Making the decision to buy a new home is a life-altering event…in a good way. But the process can be daunting. Take the following advice from CNNMoney into consideration before heading out on your home-buying journey.
1. Don't buy if you can't stay put. Given today’s challenging marketplace, don’t buy a home unless you can commit to staying there for at least a few years. The days of flipping for profit are long gone and you stand to lose money if you sell too soon after buying.
2. Shore up your credit. Securing a mortgage in today’s market requires excellent credit so take the time to clean up your credit report well before you begin looking for a home.
3. Be honest about what you can really afford. The rule of thumb is that you can buy housing that runs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. But CNNMoney recommends using one of the many calculators available online to get a better handle on how your income, debts, and expenses affect what you can afford.
4. If you can't put down the usual 20 percent, you may still qualify for a loan. There are a variety of public and private lenders who, if you qualify, can provide options in terms of interest rates and down payments.
5. Schools affect home values. Even if children aren’t a part of your life now or in the near future, look at homes in areas supported by a good school system. Good schools are paramount for many homebuyers and have a direct impact on the value of your home.
6. Work with a real estate professional. Even though the Internet gives buyers unprecedented access to home listings, most new buyers (and many more experienced ones) are better off using a professional agent. Today’s market requires expert guidance through every stage of the home-buying process.
7. Choose carefully between points and rate. When picking a mortgage, you usually have the option of paying additional points - a portion of the interest that you pay at closing - in exchange for a lower interest rate. If you stay in the house for a long time - say three to five years or more - it's usually a better deal to take the points, says CNNMoney. The lower interest rate will save you more in the long run.
8. Get pre-approved. This will help you avoid the emotional rollercoaster of falling in love with houses you can’t afford. Not to be confused with pre-qualification, which is based on a cursory review of your finances, pre-approval from a lender is based on your actual income, debt and credit history.
9. Make an educated bid. Work with your real estate professional to make the right opening bid. Bids should be based on the sales trend of similar homes in the neighborhood, so review with your agent sales of similar homes in the last three months.
10. Hire a home inspector. In addition to the appraiser your lender hires, you should also hire your own home inspector, preferably an engineer with experience in doing home surveys in the area where you are buying. His or her job will be to point out potential problems that could require costly repairs down the road.