer without a letter from a lender ensuring that the potential buyer can qualify for the mortgage.
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.
Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare insurance rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less-expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may need to buy separate flood insurance.
Homeowners insurance and property taxes: You’ll typically have to prepay homeowners insurance and property taxes at closing, and you should pay them on an ongoing basis as long as you own the home. The cost varies depending on your home and location. If you have an escrow account set up, these charges are rolled up into your monthly mortgage payment. But if you don’t have an escrow account, you’re in charge of paying them on your own, and you may have the choice of paying them monthly or annually.

I believe some of the best advice is to PREPARE! I hear so many people say “Ok, we wanna buy a house now” and it’s like…WOAH WOAH WOAH…you can’t just go out & get one! There’s several things that need to happen beforehand. Unfortunately, money management is not a strong point for many of us young folks, but I’m getting better at it (and helping my husband do the same!). Thank you! 🙂
Once the buyer has found the perfect home, it is time to make an offer on the property. This is an area in which a real estate agent is invaluable. He or she will base the offer price off of comparable homes that have sold recently in the area. The agent will draft a contract that is agreeable to the home buyer. The contract will include the price of the offer, as well as terms that the seller and the buyer will need to meet in order to achieve a successful transaction. The agent will ensure that the contract meets all of the necessary legal requirements.
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.

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.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at [email protected]
As a buyer, you have the right to a professional home inspection before you purchase the house, and you would be crazy not to do it! This is one of the most important precautions you can take before purchasing a home because it keeps you from being blindsided by structural issues or expensive repairs. If the inspection reveals major problems with the home, you can ask the seller to fix the problem, reduce the price, or cancel the contract.
What to do instead: Have a frank discussion with anyone who offers money as a gift toward your down payment about how much they are offering and when you’ll receive the money. Make a copy of the check or electronic transfer showing how and when the money traded hands from the gift donor to you. Lenders will verify this through bank statements and a signed gift letter.
As a buyer, just keep in mind that mortgage pre-approval is different from mortgage pre-qualification. Pre-qualify, and you're undergoing a much simpler process that can give you a ballpark figure of what you can afford to borrow, but with no promise from the lender. Getting pre-approved is more of a pain since you'll have to provide tons of paperwork, but it's worth the trouble since it guarantees you're creditworthy and can truly buy a home.
Want a trusty home-buying guide by your side? Most first-timers will want a great real estate agent—specifically a buyer's agent, who will help you find the right houses, negotiate a great real estate deal, and explain all the nuances of home buying along the way. The best part? Their services are free to first-time home buyers (since the seller pays the sales commission). Here's how to find a real estate agent in your area.
I believe some of the best advice is to PREPARE! I hear so many people say “Ok, we wanna buy a house now” and it’s like…WOAH WOAH WOAH…you can’t just go out & get one! There’s several things that need to happen beforehand. Unfortunately, money management is not a strong point for many of us young folks, but I’m getting better at it (and helping my husband do the same!). Thank you! 🙂

That’s why Recchia suggests keeping your risk tolerance in mind. “If you find great security in owning your house, save more money for a large down payment and find a loan that works for you. The higher the down payment, the less in debt you will be; the less debt, the better you will be able to weather economic storms and still own your house,” she says.


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.
This is the day you get your house keys—but first, you have some serious paperwork to do. You’ll set an appointment for closing on your house, and you’ll need to bring your driver’s license, a cashier’s check for your down payment and closing costs (which range from 2 to 5 percent of the home’s purchase price) — and a lot of patience. You will sign and initial dozens of papers.
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The last step in securing a home mortgage, and ultimately buying a home, is getting an official loan commitment for a specific home and for a specific sales price. Once again, you'll undergo a credit check, so make sure you don't take out any loans or new credit cards right up to home closing date - that could impact your mortgage loan in a negative way. At this point, you don't want to raise any "red flags" to lenders, so keep your personal balance sheet clean during the mortgage loan approval process. Once you've cleared this hurdle, you'll get a loan approval letter for the specific home you want to buy.
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.

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.
1. Credit history. Run a credit report on yourself – which is free to do once a year and doesn’t affect your credit by going to annualcreditreport.com and receiving a report from each the three major credit-reporting agencies – and focus on the areas you can improve. You may have credit card balances to pay off, or a few missed student loan payments from a couple years ago. You may also simply need more time to pass from a recent borrowing mistake. The more time that passes from the last blemish on your credit report, the less likely a lender is to consider it a red flag to give you a loan.
First-time homebuyers are often moving from rentals that use less energy (gas, oil, electric, propane, etc.) and water than a larger new home will. It is easy to be ambushed by soaring rates when your new house has ceilings higher than your rental – or older windows that leak air. Then there are unexpected utilities, such as buying gas to power a lawnmower. These costs can blow a budget.
Pre-approval requires the lender to pull the credit information (see Step 1) and assess your financial situation. The lender will then give you a letter that states the amount they would be willing to lend you. If you get in a multiple-offer scenario, being pre-approved may give you an edge because the seller will have more confidence that you will be approved for a loan large enough to purchase their home.
Once the offer has been approved, the buyer will need to secure the mortgage. This is done by complete the mortgage application. If a person has not been pre-approved or pre-qualified, it will likely take longer to complete this process. Ideally, a buyer should "shop around" for the best rates and terms. Most buyers choose fixed rates rather than adjustable rates.
Owing to the high costs, property purchase often remains once-in-a-lifetime activity for many individuals. It may seem like the closing process is a lot of complex work, it is worth the time and effort to get things right instead of hurrying up and signing a deal that you don’t understand. Be wary of the pressure created to close the deal fast by the involved agents and entities who are there to help you for their cut, but may not be really responsible for the problems you may face in the long run from a bad deal.
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.
Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
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