First Time Home Buyers:
Advice for First-Time Buyers
- Pre-Qualification: Meet with a mortgage broker and find out how much you can afford to pay for a home.
- Pre-Approval: While knowing how much you can afford is the first step, sellers will be much more receptive to potential buyers who have been pre-approved. You’ll also avoid being disappointed when going after homes that are out of your price range. With Pre-Approval, the buyer actually applies for a mortgage and receives a commitment in writing from a lender. This way, assuming the home you’re interested in is at or under the amount you are pre-qualified for, the seller knows immediately that you are a serious buyer for that property. Costs for pre-approval are generally nominal and lenders will usually permit you to pay them when you close your loan.
- List of Needs & Wants: Make 2 lists. The first should include items you must have (i.e., the number of bedrooms you need for the size of your family, a one-story house if accessibility is a factor, etc.). The second list is your wishes, things you would like to have (pool, den, etc.) but that are not absolutely necessary. Realistically for first-time buyers, you probably will not get everything on your wish list, but it will keep you on track for what you are looking for.
- Representation by a Professional: Consider hiring your own real estate agent, one who is working for you, the buyer, not the seller.
- Focus & Organization: In a convenient location, keep handy the items that will assist you in maximizing your home search efforts. Such items may include:Visualize the house empty & with your decor: Are the rooms laid out to fit your needs? Is there enough light?
- One or more detailed maps with your areas of interest highlighted.
- A file of the properties that your agent has shown to you, along with ads you have cut out from the newspaper.
- Paper and pen, for taking notes as you search.
- Instant or video camera to help refresh your memory on individual properties, especially if you are attending a series of showings.
- Location: Look at a potential property as if you are the seller. Would a prospective buyer find it attractive based on school district, crime rate, proximity to positive (shopping, parks, freeway access) and negative (abandoned properties, garbage dump, source of noise) features of the area?
- Be Objective: Instead of thinking with your heart when you find a home, think with your head. Does this home really meet your needs? There are many houses on the market, so don’t make a hurried decision that you may regret later.
- Be Thorough: A few extra dollars well spent now may save you big expenses in the long run. Don’t forget such essentials as:
- Include inspection & mortgage contingencies in your written offer.
- Have the property inspected by a professional inspector.
- Request a second walk-through to take place within 24 hours of closing.
- You want to check to see that no changes have been made that were not agreed on (i.e., a nice chandelier that you assumed came with the sale having been replaced by a cheap ceiling light).
- All the above may seem rather overwhelming. That is why having a professional represent you and keep track of all the details for you is highly recommended. Please email me or call me directly to discuss any of these matters in further detail.
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Types of Mortgages:
Fortunately for buyers, there are a variety of mortgages to choose from. It is in your best interest to investigate each of them to determine which is the best for your situation. You probably won’t qualify for all of them. In fact, you may only qualify for one. But if you do qualify for more than one, you may save yourself money (and worry) in the long run if you do your homework before signing on the dotted line.
Fixed Rate Mortgages
Consider a fixed rate mortgage if either of the following describes you:
- You plan on living in your new home for many years, and/or
- You are not a risk-taker and prefer the stability of knowing how much your payment will be each month.
Since most home loans are for a period of 30 years, if you want a payment you can count on for that long of a period of time, a fixed rate mortgage may be what works best for you. Once your loan amount and interest rate are calculated and locked in, a fixed rate mortgage will guarantee that you will have the same payment over the life of the loan. Making extra payments to principal will allow you to pay your loan off sooner.
This may not always be the best choice, however. If interest rates are very high at the time you take out your loan, with a fixed rate mortgage you’ll be stuck with that high interest for the life of the loan (unless you choose to refinance). Conversely, if interest rates are very low, you’ll come out the winner with interest rates that will stay low no matter how high interest rates go in the future.
The following are the advantages and disadvantages of the varying lengths and terms of fixed-rate mortgages:
- Pay off the loan in half the time of a 30-year loan.
- Equity builds up more quickly than in a 30-year loan.
- Payments are higher (which may be a problem if you lose your job or become unable to work).
- Pay off the loan in 2/3 the time of a 30-year loan.
- The overall interest paid is considerably less than for a 30-year loan.
- The most common choice, especially for first-time homebuyers, as it’s the easiest of the fixed-rate loans to qualify for.
- Monthly payments are lower than for 15-year and 20-year loans. This can prove especially helpful if you do not have a lot of “padding” between the amount you can afford to spend and the monthly payment for your desired property.
- More desirable if you plan on staying in the same home for years, since equity builds more slowly than for shorter-term loans.
- For income tax purposes, this term provides the maximum interest deduction.
If you are more comfortable in taking a risk with your money or if interest rates are very high at the time you take out your loan, an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) may be the solution for you. You might also choose this type of loan if your planned ownership of the property is short-term or if you expect your income to increase to cover any potential rise in the interest rate.
Generally, the interest rate when you take out your loan will be lower than a fixed-rate mortgage. Please note that this is true initially, not necessarily long-term.
Since an ARM rate rises and falls depending on the prevailing interest rate, your mortgage payment will rise and fall accordingly. If your income is not sufficient to cover the highest possible payments, then this option is not for you. On the positive side, the lower initial payments will allow you to qualify for a larger loan than if you choose a fixed-rate. The downside is that your payments will increase if/when the rates go up.
Typically, ARM interest rates are tied to a specific financial index (such as Certificate of Deposit index, Treasury or T-Bill rate, Cost of Funds-Indexed Arms or COFi, or LIBOR [London Interbank Offered Rate]) and your payment will be based on the index your lender uses plus a margin, generally of two to three points. Get the formula used by your lender in writing and make sure you understand what it means.
Fortunately, the amount an ARM can increase is limited. There are “caps” on how much your lender can increase your rate, both for a period of one year and for the life of the loan. Plan ahead, and have your lender calculate what the maximum payment would be if your rate went to the highest amount allowed by the cap for your particular mortgage. If you are not confident you’ll be able to pay that amount on a monthly basis, perhaps you should reconsider this type of loan.
If neither the fixed-rate or the adjustable-rate mortgage seems like the best option, perhaps the convertible ARM will be right for you. This alternative combines the initial advantage of an ARM with a fixed rate after a predetermined number of years. Obviously, this type of mortgage has more advantages when the initial interest rate is low and the future rate is not guaranteed.
Another mortgage option available to some people is a government loan, providing that you meet the qualifications for these loans. Government loans make it easier for people to qualify for a mortgage, but they are not for everyone.
- VA Loans: Veterans , Active Military, and reservist buyers may qualify for a loan from the Veterans Administration. It can be argued that the VA loan is one of the best mortgage products on the market today, and yet not enough eligible veterans know they are qualified for it.
Some of the bells and whistles of this loan include:
- No down payment as long as the sales price doesn’t exceed the appraised value.
- No private mortgage insurance premium requirement.
- VA rules limit the amount you can be charged for closing costs.
- Closing costs may be paid by the seller.
- The lender can’t charge you a penalty fee if you pay the loan off early.
- VA may be able to provide you some assistance if you run into difficulty making payments.
- You don’t have to be a first-time homebuyer.
- You can reuse the benefit.
- VA-backed loans are assumable, as long as the person assuming the loan qualifies.
If a borrower defaults on a VA loan, the lending institution can come to VA to cover any losses they might incur. The VA loan guaranty is the “insurance” that is provided to the lender.
- FHA Loans:Are a popular loan program because they allow borrowers to buy a home with a smaller down payment than is required by most other lenders. There are limits on how much you can borrow. In general, you’re limited to modest loan amounts relative to home prices in your area. To find the limits in your region, visit HUD’s Website.
To qualify for an FHA loan, you’ll need to have reasonable debt to income ratios. In general, your debt cannot exceed 41% of your income, but some programs allow up to 55%. In addition, you have to have decent credit. You don’t need outstanding credit to get an FHA loan; it just needs to be decent.
These loans are not perfect, but they are a great help to some borrowers. They allow people to buy a home with a down payment as small as 3.5%. Other loan programs generally require a much larger down payment.
FHA offers a few other bells and whistles as well:
- Easier to use gifts for down payment and closing costs
- No prepayment penalty (a big plus for subprime borrowers)
- An FHA loan may be assumable
- Possible leniency during financial hard times
- Funding for home improvement (through FHA 203k [rehab] programs)
How do FHA Loans Work?
The FHA promises to pay lenders if a borrower defaults on an FHA loan. To fund this obligation, the FHA charges borrowers a fee. Home buyers who use FHA loans pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP). They also pay a modest ongoing fee with each monthly payment.
If a borrower defaults on an FHA loan, the FHA uses collected insurance premiums to pay off the mortgage.
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