Here’s a checklist of things to remember to get ready to buy a home.
Check your credit score
Do not pass “Go,” do not start browsing homes until you have checked your credit score. This is the number that mortgage lenders will look at to determine whether you are “creditworthy,” and thus dictates the rates you will get. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate—and that’s what you’re going for. Get a free copy of yours at AnnualCreditReport.com to see where you stand.
Clean up any credit blemishes you can
Any surprises on your credit report? Credit errors are more common than you might think, so contact the credit bureau to correct any erroneous information. Got credit that’s less than stellar? Check out these (totally legit!) tricks to boost your score fast and nab great rates.
Figure out how much home you can afford
Next, make sure you are clear on how much home you can afford. Check out our calculator that lets you determine your monthly mortgage payment, adjusting for variables such as the size of your down payment, your mortgage type, and current interest rates. You can also get an official estimate by checking with a mortgage lender
Secure mortgage pre-approval
Once you’ve found the mortgage that’s right for you, you’ll want to show sellers that you have what it takes to buy their home. In hot markets, a pre-approval is almost required for a seller to take your offer seriously. That’s because it spells out exactly how much a lender has agreed to loan you, thus assuring the seller that you’re both willing and able.
Save up for a down payment
To get the best rates, you may need to make at least a 20% down payment on a home. Of course, there are many option concerning down payment and can be discussed with your lender.
Buyers beware of making major purchases during the process.
Once you’re ramping up to buy a home, it’s wise to not make any major changes in your life or, most important, your finances.
“Do not switch jobs. Do not buy a new car. Do not even buy furniture or apply for a new credit card, which could affect your credit. Just a credit pull alone from a car dealership or a furniture store is enough to affect your credit score and could cause you to lose your dream home.”
Make a wish list
Of course, this list may be a very long one, but you need to be realistic about what elements are truly “wishes” and which ones are nonnegotiable—such as number of bedrooms, a fenced yard for a pet, a specific school district, walking distance to the bus stop, etc. Sometimes it’s helpful to divide your list into three categories: Those nonnegotiable elements, followed by items that would be nice to have (e.g., a bonus room or home office) and your dream features (e.g., in-ground swimming pool).
Browse listings online
Search by price, number of bedrooms, location, and other variables to start narrowing down your options.
Visit open houses
Poring over online listings is one thing; seeing the properties in person is quite another. Take advantage of open houses as a low-stress way to visit several homes in one day. Map your strategy in advance, and while you’re in each home, take photos and notes so they don’t all run together in your mind. (Now, which one had the in-room fireplace again?)
Check out the neighborhood
You’ve undoubtedly heard the adage “location, location, location.” What that essentially means is that you’re not just buying the property you’re looking at; you’re also buying into the whole neighborhood. That’s why you have to be certain that it has the vibe you want. Savvy home buyers know that the best way to find out more about the neighborhood is to meet the neighbors and then visit at various times of the day and night to see what it’s really like.