Click on the tabs below for useful information when considering buying a new home.
Tax benefits. The U.S. Tax Code lets you deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage, your property taxes, and some of the costs involved in buying a home.
Appreciation. Historically, real estate has had a long-term, stable growth in value. In fact, median single-family existing-home sale prices have increased on average 5.2 percent each year from 1972 through 2014, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. The recent housing crisis has caused some to question the long-term value of real estate, but even in the most recent 10 years, which included quite a few very bad years for housing, values are still up 7.0 percent on a cumulative basis. In addition, the number of U.S. households is expected to rise 10 to15 percent over the next decade, creating continued high demand for housing.
Equity. Money paid for rent is money that you’ll never see again, but mortgage payments let you build equity ownership interest in your home.
Savings. Building equity in your home is a ready-made savings plan. And when you sell, you can generally take up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) as gain without owing any federal income tax.
Predictability. Unlike rent, your fixed-rate mortgage payments don’t rise over the years so your housing costs may actually decline as you own the home longer. However, keep in mind that property taxes and insurance costs will likely increase.
Freedom. The home is yours. You can decorate any way you want and choose the types of upgrades and new amenities that appeal to your lifestyle.
Stability. Remaining in one neighborhood for several years allows you and your family time to build long-lasting relationships within the community. It also offers children the benefit of educational and social continuity.
REALTORS® are members of the National Association of REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. When you’re buying a home, here’s what an agent who’s a REALTOR® can do for you.
Act as an expert guide. Buying a home typically requires a variety of forms, reports, disclosures, and other legal and financial documents. A knowledgeable real estate agent will know what’s required in your market, helping you avoid delays and costly mistakes. Also, there’s a lot of jargon involved in a real estate transaction; you want to work with a professional who can speak the language.
Offer objective information and opinions. A great real estate agent will guide you through the home search with an unbiased eye, helping you meet your buying objectives while staying within your budget. Agents are also a great source when you have questions about local amenities, utilities, zoning rules, contractors, and more.
Give you expanded search power. You want access to the full range of opportunities. Using a cooperative system called the multiple listing service, your agent can help you evaluate all active listings that meet your criteria, alert you to listings soon to come on the market, and provide data on recent sales. Your agent can also save you time by helping you winnow away properties that are still appearing on public sites but are no longer on the market.
Stand in your corner during negotiations. There are many factors up for discussion in any real estate transaction—from price to repairs to possession date. A real estate professional who’s representing you will look at the transaction from your perspective, helping you negotiate a purchase agreement that meets your needs and allows you to do due diligence before you’re bound to the purchase.
Ensure an up-to-date experience. Most people buy only a few homes in a lifetime, usually with quite a few years between purchases. Even if you’ve bought a home before, laws and regulations change. Real estate practitioners may handle hundreds or thousands of transactions over the course of their career.
Be your rock during emotional moments. A home is so much more than four walls and a roof. And for most buyers, a home is the biggest purchase they’ll ever make. Having a concerned, but objective, third party helps you stay focused on the issues most important to you when emotions threaten to sink an otherwise sound transaction.
Provide fair and ethical treatment. When you’re interviewing agents, ask if they’re a REALTOR®, a member of the National Association of REALTORS®. Every member must adhere to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, which is based on professionalism, serving the interests of clients, and protecting the public.
Investigate local, state, and national down payment assistance programs.
These programs give qualified applicants loans or grants to cover all or part of your required down payment. National programs include the Nehemiah program, Getdownpayment.com, and the American Dream Down Payment Fund from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Explore seller financing.
In some cases, sellers may be willing to finance all or part of the purchase price of the home and let you repay them gradually, just as you would do with a mortgage. A similar option is the assumable mortgage, where a home buyer takes over the seller’s existing loan (with bank approval). This can be especially helpful when interest rates are on the rise.
Ask your family for help.
Perhaps a family member will loan you money for the down payment or act as a cosigner for the mortgage. Lenders often like to have a cosigner if you have minimal credit history.
Consider a shared-appreciation or shared-equity arrangement.
Under this agreement, your family, friends, or even a third party may buy a portion of the home and share in any appreciation when the home is sold. The owner-occupant usually pays the mortgage, property taxes, and maintenance costs, but all the investors’ names are usually on the mortgage.
Lease with the option to buy.
Renting the home for a year or more will give you the chance to save more toward your down payment. And in many cases, owners will apply some of the rental amount toward the purchase price.
Consider a short-term second mortgage.
If you can qualify for a short-term second mortgage, this would give you money to make a larger down payment. This may be possible if you’re in good financial standing, with a strong income and little debt. Such arrangements may also help you avoid jumbo loan restrictions and/or minimize the amount of private mortgage insurance you have to pay.
Talk to mortgage brokers.
Many first-time home buyers don’t take the time to get prequalified. They also often don’t take the time to shop around to find the best mortgage for their particular situation. It’s important to ask plenty of questions and make sure you understand the home loan process completely.
Be ready to move.
This is especially true in markets with a low inventory of homes for sale. It’s very common for home buyers to miss out on the first home they wish to purchase because they don’t act quickly enough. By the time they’ve made their decision, they may find that someone else has already purchased the house.
Find a trusted partner.
It’s absolutely vital that you find a real estate professional who understands your goals and who is ready and able to guide you through the home buying process.
Make a good offer.
Remember that your offer is very unlikely to be the only one on the table. Do what you can to ensure it’s appealing to a seller.
Factor maintenance and repair costs into your buying budget.
Even brand-new homes will require some work. Don’t leave yourself short and let your home deteriorate.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your present needs, but you should also think about reselling the home before you buy. The average first-time buyer expects to stay in a home for around 10 years, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
Develop your home/neighborhood wish list.
Prioritize these items from most important to least.
Select where you want to live.
Compile a list of three or four neighborhoods you’d like to live in, taking into account nearby schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.
Loan terms, rates, and products can vary significantly from one company to the next. When shopping around, these are a few things you should ask about.
- What are the most popular mortgages you offer? Why are they so popular?
- Are your rates, terms, fees, and closing costs negotiable?
- Do you offer discounts for inspections, home ownership classes, or automatic payment set-up?
- Will I have to buy private mortgage insurance? If so, how much will it cost, and how long will it be required?
- What escrow requirements do you have?
- What kind of bill-pay options do you offer?
- What would be included in my mortgage payment (homeowners insurance, property taxes, etc.)?
- Which type of mortgage plan would you recommend for my situation?
- Who will service this loan—your bank or another company?
- How long will the rate on this loan be in a lock-in period? Will I be able to obtain a lower rate if the market rate drops during this period?
- How long will the loan approval process take?
- How long will it take to close the loan?
- Are there any charges or penalties for prepaying this loan?
- How much will I be paying total over the life of this loan?
How long have you been in residential real estate? Is it your full-time job?
Like most professions, experience is no guarantee of skill. But much of real estate is learned on the job.
Do you have any designations or certifications?
Real estate professionals have to take additional specialized training in order to obtain these distinctions. Designations and certifications help define the special skills that an agent can apply to your particular real estate needs. One designation buyers should look for is the ABR®, or Accredited Buyer’s Representative.
What’s your business philosophy?
While there’s no right answer to this question, the response will help you assess what’s important to the agent and determine how closely the agent’s goals and business emphasis mesh with your own.
How many buyers did you and your real estate brokerage represent last year?
This will tell you how much experience they have and how up-to-date they are on the local market.
What’s the average variation between your initial offers and final sales price?This is one indication of a REALTOR®’s pricing and negotiating skills.
Will you represent me exclusively, or might you choose to represent the seller as well?
While it’s usually legal to represent both parties in a transaction, your REALTOR® should be able to explain his or her philosophy on client obligations and agency relationships.
Can you recommend service providers who can help me obtain a mortgage, make home repairs, and so on?
Practitioners should be able to recommend more than one provider and let you know if they have any special relationship with any of the providers.
How will you keep me informed about the progress of my transaction?
The best answer here is a question. A real estate agent who pays close attention to the way you prefer to communicate and responds accordingly will make for the smoothest transaction.
Mortgages are generally available at 15-, 20-, or 30-year terms. In general, the longer the term, the lower the monthly payment. However, shorter terms mean you pay less interest over the life of the loan.
Fixed vs. adjustable interest rates.
A fixed rate allows you to lock in a low interest rate as long as you hold the mortgage and, in general, is a good choice if interest rates are low. An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) usually offers a lower rate that will rise as market rates increase. ARMs usually have a limit as to how much and how frequently the interest rate can be increased. These types of mortgages are a good choice when fixed interest rates are high or if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.
Also sometimes called “exotic,” these mortgage types were common in the run-up to the housing crisis, and often featured loans with low initial payments that increase over time.
This is a form of non-traditional financing where your interest rate will be very low for a short period of time—often three to seven years. Payments usually only cover interest so the principal owed is not reduced. This type of loan may be a good choice if you think you will sell your home at a large profit in a few years.
These loans are sponsored by agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs. They offer special terms, including reduced interest rates to qualified buyers. VA Loans are open to veterans, reservists, active-duty personnel, and surviving spouses and are one of the only options available for zero down payment loans. FHA loans are open to anyone, and while they do require a down payment, it can be as low as 3.5 percent. Drawbacks include a slower loan process and—for FHA loans—the need to pay mortgage insurance.
As the housing market shifts, so do lending practices. A mortgage broker—an independent professional who acts as an intermediary between you and lending institutions—may be able to help you find a better rate than you can on your own. Also, be sure to shop around; slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment.
Credit scores range between 200 and 850, with scores above 620 considered desirable for obtaining a mortgage. The following factors affect your score:
Your payment history.
Did you pay your credit card bills on time? Bankruptcy filing, liens, and collection activity also affect your history.
How much you owe and where.
If you owe a great deal of money on numerous accounts, it can indicate that you are overextended. However, spreading debt among several accounts can help you avoid approaching the maximum on any individual credit line.
The length of your credit history.
In general, the longer an account has been open, the better.
How much new credit you have.
New credit—whether in the form of installment plans or new credit cards—is considered more risky, even if you pay down the debt promptly.
The types of credit you use.
Generally, it’s desirable to have more than one type of credit—such as installment loans, credit cards, and a mortgage.