Whether you are a first-time home buyer or an experienced homeowner, buying a new home is always stressful. Here’s a handy checklist of six things you can do up front to make the process a lot easier. Before you start packing, here’s what you need to do.
- Prepare a budget. It is helpful to have a clear picture of your family’s finances before you think about calling a Realtor or applying for a mortgage. List all your monthly fixed expenses, such as car payments, current rent or mortgage, utilities, school tuition, and loan payments. Add categories for other expenses such as food and entertainment.
- List your debts. If you have existing credit card debts, student loans or other debts that require regular monthly payments, list them so you know exactly how much you owe. Your housing debt expenses (including taxes and insurance) as a percentage of your gross monthly income should be 25-28%. Your installment debt ratio (credit cards and other consumer debt) should be around 10-15%. Your total debt to income ratio should not be more than 40%.
- Get pre-approved. #1 and 2 above are important because you want to get pre-approved for a loan before you start shopping. This is an important safeguard, and can save you time and money. Getting pre-qualified means that you give a lender your overall financial picture, including your debt, income and assets. The lender evaluates this information and gives you a ballpark figure of the mortgage amount for which you could qualify. Pre-qualification can be done over the phone or on the Internet, usually at no cost. Pre-approved, on the other hand, means that a lender evaluates your debt ratios, your credit report, and your overall ability to repay a loan and makes you a loan for a predetermined amount.
- Make a list. Before you begin working with a Realtor, you need to make a two-column list of needs vs. wants. Be upfront with your Realtor about exactly what constitutes a deal-breaker in your purchasing process. If more than one person is involved in making the final decision, be sure that you are more or less in agreement about needs and wants. If one spouse wants a short commute and the other has visions of a country estate, you could have a problem. Resolve these issues ahead of time.
- Find a Realtor. Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start looking. You want to find a Realtor who represents you and puts your interests first. The best way to find a Realtor is to ask friends and family for recommendations. However, if you are new to the area and don’t know anyone, you may need to visit several firms and interview several Realtors. Chemistry is important. You need to look for someone who is committed to meeting your needs and who knows the area and price range you’re looking in.
Buying a home could well be the single most important decision you will ever make, both financially and emotionally. However, if you do your homework and prepare thoughtfully for the process, it can also be a fun and rewarding experience. Happy house hunting!