Based on your answer, we will customize your home buying checklist. No worries, you’ll still be able to access the entire checklist at any time.
Most people prefer buying a home over renting because they want to be able to have a place that they can customize and call home. Also it happens to be a savvy investment. But there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t buy a home. Well, at least not yet.
As a rule of thumb, you should only buy a home when you have a stable life and job, and you are thinking about keeping your home for at least 5 years.
You can find more information in this article: Rent or Buy: Should I Buy a House Right Now?
You can also use a buy vs rent calculator to help you decide if you should buy a home or not: Rent vs buy - what's right for you?
Before buying a home, set up an emergency fund worth at least 6 months of your family’s living expenses. This way, you can still pay your mortgage on time while providing for your family even if unexpected things happen.
Building an emergency fund may impact your home buying budget, but these two articles will help you understand how much house you can afford:
To buy a home, you need a lot of cash. There’s no doubt about that.
Most first time homebuyers put down a 5% down payment on their house on average. But they still have to pay for closing costs which can range from 4% to 6% of the purchase price.
You should have at least 10% of your home target price saved in cash or liquid assets. This means that if you want to buy a property listed at $250,000, you should have free cash of at least $25,000 (on top of your emergency fund.)
Closing costs include the fees for the services and expenses required to finalize all the details for buying a home including your mortgage. You’ll have to pay closing costs whether you buy a home or refinance.
Most of the closing costs fall on the buyer, but the seller typically has to pay a few, too, such as the real estate agent’s commission.
You can learn more about closing costs in this article: Closing costs: What they are and how much you’ll pay
To understand how much house can you afford, we suggest that you do these three things:
We suggest that you do all of these since these options are not mutually exclusive. Now, you may wonder why your first step is not to talk to a lender or real estate agent —here’s why.
Mortgage brokers and real estate agents may want you to spend more money on your home because higher prices mean higher commission for them. So, you should do your homework and assess how much you can afford to spend before talking to a lender or agent.
These are some useful links to help you find out how much you can truly afford:
Your credit score determines whether you’re eligible for a mortgage and how much your mortgage interest rate will be. Before applying for a mortgage, make sure you have the best possible credit score.
Improve your credit score by paying extra attention to loan-related activities months before applying for a mortgage. Put off any requests for new credit cards or big credit card purchases which may be detrimental to your credit score.
You can also pay down your debt to improve your score.
If you are taking a mortgage as a couple, take into account that your bank most likely will use the credit score from whomever has the lowest score.
You can read this article to understand how to improve your credit score or get in touch with a credit repair company.
You should have a stable income to consider buying a home with a mortgage and you should be able to prove it by submitting tax returns, payslips, and employment certificates.
Lenders will always assess a borrower’s capacity to pay by looking into a person’s income sources. A stable income ensures that borrowers can pay the amount owed.
Most mortgage and lending companies require these documents:
Check this article to learn how to get a mortgage and more: Ultimate Guide To Mortgages
Having a property to your name means becoming liable for a new set of taxes.
On the brighter side, you are now eligible for mortgage interest deduction and property-related deductions, subject to certain limits---so you should consult a tax advisor, or accountant.
Be sure to broach the topic of taxes when you talk to your tax advisor. You can read more about the basic taxes you may face as a new homeowner here: First Time Homebuyer Taxes: 5 Reasons You Need a Tax Expert.
These tips for new property owners from TurboTax may also come in handy.
Even if you haven’t found your dream home, take the time to talk to a mortgage lender. Lenders help you understand the process and they can provide you with a pre-qualification letter that can be useful when you send home buying offers.
Here's the most important thing to remember in this step—you are not obliged to use that lender to get a mortgage!
Shopping for lenders is a crucial step in getting a mortgage. So, always talk to several lenders to get the best mortgage offer. You should also look at reviews and recommendations on lenders, especially the many non-traditional non-bank lenders today.
You can learn more about how mortgage lenders and brokers work in this blog post: Mortgage Lenders and Mortgage Brokers: How They Help You Finance Your Home
Simply put, a pre-qualification letter is a mortgage lender’s basic review of your financial status based on what you declare.
Through pre-qualification, you’ll know if you can apply for a mortgage and for how much. This may also help you in negotiations with sellers, including price, to show that you will likely be able to go through with the purchase.
The mortgage lender should not pull your credit at this point (so don’t provide them with your social security number), because it could result in inquiries that may hurt your credit score.
You can learn more about getting a pre-qualification letter here: Pre-Qualification for a Mortgage: Do You Need It?
Buying a home is exciting, but figuring out the financing side of things can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry! Choosing a mortgage isn’t all that painful if you know the details. Once you’ve done some homework and reviewed your credit, you’ll have a better idea of what loan works best for your needs.
You can read more about the 5 types of mortgages here: 5 types of mortgage loans for homebuyers
Hiring a real estate attorney is not mandatory in all the states, but consulting an attorney can save you from unnecessary stress and losses. Your attorney will do the legal due diligence to make sure that the property you’re buying is clean of debts and illegalities.
The best time to talk to a real estate attorney is before purchasing a home. Doing this helps you understand the whole process. Then, get in touch with your attorney again after your offer gets accepted so he or she can start the legal due diligence and work on the real estate purchase contract.
You can also shop several attorneys, because their fees and reputations may vary.
You can find a guide on how to find a great real estate attorney and what they do for you here: How to Hire a Real Estate Attorney You Can Trust
Choosing the right neighborhood is a significant step in house hunting and you’d want to get it close to a 100% right because it can affect your happiness and it may take a while before you can find another place.
To choose the right neighborhood, figure out what’s important to you. Perhaps you want to have access to good schools, open space, nearby shopping or a nice area with restaurants
Put everything you want in writing and select several areas that will qualify based on your criteria. If you are buying with another person, be sure to discuss these lists and prioritize---you may have to compromise on some
The next step is to visit those areas to understand if you see yourself living there. Go for a stroll, visit an open house or two, and talk to the neighbors. You can also check information online from that neighborhood by going to websites like Neighborhood Scout.
After you’ve visited those neighborhoods, narrow down your list to your top choices and focus on properties located in those areas.
Before you buy a new home, learn about the different types of properties that are available for sale in your area (like single-family home, condominiums, etc) along with their advantages and disadvantages to define your home search preferences.
This will also influence price, affordability and investment potential.
You can learn more about it here: 6 Types of Residential Buildings
You need to define what you are looking for in your home
Do you want to be in a housing community or a free standing single home? How many bedrooms and bathrooms should it have? Do you want a garden?
All these things can influence your decision and you should create a complete list of your preferences, as you did with neighborhoods.
The next step is to rank your criteria based on importance. You may not find a place that checks all the boxes, so you need to prioritize.
Use this house hunting checklist to guide you through the process.
You don’t need to hire a real estate agent to find a home but it may be helpful and the service they provide to homebuyers is usually built into the price so you will pay no additional fee.
Capable agents assist you with the whole process —from suggesting different areas and properties to helping you with the communication and process.
At the same time, if you work with an agent that offers commissions refunds, you could receive a huge cash back at closing. This free money can help you pay for your closing costs, furniture, or renovations.
To learn more about the different types of agents click here: Real Estate Agent For Beginners: Do You Need An Agent When Buying A Home?
For more information on how real estate agents make money visit this page Real Estate Commission 101: Who pays what when you buy a house?
Now that you know how real estate agents work and how you can get a huge commission refund using a buyer’s real estate agent, it’s time to start interviewing real estate agents to find the right fit for you.
A buyer’s real estate agent should help you answer all your inquiries about the area and about buying your home. He or she will also help you with the process and the paperwork.
To find a great agent you should:
To learn more about how to interview a real estate agent click here: 10 Tips on How to Interview a Realtor When Buying a Home
After finding the perfect real estate agent to help you, it’s time to sign the buyer's representation agreement.
A buyer’s representation agreement is a contract between the buyer and the agent. This agreement details the role of your real estate agent, what you can expect from them, and how they get paid
There are 3 types of buyer representation agreements and you have to decide what is best for you. This is very important and it defines how and when your agent gets paid. It also defines what you need to do to break the contract in case you are not happy with your agent. You can read more about these agreements here: The 3 Types of Buyer-Broker Agreements
But why do buyer agents ask clients to sign a buyer rep agreement?
It mainly boils down to an agent’s compensation. Buyer agents are paid by commission and without you signing that agreement, there’s no guarantee that they will get paid.
You can find more information about buyer representation agreements here: Buyer Representation Agreements: Here’s What Happens When You Sign
Finally, you’ve narrowed down the areas where you want to live as well as your home preferences. The next step is to share all that information with your agent. This way, your agent can start sending you properties that might interest you.
Thanks to sites like Zillow or Trulia, you can most likely find the home that you want to buy on your own. Most of the time, your agent will just help you with the process and paperwork.
Zillow, Trulia and other online property listing websites make it easier for home shoppers to find a home they want by themselves. You don’t even have to visit property listing websites all the time. Just set up alerts to receive all those listings in your inbox and start selecting the ones that you want to see.
Your agent should help you set up appointments and create an agenda to see properties that you like. He or she should also go with you to visit those properties and give expert advice.
You can review several home buying websites here: 23 Real Estate Websites You Should Never Miss Out.
Before you make an offer, you should visit at least 10 properties because until you’ve seen several properties, you won’t have a proper sense of what you want in a property and what you can get for your money.
At the same time, you will have a better sense of the properties you can afford for the price you’re willing to offer depending on the location.
Agents often say “buyers are liars” because we usually don’t really know what we want until we start visiting properties. At the same time remember it is in your agent’s best financial interest to steer you into more expensive properties
If you think your agent is getting impatient, you have two options:
At the same time, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you decide not to buy or postpone your decision because brokers fees are really high because they expect to do a lot of work showing you properties before you make one of the biggest decisions of your life.
You can learn more about this topic here: 5 Important Things to Consider When Going to Open Houses
Now that you have visited several areas and at least 10 properties, you are in a better position to start making home buying offers. By now, you should have a concrete idea of what you like and what you can get in the market for your price.
Remember that in addition to all the things that you love about your home you may want to calculate the potential return on investment using a home sales proceeds calculator, and your monthly payments using a Mortgage Calculator.
To come up with the right price for the offer, you and your agent should also prepare a comparable sale for similar properties in the area.
When you send your offer, don’t forget to add your contingencies to that offer. Contingencies represent conditions such as the results of the home inspection or obtaining financing before the offer becomes legally binding. These contingencies protect both the buyer and the seller in case you end up not wanting to buy that property. If you are working with a broker, they will have a list of all contingencies built right into their offer-forms. You can find more information about contingencies here: Buying a House: Protect Yourself With Contingencies and Disclosures.
You can find more information about creating an offer here: How to Make an Offer on a House and here: 4 Things That Can Happen After You Send An Offer.
While thinking about getting a mortgage to buy a house, don’t forget to consider the cost of using borrowed funds. Use a mortgage calculator to figure out the added expense you'd take on if you buy a new home.
Don’t forget to add extra monthly costs like Homeowners Association (HOA) fees or insurance when using a mortgage calculator. Including these items helps you come up with the most realistic number and avoid surprises.
To learn more about how to calculate your mortgage payments, check this article: 5 Things You Need To Know About A Mortgage Calculator.
To calculate your mortgage payments (and all the payments you can expect to make), you can use this Mortgage Calculator.
Your home is going to be one of your largest assets so you might want to run a home sale proceeds calculator, to understand your profit when you sell it which can reassure you that you’re making the right decision when you buy it.
A home sale proceeds calculator is a tool that helps you compute how much profit you can make when you sell your home. With this calculator, you just need to input:
With some help from a home sale proceeds calculator and a bit of research, you’ll be more confident about choosing the home to buy. And this extra step could be something that you’ll thank yourself for in the long run.
For more information, you can read this blog post and use its Home Sales Proceeds Calculator.
It may take several offers until you get one accepted because:
Don’t be discouraged, this is very common. Just be kind to yourself and relax as much as you can.
Congrats! The seller finally accepted your offer! Go out and celebrate because you’ve found a great property. And you are now in the process of becoming a homeowner.
The closing process can be a little overwhelming, so take it easy on yourself. Don’t take any other projects during these 2-3 months because closing on your home is going to take up a lot of your free time.
Once a seller accepts your offer, it’s time to get in touch with your real estate attorney. Your attorney needs to do some due diligence to make sure that you are buying a “clean” property with no debts, liens, or illegalities.
This step is really important as it protects you and your money.
If you don’t have a lawyer already, you can use this guide to find a great one: How to Hire a Real Estate Attorney You Can Trust
And here’s another article to let you know about the Title Search, which is one of the things your real estate attorney needs to pay close attention to: Title Search: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know
While your real estate attorney is doing the legal due diligence, you should hire a home inspector to do your home inspection.
A home inspection is an examination or assessment of the property you wish to buy. Although a home inspection is not required by law, it’s a crucial part of the home buying process that can save you lots of headaches and money.
Usually the home inspection is done within 7 to 14 days from the time your offer gets accepted.
The home inspection may reveal things that tell you you want to cancel the offer and you won’t have to pay anything. Also the home inspection can show you things that need to be fixed and you can use that and the results of the legal due diligence as a basis to negotiate the price.
You can find more information about home inspections here: Home Inspection Checklist For Buyers: Everything You Need To Know
Now that you have the results of the legal due diligence and the home inspection, you can negotiate your real estate purchase agreement.
A real estate purchase agreement is a contract between a buyer and a seller. It outlines the terms of the sale of the property. It also includes the obligations and rights of both parties.
You should always add your contingencies to that contract. These contingencies allow buyers to terminate the real estate purchase agreement, for a limited specified time, without losing their earnest money deposit.
You can find more information about this process here: 8 Essential Facts Regarding Real Estate Purchase Agreements.
Now that both the legal due diligence and the inspection have been done and the parties have agreed with the terms of the real estate purchase agreement, it’s time to sign the contract and pay the earnest deposit.
You can sign the contract electronically and, in most cases, you will. After that, your lawyer will send it to the seller’s lawyer so that the seller can sign it too.
The earnest deposit is the money that you pay the seller to express your genuine interest in purchasing the property. It is part of your home buying deposit and you will get credited for it at closing.
The check for your earnest money will be paid to a neutral third party (usually the seller’s lawyer) that will put that deposit in an escrow account.
In exchange for this deposit, the seller agrees to take the property off the market. Be sure to ask and then make clear through your attorney under what circumstances you could lose your deposit if you don’t close on the sale.
You can find more information about the earnest deposit here: Earnest Money Deposit Guide for the First Time Homebuyer
Now that you have signed a property purchase agreement, it’s time to interview several lenders (on top of the one who provided you with the pre-qualification letter) to get the best rate.
Nearly 47% of borrowers consider only one lender for their mortgage, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but talking to several lenders almost guarantees you a lower interest rate. Don’t be shy about going back to prior offering lenders and see if they will match or beat rates you have gotten from someone else.
As we said before, a borrower could save a lot of money by talking to more than one lender when getting a mortgage.
When you apply for a loan, a lender or mortgage broker must give you (by law) a loan estimate within 3 business days of receiving the loan application.
Receiving a loan estimate should not affect your credit score because it only involves the disclosure of the terms that the lender will offer if you move forward with the loan. If you decide to proceed, then the lender will ask you for additional financial information, including your social security number, and would most likely pull your credit report to evaluate your creditworthiness.
You can find more information about the loan estimate here: What Is a Loan Estimate?. You can also see an example of a loan estimate here: Loan Estimate Explainer
Having the loan estimates in hand makes it simpler to choose your mortgage. Loan estimates make it really easy to understand which mortgage is going to be the most advantageous for you.
Compare those loan estimates and choose the one with the best conditions and the lowest APR (which is different than the interest rate). The APR evaluates the true cost of borrowing money. It includes the interest rate, points, mortgage origination fees, and other costs associated with obtaining a loan.
After you decide on your loan provider, you will have to submit all the documents your lender requires to be pre-approved.
During this process, which is called the underwriting and that can last several weeks, a mortgage underwriter will approve or deny your loan application based on a careful and detailed analysis of your borrower profile. The underwriter may have some questions, so don’t necessarily accept a no the first time they tell you. They may just need additional information.
When you buy a home and you are financing your property it is usually the lender who hires a property appraisal to make sure the property is worth what you are paying for and will support the mortgage. The borrower usually pays the appraisal fee, which can be several hundred dollars.
A property appraisal is an unbiased professional opinion of the value of a home and is used whenever you
A professional appraiser then comes to the property to determine its value based on a visual inspection, recent sales of similar properties, current market trends, and aspects of the home (e.g., amenities, floor plan, square footage).
When the appraisal value is lower than the selling price, the transaction can be delayed or even canceled because the lender will make the loan based on the appraised value (not the price agreed on the contract) and the buyer will have to come up with the difference in cash.
You can find more information about this topic in this article: What You Should Know About Home Appraisals
A mortgage commitment letter or mortgage pre-approval refers to a document that lets everyone involved in the real estate transaction (sellers, real estate agents, etc.) know that the lender is willing to finance your property purchase.
Borrowers who can present a mortgage commitment letter have the highest state of readiness to purchase a home.
Lenders will only issue mortgage commitment letters if both the borrower and the property used as collateral meet underwriting requirements. This means that the borrower completed the full mortgage application, the loan file passed through underwriting, and the borrower received a loan approval (sometimes with a few minor conditions).
It takes a little longer to get a loan commitment compared to a pre-qualification or pre-approval. But because commitment letters are more thorough, they carry much more weight.
You can find more information in this article: Mortgage Commitment Letter: How to Seal the Deal
If you are buying into a housing co-operative (which is very common in NYC and some other cities) and sometimes condos, you will have to go through an approval process.
These buildings boards require prospective members to prepare and send them an application called the board package that requires several documents (including reference letters) and passing a board interview.
Preparing the board package is very time-consuming but if you have a real estate agent, he or she will do it for you.
You can find more information about buying into co-ops here: How To Pass Your Co-Op Board Interview
Now that you’re planning to make a serious financial commitment, consider getting life insurance and disability insurance because:
Homebuyers typically need two title insurance policies:
The lender’s title insurance is usually required by your bank to get a mortgage and protects your lender against problems with the title to your property. But it only protects the lender, not you, the owner.
The owner’s title insurance protects you if someone sues you and says they have a claim against your property. In most of the places, you will have to buy your owner’s title insurance through your attorney.
You can still buy a title insurance policy after you have closed the deal on the property. But we recommend that you do it before closing. Doing this provides you with more protection and you can still back out of the deal if you want.
(Note: this is likely not relevant for co-ops because your co-op holds the title of the property).
Learn more about title insurance here: Buying a Home: Do You Need Title Insurance?
Homeowner’s insurance (or home insurance) is property insurance that pays for replacement or repair costs when your home gets damaged due to unforeseen events like fire and other disasters.
Some types of insurance extend the coverage to the assets inside your home, and most also cover liability because remember you now have an asset to protect if someone is injured on your property.
Your home insurance coverage should be enough, if you can afford it, to help you rebuild the home from scratch in case of damage or losses, but you will pay more for full replacement cost.
Let’s say it will take $200,000 to rebuild your house and you need $50,000 to replace personal items. In this scenario, you should aim for a $250,000 insurance policy. The general idea is to choose sufficient coverage to cover the cost of your property.
You can find more information about home insurance products here: Homeowners Insurance: What Is It And Why Do You Need One?
You should shop for insurance and insurance agents much as you have for brokers, attorneys and lenders, don’t just give the business to your cousin because he’s in the business, at least until you have shopped and educated yourself what you will need and what it should cost.
Pay special attention to a company’s history and ratings. Additionally, you may want to ask friends, family, and neighbors about their insurance provider to see how satisfied they are with it.
You can compare different home insurance providers going to Policy Genius if you want.
By comparing several home insurance quotes you will be able to hire the one that is most advantageous for you.
Once you decide on one insurance company, if you are taking a mortgage, your mortgage lender will most likely require you to pay one year in advance before you sign your mortgage on the closing day.
In addition, moving forward, your mortgage lender may ask to collect with each mortgage payment 1/12 of your annual insurance premium and real estate taxes because as your “business partner,” it’s in your lender’s best interest to collect those funds to protect the property value.
Your real estate contract should indicate the date schedule for closing, which is usually at least 45 days or more after the seller signs the purchase agreement. This can also be negotiated and both buyer and seller may require more time and will agree on a date in advance. This provides you with enough time to secure your mortgage and purchase your insurance.
Take note that even if the buyer and the seller have agreed on a closing day, it’s still possible to postpone the date — that is if the agreement you signed allows it and if the seller agrees.
Keep in mind that the interest rate from your mortgage lender is only locked for a certain period of time (it will say in your mortgage commitment letter), so if you have to extend the closing date check with your bank. They may be able to extend the date but they might charge you a fee. Otherwise they may give you a different rate or have to repeat part of the underwriting process.
All the parties should agree on one specific day and communicate it to everyone.
You can find more answers about your closing day here: 10 Answers To The Most Common Questions About Closing Day
At least three days before the closing date, your lender should send the Closing Disclosure (this is required by law).
The Closing Disclosure is a multi-page document that your mortgage lender will send you. This is the final version of the Loan Estimate you received when you first applied for the loan and it details all costs related to your mortgage.
As one of the most important closing documents, you should take the time to review this document and compare it with your loan estimate to make sure all the details are the same.
You can learn more about your closing disclosure here: Reviewing Your Closing Disclosure: It’s Easier Than You Think
Doing a final walkthrough is always a must. This inspection is the last time you’ll be inside of the house before it becomes yours so you want to make sure everything is good and avoid surprises.
This last inspection usually happens 24 hours before the closing day and it helps you check that no damage occurred after the appraisal and inspection.
By doing a final walkthrough you’ll be able to confirm whatever you agreed in your contract, like fixtures and appliances that should remain in the property, or things that the seller agreed to fix. If there are problems, contact your attorney and the seller’s attorneys---these items can often be resolved in price adjustments at closing.
Now that you are going to be a real estate owner, you should decide in advance how you are going to hold ownership over that property because there are several ways of doing that, and you need to get it right.
Ask your real estate attorney before the closing day. He should be able to give you the best advice. If you have financial and legal advisors besides for the real estate purchase, you should also consult them because there may be other factors to consider before you decide on a form.
In the meantime, learn more about the types of property ownership here: 5 Types of Property Ownership—Which Is Best for You?
On the closing day, you will know exactly how much down payment you’ll have to put down. The rest of closing costs, on the other hand, may remain a mystery down to the last 24 hours. However, you should have a very close estimate of the total closing fees when you get the mortgage disclosure.
The payment method may also vary. Some states require a cashier’s check while others allow you to do an electronic transfer to pay the down payment and closing costs. If you need a cashier’s check, you’ll have to go to your bank to get it, so you should allocate time to get one before the closing day.
As for the documentation, you’ll need to bring identification cards, the insurance policy, the closing disclosure, the final real estate purchase contracts, and personal checks in case there are last-minute changes. If you used a broker and or an attorney, they will also attend the closing and let you know in advance what to bring.
You can learn more about what to bring here: 10 Answers To The Most Common Questions About Closing Day.
On the closing day, you as a buyer will have to sign a mountain of documents including:
Documents Related To Your Mortgage:
Documents Related To The Property Transfer:
While signing each document, read it over and ask your attorney to explain to you everything that you don’t understand. If you feel that a document includes certain details you did not agree to, bring up the issue with the appropriate party. You can also ask your real estate agent to assist you with unclear or technical details of the contract.
You can learn more about your closing here: 10 Answers To The Most Common Questions About Closing Day
Receiving the keys to your new property is the payoff for all your efforts. You can now move in any day (unless your contract says otherwise)! Congrats again!!! You are Awesome!
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