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Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

Posted On: April 4th, 2019 1:23AM

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

 

Buying a home can be nerve-racking, especially if you're a first-time home buyer.

These tips will help you navigate the process, save money and avoid common mistakes. We organized them into four categories:

  • Mortgage down payment tips.

  • Mortgage application tips.

  • House shopping tips.

  • First-time home buyer mistakes to avoid.

Mortgage down payment tips

1. Start saving for a down payment early

It’s common to put 20% down, but many lenders now permit much less, and first-time home buyer programs allow as little as 3% down. But putting down less than 20% may mean higher costs and paying for private mortgage insurance, and even a small down payment can still be hefty. For example, a 5% down payment on a $200,000 home is $10,000.

Play around with this down payment calculator to help you land on a goal amount. Some tips for saving for a down payment include setting aside tax refunds and work bonuses, setting up an automatic savings plan and using an app to track your progress.

2. Explore your down payment and mortgage options

There are lots of mortgage options out there, each with its own combination of pros and cons. If you’re struggling to come up with a down payment, check out these loans:

  • Conventional mortgages They conform to standards set by the government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and require as little as 3% down.

  • FHA loans Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration permit down payments as low as 3.5%.

  • VA loans Loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs sometimes require no down payment at all.

Making a higher down payment will mean having a lower monthly mortgage payment.

If you want the smallest mortgage payment possible, opt for a 30-year fixed mortgage. But if you can afford larger monthly payments, you can get a lower interest rate with a 20-year or 15-year fixed loan. Use our calculator to determine whether a 15-year or 30-year fixed mortgage is a better fit for you. Or you may prefer an adjustable-rate mortgage, which is riskier but guarantees a low interest rate for the first few years of your mortgage.

3. Research state and local assistance programs

In addition to federal programs, many states offer assistance programs for first-time home buyers with perks such as down payment assistance, closing cost assistance, tax credits and discounted interest rates. Your county or municipality may also have first-time home buyer programs.

Mortgage application tips

4. Determine how much home you can afford

Before you start looking for your dream home, you need to know what’s actually within your price range. Use this home affordability calculator to determine how much you can safely afford to spend.

5. Check your credit and pause any new activity

When applying for a mortgage loan, your credit will be one of the key factors in whether you’re approved, and it will help determine your interest rate and possibly the loan terms.

So check your credit before you begin the homebuying process. Dispute any errors that could be dragging down your credit score and look for opportunities to improve your credit, such as making a dent in any outstanding debts.

To keep your score from dipping after you apply for a mortgage, avoid opening any new credit accounts, like a credit card or auto loan, until your home loan closes.

6. Compare mortgage rates

Many home buyers get a rate quote from only one lender, but this often leaves money on the table. Comparing mortgage rates from at least three lenders can save you more than $3,500 over the first five years of your loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Get at least three quotes and compare both rates and fees.

As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.

7. Get a preapproval letter

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.

House shopping tips

8. Hire the right buyer's agent

You’ll be working closely with your real estate agent, so it’s essential that you find someone you get along with well. The right buyer's agent should be highly skilled, motivated and knowledgeable about the area.

9. Pick the right type of house and neighborhood

You may assume you’ll buy a single-family home, and that could be ideal if you want a big yard or a lot of room. But if you’re willing to sacrifice space for less maintenance and extra amenities, and you don’t mind paying a homeowners association fee, a condo or townhouse could be a better fit.

But even if the home is right, the neighborhood could be all wrong. So be sure to:

  • Research nearby schools, even if you don’t have kids, since they affect home value.

  • Look at local safety and crime statistics.

  • Map the nearest hospital, pharmacy, grocery store and other amenities you’ll use.

  • Drive through the neighborhood on various days and at different times to check out traffic, noise and activity levels.

10. Stick to your budget

Look at properties that cost less than the amount you were approved for. Although you can technically afford your preapproval amount, it’s the ceiling — and it doesn’t account for other monthly expenses or problems like a broken dishwasher that arise during homeownership, especially right after you buy. Shopping with a firm budget in mind will also help when it comes time to make an offer.

In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bid on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding. Stick to your budget to avoid a mortgage payment you can’t afford.

11. Make the most of open houses

When you're touring homes during open houses, pay close attention to the home’s overall condition, and be aware of any smells, stains or items in disrepair. Ask a lot of questions about the home, such as when it was built, when items were last replaced and how old key systems like the air conditioning and the heating are.

If other potential buyers are viewing the home at the same time as you, don’t hesitate to schedule a second or third visit to get a closer look and ask questions privately.

First-time home buyer mistakes to avoid

With so much to think about, it’s unsurprising that some first-time home buyers make mistakes they later regret. Here are a few of the most common pitfalls, along with tips to help you avoid a similar fate.

12. Not budgeting for closing costs

In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.

13. Not saving enough for after move-in expenses

Once you've saved for your down payment and budgeted for closing costs, you should also set aside a buffer to pay for what will go inside the house. This includes furnishings, appliances, rugs, updated fixtures, new paint and any improvements you may want to make after moving in.

14. Buying a home for today instead of tomorrow

It's easy to look at properties that meet your current needs. But if you plan to start or expand your family, it may be preferable to buy a larger home now that you can grow into. Consider your future needs and wants and whether the home you’re considering will suit them.

15. Passing up the chance to negotiate

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.

16. Not knowing the limits of a home inspection

After your offer is accepted, you’ll pay for a home inspection to examine the property’s condition inside and out, but the results will only tell you so much.

  • Not all inspections test for things like radon, mold or pests, so be sure you know what's included.

  • Make sure the inspector can access every part of the home, such as the roof and any crawl spaces.

  • Attend the inspection and pay close attention.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your inspector to take a look — or a closer look — at something. And ask questions. No inspector will answer the question, “Should I buy this house?” so you’ll have to make this decision after reviewing the reports and seeing what the seller is willing to fix.

17. Not buying adequate homeowners insurance

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.


Join our First Time Home Buyer Group for more tips.

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Is another housing bubble about to pop?

Posted On: September 30th, 2018 4:02AM

Housing Slowdown? Softening? Whatever You Call It, It's Real and It's Here


By Clare Trapasso | Sep 24, 2018  Realtor.com

 

 

Ever since the whiplash-inducing, bust-and-boom cycle of the U.S. housing market kicked into high gear with last decade's devastating crash and this decade's ever-escalating home prices, bidding wars, and inventory shortages, one question has been top of mind for buyers and sellers alike: Is this "party" ending anytime soon? Lately, those who read economic tea leaves have been hinting that we may be heading toward a significant correction in the go-go-go American housing market. Surely national home price increases have to slow down eventually, right?

It turns out they may be on to something.

 

 “The signs are pointing to a market that's shifting toward buyers," says Danielle Hale, chief economist of realtor.com®. "But in most places, we’re still a long way from a full reversal."

 

Make no mistake: Prices are not exactly tumbling down—at least, not on the national level. And there's no evidence on the horizon of a looming housing bubble about to pop and drag the world economy down with it. Median home list prices are still up 7% year over year this August, according to an analysis of realtor.com data.

 

But hold on—those numbers are a drop-off from the past couple of years. In 2015 things were really rolling: Prices were soaring, multiple offers were the norm in many markets, and the number of homes available was falling fast. Last year, home list prices jumped 10% over the year before. The year before that, it was 9%. So while a 7% rise still sounds like a lot—especially compared with annual inflation of just 2.9%—it's actually a very real sign that the market may finally be coming back down to earth.

And the national figures tell only part of the story. A deep dive into regional housing metrics by the realtor.com data team indicates that some of the nation's highest-profile, bellwether housing markets are starting to slow.

 Housing Slowdown

Housing slowdown?

Tony Frenzel

 

So what does it all mean? Sellers shooting for the stars may not be able to get quite as much as they'd like. And, in a boon to buyers, the number of homes on the market is finally starting to rise. In August, 18 of the 45 largest housing markets, including such heavyweights as San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, and Dallas, saw more properties go up for sale than the previous year. That means folks not only have a better shot at closing on the home of their dreams, but they'll also face less competition. And that controls runaway price inflation.

 

"We've hit that tipping point in a lot of these cities where what sellers think they can get is just not possible for many buyers," says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at real estate information provider ATTOM Data Solutions. "Now the pendulum is swinging away from sellers and back toward buyers."

 

Now housing experts are divided on how much prices will keep going up or whether they'll even—gasp—go flat.  So what does the future hold?

 

Why is the real estate market beginning to slow?


One of the main reasons the housing market is beginning to turn is rising mortgage interest rates.

Do the math: The more expensive it becomes to secure a loan, the less money buyers have left to spend on a property. Rates were up 0.82% year over year to reach 4.65% on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages as of Sept. 20, according to Freddie Mac. And each percentage point uptick adds about $143 to the monthly payments—and nearly $51,500 over the life of a loan—on a median-priced home of $300,000. (That's assuming a 20% down payment.)

 

That's no small chunk of change—and, as Blomquist points out, even a small increase can be enough to push enough buyers out of the game.

 

President Donald Trump's tax plan could also be limiting just how high prices can go, particularly in the priciest parts of the country. That's because buyers can now deduct the mortgage interest they pay on loans up to only $750,000. Previously, they could deduct it for loans up to $1 million.

And while this sounds like a problem reserved for the 1-percenters, in some expensive markets, even starter homes go for around $1 million. Combine that with a $10,000 cap on a combination of property and either sales or income taxes, and it spells trouble for homeowners and buyers in California, New York, and New Jersey. Those states tend to have high property taxes that folks can no longer get a federal break on.

 

Homeowners certainly aren't oblivious to these factors—many of them are rushing to put their homes on the market to get as much as they can before prices begin to come down, say housing experts and real estate agents. The resulting higher inventory gives buyers a bit more power.

 

Could California be slowing its roll?


CA Price Reduction

California price reductions

Tony Frenzel

 

The one state in the country where the cost of housing is hurtling ever more out of reach for the 99-percenters has been California, particularly its coastal cities. The Golden State's median home price is $542,500—well above the national median of nearly $295,000.

But now, after years as one of America's hottest housing markets, California is showing some chinks in its armor. Many overzealous sellers who listed their homes at unrealistically high prices are now being forced to reduce them. The state experienced the nation's biggest increase in the number of homes seeing list price reductions. But just because some sellers overshot doesn't mean that the state's housing is suddenly going through a clearance sale. Overall, median home prices were up 5%, and inventory increased 14% year over year.

 

"We are bumping up against peak prices," says Patrick Carlisle, chief market analyst for the San Francisco Bay Area at the real estate company Compass. "Whether it will just be a slowdown or a plateau or a small adjustment in home values, and how big that adjustment is, that I don't know."

Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, saw the biggest jump in the number of homes on realtor.com seeing price reductions. There, the number of homes where prices were lowered zoomed up 171% in August, even as the number of listings surged 77%. The likely culprit: rampant overpricing. It turns out home costs can't go up forever, even in the shadow of Google and Apple headquarters.

Santa Clara–based real estate broker Rick Smith is seeing the most price reductions for higher-end properties in the $3 million-and-up range. But prices on homes located farther away from the bigger companies are also falling as folks are looking for shorter commutes to work. And buyers are more hesitant to take the plunge.

 

"People are concerned if we hit peak and I buy now, what happens?" says Smith, of Windermere Real Estate. So they're waiting to see what happens.

 

Can Seattle's double-digit price growth go on forever?


Now don't get too excited: Median prices in Seattle, the birthplace of tech behemoth Amazon, aren't coming down. (They're about $552,600 for the metro area and $692,875 within the city limits.)

Prices are still sky high in Seattle

Mike Kane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But that doesn't mean sellers these days can slap whatever price tag they want on their residences—and add some extra zeros. Many may have gotten overzealous in what they wanted to fetch—the number of listings on realtor.com with price reductions was up a whopping 76% in August year over year. That's the second-biggest jump among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country. And it may be a blinking red light signaling that the market may be about to cool.

"A lot of people think that the market is peaking and are looking to potentially cash out" while they can still fetch the most money, says Windermere Real Estate's chief economist, Matthew Gardner. "We've been on double-digit price growth for years, and that is clearly unsustainable."

Overall prices are still soaring—at least for now. They rose 14% year over year, to reach $552,550 in August. They were up 13% the year before that and 7% in the one prior.

But prices are expected to increase more slowly in the near future, as there are more homes going up for sale, giving buyers a bit more choice—and negotiating power. Andres Carbacho-Burgos, a senior economist focused on housing at Moody’s Analytics, predicts that home price growth will slow to just 2% to 3% annually over the next few years.

 

The boomtowns: Austin, TX, and Nashville, TN


Austin Boom

 

Austin boom

Tony Frenzel

 

Then there are the smaller cities, like Austin, TX, and Nashville, TN, that burst onto the national scene just a few years ago—poster children for the supercharged housing recovery. Home prices rose to meteoric heights as builders raced to put up new abodes and transplants from even higher-priced metros flooded the cities. At the same time, their populations shot up 18.5% and 10.6% respectively from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2017, according to U.S. Census data.

 

And then, despite all the hype, list prices did the unthinkable—they began to fall. Austin is a particular eye-opener: List prices dipped about 3%, to a median of $362,000 in August compared with the previous year, according to our realtor.com analysis. The year before that they dipped 2%. And while median sales prices (what these abodes actually fetched) actually rose 4.2% for the year, according to CoreLogic, it's the slowest rate of growth since 2010.

 

"Home prices have just gone up too fast," ATTOM's Blomquist says of Austin. "It doesn't mean that all of a sudden it's a market that's going to crash. But it does mean there are limits to what people can afford."

 

Austin Boom

Luxury homes in Austin

 

Four years ago, real estate agent Jason Bernknopf was seeing move-in ready homes in desirable central Austin fetch six to 10 offers. Two years ago, similar homes were getting two to six offers. Lately, multiple offers are more rare.

 

"Now things don't go in the first day necessarily. You have to wait three to four days," says Bernknopf, of AustinRealEstate.com. "Sellers are having to reduce some of their prices."

 

Carbacho-Burgos, of Moody's Analytics, expects prices to fall about 3% in Austin over the next few years, and level off in Nashville in the coming year or two.

 

A similar pattern is emerging in Nashville: The median list price on realtor.com in the country music hot spot was about $356,000 in August, representing a 1% dip from the previous year. But the median sale price climbed 7.9% year over year, to $286,000 in June, according to the latest CoreLogic data—a slower price increase than the 11.3% rise of the previous year.

 

Nashville real estate broker Brian Copeland, of Doorbell Real Estate, attributes the change to the finite number of buyers.

 

"There was a blitz of buyers in the marketplace, and now they've found their homes," he says.

But he balks at labeling the city a seller's or a buyer's market. Instead, it's moving toward "an equilibrium market," where buyers aren't whipped into a frenzy bidding on homes that went on the market hours ago and sellers can still get nearly all of their asking prices.

 

Nashville affiliate broker Lisa Peebles-Chagnon, of Nashville Luxury Estates, is beginning to see some pushback from buyers. Sellers, particularly those in the $500,000-and-up range, are waking up to the fact that, if they want to fetch top dollar, they need to clean and stage their abodes. In addition, they'll need to have it pre-inspected, with any maintenance problems corrected.

 

Nashville Home

A three-bedroom home in Nashville listed at $775K

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Freakout alert: Is another housing bubble about to pop?


It's time to address the T. rex in the room: Could lower price appreciation, an increase in inventory, and more price cuts on individual homes spell imminent disaster for the U.S. real estate market? Could we actually be primed for another housing bubble?

 

Most housing experts aren't worried. That's because the reasons behind the crazy-high home prices are different now than they were when the market crashed in 2008. And there are more checks in place to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.

 

For starters, it's become much harder to get a mortgage since the housing bust a decade ago. Ask anyone who's experienced it. Folks can't come in off the street claiming they're making big bucks and score a lucrative mortgage anymore—without documentation or good credit scores. Those who do get a mortgage are often more thoroughly vetted and are therefore less likely to default and go into foreclosure.

And despite more "For Sale" signs going up, there is still a very real housing shortage at a time when there is strong demand for homes. So it's not as if a ton of folks are purchasing scores of homes that they can't afford, as there simply aren't a ton of available properties on the market. And builders aren't putting up enough abodes to alleviate that problem due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of available land, construction labor, and regulatory burdens.

 

“It’s hard to see this as the bubble popping in any way close to what we saw 10 years ago," says ATTOM's Blomquist. "I see it more as a deflating, letting some air out of the balloon ... [so there isn't] a bigger pop down the road."

 

Data Analysis by Lance Lambert.

Source: https://www.realtor.com/news/trends/housing-market-finally-becoming-buyers-market

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