What should I know before buying a home?

Here are some tips that could save you a lot of time, money and trouble.

Plan ahead. Establish good credit and save as much as you can for the down payment and closing costs.
Get pre-approved online before you start looking. Not only do real estate agents prefer working with pre-qualified buyers; you will have more negotiating power and an edge over homebuyers who are not pre-approved.
Set a budget and stick to it.
Know what you really want in a home. How long will you live there? Is your family growing? What are the schools like? How long is your commute? Consider every angle before diving in.
Make a reasonable offer. To determine a fair value on the home, ask your real estate agent for a comparative market analysis listing all the sales prices of other houses in the neighborhood.
Choose your loan (and your lender) carefully. For some tips, see the question in this section about comparing loans.
Consult with your lender before paying off debts. You may qualify even with your existing debt, especially if it frees up more cash for a down payment.
Keep your day job. If there is a career move in your future, make the move after your loan is approved. Lenders tend to favor a stable employment history.
Do not shift money around. A lender needs to verify all sources of funds. By leaving everything where it is, the process is a lot easier on everyone involved.
Do not add to your debt. If you increase your debt by financing a new car, boat, furniture or other large purchase, it could prevent you from qualifying.
Timing is everything. If you already own a home, you may need to sell your current home to qualify for a new one. If you are renting, simply time the move to the end of the lease.

How Much House Can I Afford?
How much house you can afford depends on how much cash you can put down and how much a creditor will lend you. There are two rules of thumb:

You can afford a home that’s up to 2 1/2 times your annual gross income.

Your monthly payments (principal and interest) should be 1/4 of your gross pay, or 1/3 of your take-home pay.

The down payment and closing costs – how much cash will you need? Generally speaking, the more money you put down, the lower your mortgage. You can put as little as 3% down, depending on the loan, but you’ll have a higher interest rate. Furthermore, anything less than 20% down will require you to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which protects the lender if you can’t make the payments. Also, expect to pay 3% to 6% of the loan amount in closing costs. These are fees required to close the loan including points, insurance, inspections and title fees. To save on closing costs you may ask the seller to pay some of them, in which case the lender simply adds that amount to the price of the house and you finance them with the mortgage. A lender may also ask you to have two months’ mortgage payments in savings when applying for a loan. The mortgage – how much can you borrow? A lender will look at your income and your existing debt when evaluating your loan application. They use two ratios as guidelines:

Housing expense ratio. Your monthly PITI payment (Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance) should not exceed 28% of your monthly gross income.

Debt-to-income ratio. Your long-term debt amerinet mortgage (any debt that will take over 10 months to pay off – mortgages, car loans, student loans, alimony, child support, credit cards) shouldn’t exceed 36% of your monthly gross income.

Lenders aren’t inflexible, however. These are just guidelines. If you can make a large down payment or if you’ve been paying rent that’s close to the same amount as your proposed mortgage, the lender may bend a little. Use our calculator to see how you fit into these guidelines and to find out how much home you can afford.

Why Should I Refinance?
If you have a low 30-year fixed interest rate you’re in good shape. But if any of these Five Reasons applies to your situation, you may want to look into refinancing.

1. Decrease monthly payments.
If you can get a fixed rate that’s lower than the one you currently have, you can lower your monthly payments.

2. Get cash out of your equity.
If you have enough equity you can get cash out by refinancing. Just decide how much you want to take out and increase the new loan by that amount. It’s one way to release money for major expenditures like home improvements and college tuition.

3. Switch from an adjustable to a fixed rate.
If interest rates are increasing and you want the security of a fixed rate, or, if interest rates have fallen below your current rate you can refinance your adjustable loan to get the fixed rate you’re looking for.

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