Here are a few things to consider.
What can I afford?
You’ll first need to determine what’s affordable. Keep in mind, when you’re buying a home, you’ll have upfront costs—down payment, closing costs—and you’ll need to be prepared for these expenses. We’ll go through more details in the Qualify for a Mortgage section and you can use our Mortgage Calculator to help estimate what you can afford.
Where do I want to live?
It’s helpful to narrow down your search to the key neighborhoods where you want to live. Keep in mind, you may need to expand your search (based on what’s affordable for the area), but it helps to have a starting point. If you have children, check the available school options in your area.
What do I want/need?
Make sure you have a good idea of what you’re looking for in a new home and prioritize accordingly. There are many quality and affordable homes—from townhomes and condominiums to single-family or multi-family homes—so make sure you conduct a thorough search. You may not be able to get everything on your wish list, but knowing what your requirements are before you get started will make your search easier.
What do I need to start?
Before you get serious with your search, you’ll want to find a real estate agent and get your financing in order. We’ll go through these steps in detail, but it’s a good idea to start gathering your financial records (pay stubs, W2s, bank statements, etc.) and have them ready. Have a co-borrower? Their information will be required, too.
How much do I need to put down?
At one time, lenders may have required a 20% down payment to buy a home. Today, there are options for homebuyers who can’t afford to pay that much upfront. Check with your lender about mortgage programs that allow down payments as low as 3% of the purchase price. One important thing to note, if your down payment is less than 20%, you may need to pay what’s called Mortgage Insurance (MI) each month until you reach 20% equity in the home. Ask your mortgage company about specifics for MI cancellation.
What about my credit?
You should take a look at your credit report before you start the homebuying process. This is the time to clean up any past issues and make sure there are no inaccuracies or mistakes. To qualify for a mortgage, you’ll need to meet the lender’s credit qualifications (which may vary by lender but you typically need a minimum credit score of 620). If you’re not in that range, you may need to spend time rebuilding your credit or come up with a larger down payment (i.e., 10% vs. 3%).
Find more information about how important your credit is, how to repair credit issues and how to understand your credit score, by clicking here.
Do rent payments impact my credit score?
Paying your rent consistently can be a good indicator that you will pay your mortgage consistently, too. Some landlords report tenants’ rent payment history to credit bureaus and that could impact your credit score. Even if your rent payments aren’t reflected in your credit score, paying your rent on time every month may help set you on the path to financial security and sustainable homeownership. See how to make your rent count.
Now that you’re organized, it’s time to learn more about the mortgage process.