PART I. GETTING STARTED
1. HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M READY TO BUY A HOME?
You can find out by asking yourself some questions: Do I have a steady source of income (usually a job)? Have I been employed on a regular basis for the last 2-3 years? Is my current income reliable? Do I have a good record of paying my bills? Do I have few outstanding long-term debts, like car payments? Do I have money saved for a down payment? Do I have the ability to pay a mortgage every month, plus additional costs? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are probably ready to buy your own home.
2. HOW DO I BEGIN THE PROCESS OF BUYING A HOME?
Start by thinking about your situation. Are you ready to buy a home? How much can you afford in a monthly mortgage payment? How much space do you need? What areas of town do you like? After you answer these questions, make a 'To Do" list and start doing casual research. Talk to friends and family, drive through neighborhoods, and look in the "Homes" section of the newspaper.
3. HOW DOES PURCHASING A HOME COMPARE WITH RENTING? The two don't really compare at all. The one advantage of renting is being generally free of most maintenance responsibilities. But by renting, you lose the chance to build equity, take advantage of tax benefits, and protect yourself against rent increases. Also, you may not be free to decorate without permission and may be at the mercy of the landlord for housing. Owning a home has many benefits. When you make a mortgage payment, you are building equity. And that's an investment. Owning a home also qualifies you for tax breaks that assist you in dealing with your new financial responsibilities- like insurance, real estate taxes, and upkeep- which can be substantial. But given the freedom, stability, and security of owning your own home, they are worth it.
4. HOW DO I SELECT THE RIGHT REAL ESTATE AGENT?
Start by asking family and friends if they can recommend an agent. Compile a list of several agents and talk to each before choosing one. Look for an agent who listens well and understands your needs, and whose judgment you trust. The ideal agent knows the local area well and has resources and contacts to help you in your search. Overall, you want to choose an agent that makes you feel comfortable and can provide all the knowledge and services you need.
5. HOW CAN I DETERMINE MY HOUSING
NEEDS BEFORE I BEGIN THE SEARCH?
Your home should fit the way you live, with spaces and features that appeal to the whole family. Before you begin looking at homes, make a list of your priorities - things like location and size. Should the house be close to certain schools? Your job? To public transportation? How large should the house be? What type of lot do you prefer? What kinds of amenities are you looking for? Establish a set of minimum requirements and a "wish list." Minimum requirements are things that a house must have for you to consider it, while a "wish list" covers things that you'd like to have but aren't essential.
PART II. FINDING YOUR HOME
6. WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR
WHEN DECIDING ON A COMMUNITY?
Select a community that will allow you to best live your daily life. Many people choose communities based on schools. Do you want access to shopping and public transportation? Is access to local facilities like libraries and museums important to you? Or do you prefer the peace and quiet of a rural community? When you find places that you like, talk to people that live there. They know the most about the area and will be your future neighbors. More than anything, you want a neighborhood where you feel comfortable in.
7. HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT LOCAL SCHOOLS?
You can get information about school systems by contacting the city or county school board or the local schools. Your real estate agent may also be knowledgeable about schools in the area.
8. HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT COMMUNITY RESOURCES? Contact the local chamber of commerce for promotional literature or talk to your real estate agent about welcome kits, maps, and other information. You may also want to visit the local library. It can be an excellent source for information on local events and resources, and the librarians will probably be able to answer many of the questions you have.
9. HOW CAN I FIND INFORMATION
ON THE PROPERTY TAX LIABILITY?
The total amount of the previous year's property taxes is usually included in the listing information. If it's not, ask the seller for a tax receipt or contact the local assessor's office. Tax rates can change from year to year, so these figures maybe approximate.
10. WHAT OTHER TAX ISSUES
SHOULD I TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION?
Keep in mind that your mortgage interest and real estate taxes will be deductible. A qualified real estate professional can give you more details on other tax benefits and liabilities.
11. IS AN OLDER HOME A BETTER VALUE THAN A NEW ONE? There isn't a definitive answer to this question. You should look at each home for its individual characteristics. Generally, older homes may be in more established neighborhoods, offer more ambiance, and have lower property tax rates. People who buy older homes, however, shouldn't mind maintaining their home and making some repairs. Newer homes tend to use more modern architecture and systems, are usually easier to maintain, and may be more energy-efficient. People who buy new homes often don't want to worry initially about upkeep and repairs.
12. WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR
WHEN WALKING THROUGH A HOME?
In addition to comparing the home to your minimum requirement and wish lists, use the HUD Home Scorecard and consider the following: Is there enough room for both the present and the future? Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms? Is the house structurally sound? Do the mechanical systems and appliances work? Is the yard big enough? Do you like the floor plan? Will your furniture fit in the space? Is there enough storage space? (Bring a tape measure to better answer these questions) Does anything need to be repaired or replaced? Will the seller repair or replace the items? Imagine the house in good weather and bad, and in each season. Will you be happy with it year 'round? Take your time and think carefully about each house you see. Ask your real estate agent to point out the pros and cons of each home from a professional standpoint.
13. WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD
I ASK WHEN LOOKING AT HOMES?
Many of your questions should focus on potential problems and maintenance issues. Does anything need to be replaced? What things require ongoing maintenance (e.g., paint, roof, HVAC, appliances, carpet)? Also ask about the house and neighborhood, focusing on quality of life issues. Be sure the seller's or real estate agent's answers are clear and complete. Ask questions until you understand all of the information they've given. Making a list of questions ahead of time will help you organize your thoughts and arrange all of the information you receive. The HUD Home Scorecard can help you develop your question list.
14. HOW MANY HOMES SHOULD
I CONSIDER BEFORE CHOOSING ONE?
There aren't a set number of houses you should see before you decide. Visit as many as it takes to find the one you want. On average, homebuyers see 15 houses before choosing one. Just be sure to communicate often with your real estate agent about everything you're looking for. It will help avoid wasting your time.
PART III. YOU'VE FOUND IT
15. WHAT DOES A HOME INSPECTOR DO AND HOW DOES AN INSPECTION FIGURE INTO THE PURCHASE OF A HOME?
An inspector checks the safety of your potential new home. Home inspectors focus especially on the structure, construction, and mechanical systems of the house and will make you aware of any repairs that are needed. The inspector does not evaluate whether or not you're getting good value for your money. Generally, an inspector checks (and gives prices for repairs on): the electrical system, plumbing and waste disposal, the water heater, insulation and ventilation, the HVAC system, water source and quality, the potential presence of pests, the foundation, doors, windows, ceilings, walls, floors, and roof. Be sure to hire a home inspector that is qualified and experienced. It's a good idea to have an inspection before you sign a written offer since, once the deal is closed, you've bought the house "as is." Or, you may want to include an inspection clause in the offer when negotiating for a home. An inspection clause gives you an "out" on buying the house if serious problems are found, or gives you the ability to renegotiate the purchase price if repairs are needed. An inspection clause can also specify that the seller must fix the problem(s) before you purchase the house.
16. DO I NEED TO BE THERE FOR THE INSPECTION?
It's not required, but it's a good idea. Following the inspection, the home inspector will be able to answer questions about the report and any problem areas. This is also an opportunity to hear an objective opinion on the home you'd like to purchase and it is a good time to ask general maintenance questions.
17. IS OTHER TYPES OF INSPECTIONS REQUIRED?
If your home inspector discovers a serious problem, another more specific inspection may be recommended. It's a good idea to consider having your home inspected for the presence of a variety of health-related risks like radon gas, asbestos, or possible problems with the water or waste disposal system.
18. HOW CAN I PROTECT MY FAMILY FROM LEAD IN THE HOME?
If the house you're considering was built before 1978 and you have children under the age of seven, you will want to have an inspection for lead-based paint. It's important to know that lead flakes from paint can be present in both the home and in the soil surrounding the house. The problem can be fixed temporarily by repairing damaged paint surfaces or planting grass over effected soil. Hiring a lead abatement contractor to remove paint chips and seal damaged areas will fix the problem permanently.
19. ARE POWER LINES A HEALTH HAZARD?
There are no definitive research findings that indicate exposure to power lines results in greater instances of disease or illness.
20. DO I REALLY NEED HOMEOWNER'S INSURANCE?
Yes. A paid homeowner's insurance policy (or a paid receipt for one) is required at closing, so arrangements will have to be made prior to that day. Plus, involving the insurance agent early in the home buying process can save you money. Insurance agents are a great resource for information on home safety and they can give tips on how to keep insurance premiums low.
21. WHAT STEPS COULD I TAKE TO LOWER
MY HOMEOWNER'S INSURANCE COSTS?
Be sure to shop around among several insurance companies. Also, consider the cost of insurance when you look at homes. Newer homes and homes constructed with materials like brick tend to have lower premiums. Think about avoiding areas prone to natural disasters, like flooding. Choose a home with a fire hydrant or a fire department nearby.
22. IS THE HOME LOCATED IN A FLOODPLAIN?
Your real estate agent or lender can help you answer this question. If you live in a flood plain, the lender will require that you have flood insurance before lending any money to you. But if you live near a flood plain, you may choose whether or not to get flood insurance coverage for your home. Work with an insurance agent to construct a policy that fits your needs.
23. WHAT OTHER ISSUES SHOULD
I CONSIDER BEFORE I BUY MY HOME?
Always check to see if the house is in a low-lying area, in a high-risk area for natural disasters (like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), or in a hazardous materials area. Be sure the house meets building codes. Also consider local zoning laws, which could affect remodeling or making an addition in the future. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with these questions.
24. HOW DO I MAKE AN OFFER?
Your real estate agent will assist you in making an offer, which will include the following information: Complete legal description of the property Amount of earnest money Down payment and financing details Proposed move-in date Price you are offering Proposed closing date Length of time the offer is valid Details of the deal Remember that a sale commitment depends on negotiating a satisfactory contract with the seller, not just making an offer.
25. HOW DO I DETERMINE THE INITIAL OFFER?
Unless you have a buyer's agent, remember that the agent works for the seller. Make a point of asking him or her to keep your discussions and information confidential. Listen to your real estate agent's advice, but follow your own instincts on deciding a fair price. Calculating your offer should involve several factors: what homes sell for in the area, the home's condition, how long it's been on the market, financing terms, and the seller's situation. By the time you're ready to make an offer, you should have a good idea of what the home is worth and what you can afford. And, be prepared for give-and-take negotiation, which is very common when buying a home. The buyer and seller may often go back and forth until they can agree on a price.
26. WHAT IS EARNEST MONEY?
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SET ASIDE?
Earnest money is money put down to demonstrate your seriousness about buying a home. It must be substantial enough to demonstrate good faith and is usually between 1-5% of the purchase price (though the amount can vary with local customs and conditions). If your offer is accepted, the earnest money becomes part of your down payment or closing costs. If the offer is rejected, your money is returned to you. If you back out of a deal, you must forfeit the entire amount.
PART IV. GENERAL FINANCING
QUESTIONS: THE BASICS
27. WHAT IS A MORTGAGE?
Generally speaking, a mortgage is a loan obtained to purchase real estate. The "mortgage" it self is a lien (a legal claim) on the home or property that secures the promise to pay the debt. All mortgages have two features in common: principal and interest.
28. CAN I PAY OFF MY LOAN AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?
Yes. By sending in extra money each month or making an extra payment at the end of the year, you can accelerate the process of paying off the loan. When you send extra money, be sure to indicate that the excess payment is to be applied to the principal. Most lenders allow loan prepayment, though you may have to pay a prepayment penalty to do so. Ask your lender for details.
29. HOW LARGE OF A DOWN PAYMENT DO I NEED?
There are mortgage options now available that only require a down payment of 5% or less of the purchase price. But the larger the down payment, the less you have to borrow, and the more equity you'll have. Mortgages with less than a 25% down payment generally require a mortgage insurance policy to secure the loan. When considering the size of your down payment, consider that you'll also need money for closing costs, moving expenses and possibly repairs and decorating.
30. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A MONTHLY MORTGAGE PAYMENT?
The monthly mortgage payment mainly pays off principal and interest. But most lenders also include local real estate taxes, homeowner's insurance, and mortgage insurance (if applicable).
31. WHAT FACTORS AFFECT MORTGAGE PAYMENTS?
The amount of the down payment, the size of the mortgage loan, the interest rate, the length of the repayment term and payment schedule will all affect the size of your mortgage payment.
32. HOW DOES THE INTEREST RATE FACTOR
IN SECURING A MORTGAGE LOAN?
A lower interest rate allows you to borrow more money than a high rate with the same monthly payment. Interest rates can fluctuate as you shop for a loan, so ask lenders if they offer a rate "lock-in" which guarantees a specific interest rate for a certain period of time.
PART V. FIRST STEPS
33. HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT LENDER FOR ME?
Choose your lender carefully. Look for financial stability and a reputation for customer satisfaction. Be sure to choose a company that gives helpful advice and that makes you feel comfortable. A lender that has the authority to approve and process your loan locally is preferable, since it will be easier for you to monitor the status of your application and ask questions. Plus, it's beneficial when the lender knows home values and conditions in the local area. Do research and ask family, friends, and your real estate agent for recommendations.
34. HOW ARE PRE-QUALIFYING
AND PRE-APPROVAL DIFFERENT?
Pre-qualification is an informal way to see how much you may be able to borrow. You can be "pre-qualified" over the phone with no paperwork by telling a lender your income, your long-term debts, and how large a down payment you can afford. Without any obligation, this helps you arrive at a ballpark figure of the amount you may have available to spend on a house. Pre-approval is a lender's actual commitment to lend to you. Pre-approval gives you a definite idea of what you can afford and shows sellers that you are serious about buying.
35. HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY SCORE?
There are no easy ways to improve your credit score, but you can work to keep it acceptable by maintaining a good credit history. This means paying your bills on time and not overextending yourself by buying more than you can afford.
PART VI. FINDING THE RIGHT LOAN FOR YOU
36. HOW DO I CHOOSE THE BEST LOAN PROGRAM FOR ME?
Your personal situation will determine the best kind of loan for you. By asking yourself a few questions, you can help narrow your search among the many options available and discover which loan suits you best. Do you expect your finances to changeover the next few years? Are you planning to live in this home for a long period of time? Are you comfortable with the idea of a changing mortgage payment amount? Do you wish to be free of mortgage debt as your children approach college age or as you prepare for retirement? Your lender can help you use your answers to questions such as these to decide which loan best fits your needs.
37. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY
TO COMPARE LOAN TERMS BETWEEN LENDERS?
First, devise a checklist for the information from each lending institution. You should include the company's name and basic information, the type of mortgage, minimum down payment required, interest rate and points, closing costs, loan processing time, and whether prepayment is allowed. Speak with companies by phone or in person. Be sure to call every lender on the list the same day, as interest rates can fluctuate daily. In addition to doing your own research, your real estate agent may have access to a database of lender and mortgage options. Though your agent may primarily be affiliated with a particular lending institution, he or she may also be able to suggest a variety of different lender options to you.
38. ARE THERE ANY COSTS OR FEES
ASSOCIATED WITH THE LOAN ORIGINATION PROCESS?
Yes. When you turn in your application, you'll be required to pay a loan application fee to cover the costs of underwriting the loan. This fee pays for the home appraisal, a copy of your credit report, and any additional charges that may be necessary. The application fee is generally non-refundable.
39. WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO I HAVE
DURING THE LENDING PROCESS?
To ensure you won't fall victim to loan fraud, be sure to follow all of these steps as you apply for a loan: Be sure to read and understand everything before you sign. Refuse to sign any blank documents. Do not buy property for someone else. Do not overstate your income. Do not overstate how long you have been employed. Do not overstate your assets. Accurately report your debts. Do not change your income tax returns for any reason. Tell the whole truth about gifts. Do not list fake co-borrowers on your loan application. Be truthful about your credit problems, past and present. Be honest about your intention to occupy the house. Do not provide false supporting documents.
PART VII. CLOSING
40. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I HAVE APPLIED FOR A LOAN?
It usually takes a lender between 1-6 weeks to complete the evaluation of your application. It's not unusual for the lender to ask for more information once the application has been submitted. The sooner you can provide the information, the faster your application will be processed. Once all the information has been verified, the lender will call you to let you know the outcome of your application. If the loan is approved, a closing date is set up and the lender will review the closing process with you. And after closing, you'll be able to move into your new home.
41. WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR
DURING THE FINAL WALK-THROUGH?
This will likely be the first opportunity to examine the house without furniture, giving you a clear view of everything. Check the walls and ceilings carefully, as well as any work the seller agreed to do in response to the inspection. Any problems discovered previously that you find uncorrected should be brought up prior to closing. It is the seller's responsibility to fix them.
42. WHAT MAKE UP CLOSING COSTS?
There may be closing costs customary or unique to a certain locality, but closing costs are usually made up of the following: Attorney's or escrow fees (yours and your lender's if applicable) Property taxes (to cover tax period to date) Interest (paid from date of closing to 30 days before first monthly payment) Loan origination fee (covers lender's administrative costs) Recording fees Survey fee First premium of mortgage insurance (if applicable) Title insurance (yours and your lender's) Loan discount points First payment to escrow account for future real estate taxes and insurance Paid receipt for homeowner's insurance policy (and fire and flood insurance if applicable) Any documentation preparation fees
43. WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO HAPPEN ON CLOSING DAY?
You'll present your paid homeowner's insurance policy or a binder and receipt showing that the premium has been paid. The closing agent will then list the money you owe the seller (remainder of down payment, prepaid taxes, etc.) and then the money the seller owes you (unpaid taxes and prepaid rent, if applicable). The seller will provide proofs of any inspection, warranties, etc. Once you're sure you understand all the documentation, you'll sign the mortgage, agreeing that if you don't make payments the lender is entitled to sell your property and apply the sale price against the amount you owe plus expenses. You'll also sign a mortgage note, promising to repay the loan. The seller will give you the title to the house in the form of a signed deed.