5 Things Every First-Time Home Buyer Needs to Know
Here’s what every first-time home buyer needs to know to dive into house hunting with confidence—and with as few curveballs as possible. Whether it’s getting a mortgage, choosing a real estate agent, shopping for a home, or making a down payment, we lay out the must-knows of buying for the first time below.
1. How much home you can afford as a first-time home buyer
Homes cost a bundle, so odds are you’ll need a home loan, aka mortgage, to foot the bill, along with a hefty down payment. Still, the question remains: What price home can you really afford? That depends on your income and other variables, so punch your info into realtor.com®’s home affordability calculator to get a ballpark figure of the type of loan you can manage.
In general, experts recommend that your house payment (which will include your mortgage, maintenance, taxes) should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income. So, for example, if your monthly (before-tax) income is $6,000, multiply that by 0.28 and you’ll see that you shouldn’t pay more than $1,680 a month on your home mortgage.
But online mortgage calculators give just a ballpark figure. For a more accurate assessment, head to a lender for mortgage pre-approval. This means the bank will assess your credit history, credit score, and other factors, then tell you whether you qualify for a loan, and how much you qualify for. Mortgage pre-approval also puts home sellers at ease, since they know you have the cash for a loan to back up your offer.
You can also decide if you’re going to apply for a loan through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
“An FHA loan is a great option for a lot of home buyers, particularly if they’re buying their first home,” says Todd Sheinin, mortgage lender and chief operating officer at New America Financial in Gaithersburg, MD.
An FHA loan will have looser qualification requirements than a traditional mortgage, but there are still certain prerequisites borrowers must meet like getting private mortgage insurance and having a minimum credit score of 500.
2. Pick the right real estate agent
You buy most things yourself—at most, sifting through a few online reviews before hitting the Buy button and making a payment. But a home? It’s not quite so easy. Buying a home requires transfer of a deed, title search, and plenty of other paperwork. Plus there’s the home itself—it may look great to you, but what if there’s a termite problem inside those walls or a nuclear waste plant being built down the block?
There’s also a whole lot of money involved. (You know, a down payment, loan, etc.)
All of which is to say, before you make a massive payment, you will want to have a trusted real estate agent by your side to explain the ins and outs of the process. Make sure to find an agent familiar with the area where you’re planning on purchasing; to her credit, the agent will have a better idea of proper expectations and realistic prices, says Mark Moffatt, an agent with McEnearney Associates in McLean, VA.
“Finding a Realtor is not hard, but finding one that is best suited for you and your purchase is a challenge,” he adds.