Representing the interests of a first-time home buyer is one of our favorite things to do as real estate agents. So let’s get down to it and discuss frequently asked questions we usually answer before the home search process begins.
How much home can I afford?
Mortgage lenders usually favor loaning money for housing payments no more than 28% of gross monthly earnings, and total monthly debt payments (credit cards, car payments, etc.) are less than 36% of total gross monthly income. Use our mortgage calculator to determine your monthly payments. Remember to include utility estimates and homeowner’s association fees in your estimates.
What variables do lenders consider when approving a home loan?
There are 5 values which determine if you are a worthy risk to mortgage lenders. Your capacity to meet loan requirements is based on employment history, savings, and monthly debt payments must convince lenders you are worth the risk of a home loan. Your access to capital gives a lender confidence you are responsible with money and you have something other than your income to help pay debt. This is usually in the form of savings, property, investments, and assets that can be converted to cash. The amount of cash used for a down payment will impact your payment. A 3% down payment will get you into a home. But a down payment of 20% will qualify you for lower interest rates. The collateral of the loan. The value of the home is verified by appraisers before the loan is funded and ownership of your is transferred at closing. Everyone knows about credit scores. A 680 or better credit score opens your options to the type of loan programs qualifying you to purchase a home. The higher your credit score, the more favorable terms become on your options for a mortgage. Paying your bills and debt obligations in a timely manner is the best way to qualify for a mortgage, and on favorable terms.
What payments are required when making an offer?
After deciding to make an offer on the home of your choice, an earnest money deposit must accompany the contract. These payments are usually between $1,000 and $5,000. The amount depends on several factors such as contract price, competing offers, seller demands, etc., and it usually accompanies the contract offer. If the offer is accepted, the deposit becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If your offer is rejected, it is returned to you. If you decide to back out of a signed contract without justification, your deposit is forfeited. New homes require larger down payments than traditional arms-length transactions. Each builder requires different down payment amounts. We’ve seen minimum down payments between 2-5% of the base price required for the builder to countersign the contract. Sometimes the minimum deposit is based on sales volume in each subdivision. Expect to pay between $8,000-$15,000 for homes in the usual first-time buyer qualification range. Deposits on upgrades are also handled differently by builders. Some builders set maximum spending amounts on allowable upgrades before requiring the buyer to make upgrade deposits. This practice is necessary to protect the builder when the appraisal on the home is under the contract price. Other builders have standard upgrade packages without deposit requirements, and some require 25%-50% deposits on all upgrades. If you’re buying a new home consult an agent to figure these costs for you.
How much down payment is required?
Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) usually require 3% of the contract price. Loan programs administered by Veterans Affairs (VA) have options for no down payment, and no payment requirement for private mortgage insurance. VA loans have relaxed credit qualifications compared to conventional loans because the lender has flexibility to decide whether the credit rating, debt-to-income ratio, and other variables make the military home buyer a good candidate for a home loan. A funding fee of 2.15% (expect surviving spouses and disabled veterans) also applies. Conventional 80/20 loans require you to pay 20% of the contract price upfront while the loan covers the remaining 80%. If you have the ability to cover 20% of the cost of a home (unusual for a first-time home buyer) you can avoid paying PMI which can save you hundreds every month. FHA borrowers are allowed to use savings and other sources of cash such as a gift from family members, or state and local government grants designated for down payment assistance programs.
What documents are required for loans?
You will need financial statements proving you can afford to buy a home. This is necessary at the start of the home buying process. Everything evolves around your buying power. Starting at the price range of homes you can afford. After providing a qualified lender with initial financial documents, you will receive a pre-qualification letter which declares you have the financial ability to buy the home. Sellers will require your pre-qualification letter accompany a contract offer. Expect to provide a month of pay stubs, bank statements during the last 6 months, and all other documents related to other financial assets.
Do I need a real estate agent?
Most first-time buyers don’t understand they can be represented by a real estate agent without paying for this service. This also pertains to new homes. The seller pays for agent commissions at closing. So not using the tools and experience of an experienced agent is a lost opportunity. We have access to all homes entered into our regional multiple listing service (MLS). We have electronic keys to gain permission and access to view homes, the ability to identify lenders who will protect your interests, and the best home inspectors, contractors, and title companies to identify and resolve problems during the contract process. We interpret, negotiate, and present contracts on your behalf, and help you through the series of inspections and selections during the construction of a new home.
The process of qualifying for a mortgage, finding the right home, contract negotiations, building processes, inspections, risks and liabilities, and performance obligations are best left to experienced and knowledgeable agents. We will represent your best interests at every step between our first meeting until the last document is signed at the closing table. Real estate is serious business, and you should be protected by full-time committed real estate professionals.
How do I find the right lender?
The financing needs of home buyers are usually unique for each borrower. Finding the right loan program requires you to consider different interest rates, fees, and closing cost contributions (especially when buying a new home). We encourage our clients to use lenders we believe are the best fit for their needs while finding the best deal. You should consider loan programs from mortgage companies, credit unions, brokers, and savings and loan institutions who have conventional and government insured loans including FHA, VA, fixed-rate (15 and 30 year), interest-only, and the Dream Maker mortgage program (available to active, guard, and reserve military members, and Department of Defense and Homeland Security employees). This first-time home buyers program is for borrowers with minimum credit scores of 620, $72,250 maximum household income, 5 year home ownership requirement, financing of mortgage insurance, $5,000 toward down payment or closing costs, and lower monthly payments.
How does my credit score affect my mortgage?
First-time buyers often ask us what are the minimum credit scores to qualify for a mortgage. This answer focuses on the most popular loan types. Conventional loans are 650; VA loans are 620; and FHA loans are 580 for programs requiring down payments between 3% to 3.5%. Programs with credit scores between 500-580 require a 10% down payment. The best mortgage rates begin at 740 (850 is considered a perfect credit score). Mortgage rates between 500 and 740 credit scores vary as much as 1.5 percentage points. This difference means hundreds of dollars on monthly payments. Lenders evaluate credit reports through outstanding debt versus the amount of available credit. The borrowers credit history and number of recent inquiries attempting to receive new credit are also important data points for loan approval.
What home characteristics should I consider?
Ask yourself these questions when finding a home which appeals to you.
- Does the floor plan offer enough space for my future? Families planning to expand should purchase accordingly.
- Is the neighborhood in a community which offers the right fit? Nearby recreation and retail amenities are an important part of everyday life.
- Is the location compatible with the right commuting options? How long does it take to get to commuter lots, slug lines, van pools, commuter bus stops, and commuter rail stations? These variables add value to homes in Northern Virginia.
- Are there quality public schools serving the neighborhood where you have found the home of your choice? Ask yourself if there are special interest courses and special needs programs which best serve your family.
- What is the age of the home? Most first-time buyers have little (if any) money to spend after closing on their homes. Buying a home during a traditional transaction can require you to replace the roof, appliances, mechanical systems, and asphalt driveway sooner than anticipated. Some home owners will list their home to avoid paying for these expensive replacements. The home inspectors we recommend will give you an informed opinion of the life expectancy of these items.
- Is the yard large enough to serve your future needs? Children need a safe place to play.
- Will your furniture transfer to the new home without complications? Every buyer we have represented visually places their current furniture in the homes which interest them.
- Will bad weather cause hardships? Isolated properties usually suffer longer power outages after severe storms. Homes like this should be equipped with a generator wired into electrical panels, and long driveways often require a tractor with snow plowing capabilities.
How many listings should I look at before selecting my first home?
If we had to choose a number based on past experience, 15 homes are typical of a first-time buyer. But we will show you as many as it takes until you feel you have found your home. We have toured 160 homes with one client. We have also worked with another client for 2 years showing homes. We search our regional multiple listing service for our clients while supplying them with a link for the same access to home listings. Working as a team with clients allows us to find and discuss all possible matches before arranging showings. If there is something you like, we are going to show it to you.
What can I expect at closing?
Closing documents include loan agreement papers and property records. You will sign these documents to assume responsibility for terms of the loan, and also be required to pay for point(s) if they were part of an agreement to lower the interest rate, as well as title insurance (if necessary). You will also pay for closing costs such as the loan origination fee, appraisal, credit report, survey, taxes, filing fees, etc. Usually closing costs are about 3% of the contract price. Builders offer closing costs credits and free upgrades to entice buyers to use mortgage companies they either own or have a business affiliation. We always ask for the seller to pay for all closing costs so our clients can use this money for moving expenses. But housing markets can dictate the willingness for a sellers to cover all or part of these expenses.