Whether you’re thinking about buying your first home or you’ve been contemplating an upgrade, you probably already know that there are several different kinds of home mortgages, some that seem pretty much alike at face value. FHA, VA, USDA — what does it all mean?! We’re about to take all the stress out of choosing the mortgage that’s right for you and your family (even if that family is just you and Spot the cat).
Mortgage Basics in a Nutshell
There are a few different elements of a mortgage that are important to understand before we move forward in this process. You already know stuff like interest rates and what your payment and interest payments are, but there are other things that might not be quite so well settled in your mind. Most homeowners have questions about the following mortgage related definitions:
Loan features. When you get a mortgage, it often has other stuff that comes with it. After all, this isn’t the same as borrowing money from your mom, banks have fancy lawyers who make sure they earn their keep. You may notice features like “assumability” and “prepayment penalty” listed on your initial loan form.
Assumable loans are loans that you can literally transfer to another person when they buy your house. This is useful when interest rates are climbing, sometimes people will pay more for a lower interest rate mortgage they can take over.
Prepayment penalties are very bad and you don’t want this. Basically, you’re punished for paying your loan off early. Typically, they’re part of subprime lending, but you never know when one might pop up elsewhere. Since “prepayment” includes the payoff from selling your home, there’s no winning with this one.
Mortgage insurance. There’s been a lot of talk about mortgage insurance, both for better and worse. To put it simply, mortgage insurance makes it possible for you to bring a downpayment as little as about three percent to closing with FHA or conventional type mortgages. It’s a type of insurance that you pay for in case you were to default on the loan. If you do, the insurance company pays out your coverage to your bank, reducing the amount you may be responsible for if the house can’t bring enough at the foreclosure sale to cover your remaining note.
Down payment. Down payments are your initial investment in your home. Many times, home buyers are surprised to see that they have to bring both closing costs and a down payment, having assumed the two were the same. The down payment goes to the bank as proof of your commitment. We’ll get to closing costs.
Closing costs. Closing costs are the bane of buyers everywhere. They can seriously mount as things like appraisals, title insurance, fees to the bank (separate from your down payment) and prepaid items like taxes and homeowner’s insurance add up. Some programs will allow you to ask the seller to pay these on your behalf, but the amount you can ask for is limited to a percentage of the sales price and based on the program you’re using. For many homeowners, closing costs will be similar in price to their down payment, which is where the confusion typically starts.
Pick Your Poison: The Four Basic Home Mortgage Types
Understand that these are not the only mortgages out there, but they are the ones that you’re most likely to use in order to buy a home. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, which we’ll discuss briefly.
If you’ve heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you know the family of conventional loans. These loans are written by a wide range of banks, from your hometown locally owned to the fanciest mortgage broker. “Conforming” loans meet Fannie and Freddie’s high requirements, including maximum sales price.
Pros: Generally, you’ll get a better deal on mortgage insurance that automatically drops off (meaning you no longer have to pay it) once your home reaches a 78 percent loan to value ratio. Also, you’ll pay less in closing costs and your debt to income ratio can be somewhat flexible as long as look really good on paper.
Cons: These are generally the hardest loans to qualify for. Even though there are now three to five percent down payment options, your credit score will need to be around 700 (better is better) and your other ducks should be lined up nice and straight. Consistent employment, savings that can be designated as “reserve funds” and few to no scabs on your credit report are helpful.
Federal Housing Authority
The FHA started insuring loans after the Great Depression as a way of helping people get back into owned property. It basically created the 30 year fixed interest mortgage and continues to carefully oversee which homes can and cannot be purchased in its name.
Pros: Good option for first time buyers because of low down payment and credit requirements. FHA will accept “soft” credit lines for people who haven’t established credit yet or have very little, so keep that utility bill paid on time. The program allows up to six percent of your closing costs to be financed into your loan, as “seller paid items,” which can help reduce the actual cash you need to close.
Cons: FHA requires a lot more in closing costs because of the additional upfront mortgage insurance deposit. In addition, if you have less than a 10 percent down payment, under the current programs you’ll be forced to keep paying mortgage insurance for the life of the loan, giving you no options but to refinance or sell down the line if you want rid of it (it’s costly, you want rid of it). Not every banker wants to deal with FHA loans because they can be time consuming to write, so you may have to shop a bit to find a good bank.
As part of the benefits that active military members and veterans receive from the government, VA loans are built on a merit-based system. Career military and those honorably discharged early are generally eligible, but short-term members or Reserves may have to meet additional requirements. Anyone who can get this loan will need to bring a Certificate of Eligibility in order to get the ball rolling with an approved lender.
Pros: Favorable interest rates, extremely flexible guidelines and absolutely nothing required as a downpayment (often little to nothing required at closing!) There’s no mortgage insurance, just a one time “funding fee” that varies with your service type, downpayment and times you’ve used your Eligibility.
Cons: Really, there aren’t any. You can’t get this if you’re not military, though, so that could be a con if you really wanted this most excellent loan type.
US Department of Agriculture
In rural areas, the US Department of Agriculture will offer mortgage lending as a way of helping to keep the local economy flowing. Homes don’t have to be on an acreage, but they do need to be located in communities with under 35,000 inhabitants.
Pros: Like VA, USDA are fairly easy to qualify for as the buyer. They can also be zero down loans, though the more you can bring to closing the better. Payment assistance and other types of help are sometimes available for very low income borrowers.
Cons: The house you’re buying will undergo significant scrutiny in order to be approved for the program. In all loan programs, your house has to qualify, but the hurdles USDA puts in front of the building are much larger than most other programs. This is good for you, because it means you’re getting a great house, but it makes the process take a lot longer and can be scary for sellers. In addition, there’s a cap on income for potential borrowers.
You should never judge a book by its cover, or a house by what you can see during a showing. Not only are showings about seeing yourself in a space, rather than assessing a home’s structural stability and system functionality, they’re generally too brief to really get to the nitty gritty. No Realtor is going to wait around while you crawl through the attic.
Anyway, that’s what home inspectors are for.
What a Home Inspection Is and Isn’t
One of the biggest misconceptions about home inspections is that the report you get is a run down of a static structure that’s unchangeable. The truth is that a home — or even an empty lot — is a constantly changing ecosystem. In a house, there are lots of parts behind the scenes that are growing and shrinking, shifting and moving, albeit slowly.
A home inspection isn’t a projection of the future health of your house. It’s a right now look at the structure and all the moving parts. A home inspection is a snapshot and it can only reflect what the inspector sees during the time they’re at your future address.
This means that a year from your home inspection the furnace may go out, or the roof may succumb to high winds. Your house may change in ways no one can predict now. But, that doesn’t mean that a home inspection has no value.
Three Big Reasons to Have a Home Inspection
Home professionals know what they’re getting for the price of a home inspection, but many home buyers balk at the idea of spending even more money trying to buy a house. Granted, home inspections aren’t cheap, but they provide a lot of value for the money. There are plenty of reasons to hire a home inspector, but these three biggies are worth pondering if you’re unsure about pulling that trigger.
1. Home inspectors can sniff out problems you may have missed when viewing the home. No one wants to buy a money pit, but people do all the time because they’re either overestimating their abilities or they’ve failed to get a home inspection. When your home inspector goes through your home, they’ll not just walk around in the living room. They crawl through the crawl space, they get up into the attic, they really give it a good look. Home inspections take hours to complete, but when they’re done you’ll be given a report that provides you more information than you could ever imagine. The types of problems found will help you decide if you can really deal with the house in the longer term or if you can afford the house at all.
2. They’ll prepare you for upcoming repairs. Although your home inspection is a snapshot of your home at a particular moment in time, and not meant to predict the future, there are many parts of the ecosystem that predictably show signs of wear. When your home inspector sees that your shingles are starting to lose their asphalt coating, for example, they’re going to make a note of that in the report. If the furnace is beyond its useful life, even though it still works, you can brace yourself for replacing it. Knowing that there are problems in your future can give you more time to prepare for fixing them, even if that means changing loan types to a mortgage with a rehabilitation loan component, like an FHA 203(K).
3. Don’t forget, an inspection report is also a bargaining chip. Most real estate contracts allow you an inspection period, during which you can get your experts out and have them look around the property. You also have the right to ask for repairs based on what they find, provided these were not readily apparent issues. (If the carpet’s worn in the hallway, you can’t ask for that during the inspection period because you could see it. You should request those kinds of repairs with your initial offer.)
Those less visible defects are everything. Say, for example, that your home inspector found that the plumbing is leaking under the house. When that report comes in, you can request that the seller fix this issue, because it’s obviously a major problem you couldn’t have known about. If they refuse, you can come back and ask to lower the sales price (with most loan programs). Some lenders will require that something as important as the piping is in working order before closing, so make sure you and your Realtor know what your loan requires before breaking out the home inspection bargaining chip.
After closing, a lot of buyers lose or toss their home inspections. This is kind of a mistake. You can use that home inspection as a punch list of items to update, repair or replace, and check them off as you go. Later, when you go to sell that house, you can show your potential buyers that you literally fixed everything on the home inspection. That’s a confidence builder, for sure.
You’ve been renting for a while now and it feels like the timing is right to make the leap to homeownership. After all, your friends are all buying houses and your job feels pretty stable, how many more hints that it’s time to settle down could you really need?
Well, if you’ve given it considerable thought, are certain you can cover emergency costs like unexpected roof replacement or furnace repair and you have a realistic expectation of what you can afford, then full speed ahead. Buying a house is a trying experience, only made significantly worse by credit mistakes.
Top Credit Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home
Everybody makes mistakes, especially when it comes to their credit. The process by which your credit score is generated has long been veiled in shadows, making it doubly easy to misstep without even knowing it. However, there are certain mistakes that homebuyers make again and again, including these items that are obviously impactful to your credit score:
1. Not knowing what’s in your credit file to begin with. The last thing you need is a bit of a surprise when you go to apply for a mortgage. If you have collections that you’re unaware of, judgements that were never served to you or just plain bad information in your file, these items have to be handle now. It can take a while to completely erase the effects of any negative information in your credit file, so you need to get started right away.
Go to annualcreditreport.com for your once a year free credit report, download that thing and print it out. Check it line by line for accuracy and contact any collection agents that may be listed so you can work out a payment plan on that cable bill you left behind in your college apartment and totally forget to pay.
2. Applying for mortgages over a long period of time. Sure, it makes sense to pull your credit file six months to a year ahead of when you plan to purchase, since there might be surprises that will require time to fix. If you pull your scores yourself, it’s not as big of a hit to you as it would be it you had a lender checking your scores, say, monthly. When you are definitely ready to buy, do all your mortgage shopping within a 14 to 45 day window (depending on the scoring model and version). Ask your lender how long credit inquiries for mortgages will remain grouped, only being counted as a single credit pull. Otherwise, so many hard pulls will ensure that you don’t move forward to purchase.
3. Opening new lines of credit in anticipation of closing. Did you give any thought to skipping the line and buying a new couch today, rather than after your closing? How about doing that while maxing out a brand new credit line? This is a huge and terrifyingly common mistake that people make. It makes sense, it really does, you just want to be ready to get your move over with quickly once you get the keys.
The problem with a new inquiry is sort of a double whammy. First, it’s a hard pull on your credit, which will reduce your score slightly. Secondly, if you use that credit line, your debt to income will increase. In fact, depending on how much of that credit line you use, your utilization rate may also increase.
TL;DR: don’t take out new credit. Your credit score, debt to income ratio and possibly your credit utilization will take a big hit and your loan may be cancelled at the last minute when underwriting is re-verifying your application.
4. Maxing out existing credit lines. Moving is really expensive, even if you’re just moving across town. The moving truck alone can cost hundreds of dollars, and that’s if you do the job yourself. There’s nothing wrong with renting a truck, hiring a mover or even hiring a whole lot of movers, just do it after closing. If anything changes to the negative about your credit score, credit utilization and your debt to income ratio, as stated above, your loan can be cancelled. This is not a drill.
5. Failing to forward your bills. After closing, you could still make a few credit mistakes problems related to your move. Did you remember to pay the last utility bill at your old place? How about the broadband? It may seem like an obvious error to avoid, but when you’re in that moving stress haze, sometimes it’s all you can do to grab a pot of coffee and get moving again. Your credit is pretty good right now, don’t forget to pay those final bills.
Buying a house with a mortgage can feel like an exercise in paperwork collection, but the truth is that all of it is necessary for you to get the very best price from your lender. After all, what they’re really doing is trying to ensure your success with their loan. When you succeed, they succeed.
The last thing in the world you would ever want is to spend a bunch of time searching for a home, finding that perfect place and then not being approved for your mortgage. There are also many common mistakes homebuyers make that could make the process much more painful than it has to be.
We’re writing this article because we know how stressful it can be to buy a house. In order to make your process easier, we are going to cover the 9 things you shouldn’t do when buying a home.
1) Don’t overestimate your budget.
Ever heard the expression “House poor“? Many homebuyers overestimate what they can actually afford and end up with very little wiggle room financially. Before jumping into buying, make sure you have a realistic idea of the yearly costs involved with owning a home.
Remember, there is your mortgage, property taxes, utilities, insurance and repairs. All of this before you even think about making upgrades. Factor in all the costs and leave yourself some room.
2) Don’t let your emotions run wild.
Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions of your life. It’s normal to be excited and fall in love with a home. However, try to keep a level head. Falling in love with a home can cloud your judgement or end in disappointment. This can happen if unforeseen issues are exposed in the inspection or if someone puts in an offer before you.
If you don’t find a home… don’t get discouraged. Home searching can be a lengthy process. It will be worth it when you find the winner.
3) Don’t talk to sellers about plans for the house.
As much as you are excited to get in and put your personal touch on the home, it’s best to keep this to yourself. Sometimes home buyers meet and get to know the home owners. This is fine, but remember that the current owner will have an emotional attachment to the property.
It’s best not to make them feel like you’re going to come in and completely change the place. If you make conversation with the owners, just keep the conversation light.
4) Don’t make any large purchases.
When applying for a mortgage, every financial transaction plays a part. It is recommended that you do not make any large purchases like furniture or a car prior to applying. This is because banks want to see that you have a smooth financial history.
5) Don’t withdraw or deposit a lot of cash.
Going further with your financial history, cash withdraws and deposits also play a part in your mortgage approval rate. Large quantities of cash going in or out of your accounts signals a warning sign that you do not have stability. Avoid any sporadic withdraws or deposits of large sums of cash.
6) Don’t apply for more credit.
The amount you are approved for on your mortgage comes down to your capital. How much money do you have at your disposal? Applying for extra credit increases your debt. This extra debt decreases the amount you will be approved for on a mortgage.
7) Don’t co-sign a loan.
While a loan may not technically be yours – it will still equally count towards your overall debt. Co-signing a loan can have an impact on not only the amount of your mortgage, but approval rate in general. Avoid co-signing any loans until you have purchased your home.
8) Don’t finance a car or furniture.
As financing is again a loan, it is therefore debt. Stay away from financing a car or furniture for the above mortgage approval reasons.
9) Don’t switch or leave your job.
Financial stability is one of the most important factors considered when a bank is approving your mortgage. The key to financial stability is having a dependable income. If you switch or leave your job, often or before applying for a mortgage, this may signal red flags.
If you are thinking about a move, hang tight with your job until after your mortgage is approved.
There are many important things to consider when purchasing a home. It is one of the biggest decisions of your life.
In order to ensure that you get the house you want, when you want it, you need to understand and follow those above tips. Doing so will increase your chances of finding that perfect home and getting it. Remember that financials are very important when it comes time to apply for a mortgage. Make that your priority.
Also keep in mind the emotional aspects of purchasing a home and try to stay cool. It can be a draining process, but it will be worth it when you get the keys to the castle!
Are you looking for a home in the (INSERT COMMUNITY) area? Give me a call. I’d love to help you find a home (and make sure you make none of the above mistakes in the process!)
Choosing whether to rent or own a home is not an easy decision. It requires you to carefully examine the factors and costs associated with each option. Which is better? That depends.
Your unique economic situation, lifestyle and goals play the largest part in deciding what is better for you. It’s important to go into your calculations with open eyes. As much as you want a home, you may not be able to afford it. Or it may not be the right decision for the way you like to live.
Factors To Consider When Buying/Renting a Home
The following four points are the largest factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons of home ownership vs. rental.
1) What are the total costs?
Many people look at the economics of home-ownership as a mortgage payment only. In reality there are insurance, repairs, property tax, homeowners association dues etc. that all have to be factored in to your monthly costs. Check out this calculator from the New York Times to see more.
Use a calculator and compare to see if:
- The monthly cost as a homeowner is less than renting.
- You can afford the monthly cost (if it works out more than renting in your area)
- Saving a 10-20% down-payment is feasible for you.
If owning a home definitely the way to go for you, you need to be able to answer the above questions definitively.
2) What is important to you?
Are you more interested in building for the future, or reducing your financial risk until you can figure out a plan? You may want to own if you are thinking about starting a family. But as someone who is single, you may enjoy your freedom and having less financial debt. (Even if it is building your net worth in the long run)
Undoubtedly, buying a house only makes sense if you plan to set up roots. If you plan to move within (or every) 5 years, your transaction costs will likely bring the equity you build in your house to zero. Thus diminishing your upside while carrying all of the liabilities that come along with home ownership. Owning a home is a smart decision if you plan to stay for 10 years or more.
3) What is your preferred lifestyle?
Do you want to build a career in a specific city or travel around? Do you have long-term goals in mind? It’s okay if you don’t. The most important part is being aware of where you are at. You may want to get some international work experience or try your luck in another part of the country. Or not.
Really think about what you want. You could lose some serious money if you buy a house and sell within a few years because you decide it isn’t for you.
4) What are the opportunity costs?
Think about the pros and cons of home-ownership. On one hand, you will always have a home base. On the other, you have a property that ties you down to a geographical location. Can you make more money in another city? With a home, you can’t move to pursue those opportunities.
If rent is equal to monthly payments as an owner, think about the opportunity costs of having all of your money tied up in the house. For example, some investors may rent and opt to invest their money in the stock-market or other investments in their portfolio. Can you make higher percentage returns yearly with the money you would be using for a down payment?
Rent vs Buying
The above were things you will want to consider. If you need to be realistic to make the right decision about renting vs owning a home. The below two situations may help if you aren’t able to come to a conclusion.
When is Renting a Home Better?
Despite popular belief, owning a home is not always the best decision. Let’s not be black and white. It depends on your particular situation.
You may want to rent if:
- You want to travel and set-up shop in different places every few years.
- You do not have the job or financial security to (realistically) guarantee payments for years to come.
- You have demonstrated the ability to make better financial returns through other investments.
There are other factors. However, this is a good starting point to help you determine your argument for renting versus owning a home. The benefit of renting is not being tied down to a geographic location and being able to leave when your lease runs up.
When is Owning a Home Better?
Owning a home is the long-term game. You need to have your goals in mind and understand if you can afford it.
You may want own if:
- You are okay with staying in one place for 10 years or more.
- You have the financial stability to afford the home (and float payments if you lose your job)
- You want to leverage your home as an investment property down the line (through rental)
Owning a home gives you an anchor. It helps you stay grounded by having a home base. At the same time, you can increase your upward potential by leveraging the home as an investment property.
Choosing to rent or own your home is a big decision. It depends on your individual situation and vision for the future. In short, owning is traditionally the better long-term strategy. However, that’s not to say that you can’t do as good or better with the right investment portfolio.
Before jumping into anything, analyze yourself. Think hard about where you are and what you want for the future. Speak to a realtor and see if they have any advice for your individual situation.
If you are looking at purchasing property in the area, give me a call. I’d love to discuss your options and see if buying is the right path for you.
When it comes to real estate, it’s all about location. But when it comes to staging a home to sell the highest possible price, the importance of location applies to more than just the street.
The placement of your furniture and accessories can make or break a room and potentially even a sale.
Why it matter?
The look and feel of a space is created by the way the various items in that room are positioned. If you put them in the wrong place you can instantly diminish the overall appearance of the area, regardless of whether the items individually are stylish and on-trend.
Good placement, however, will have the opposite effect, to the point where even less attractive furniture located correctly around the room can produce amazing results.