Make a list
The very first thing you should do together is make a list. There is a chance that you are both on different pages. Make sure you are able to compromise on the features. It’s best if you each make your own lists and then compare them. This way you can determine the features you both want and those that may need a little compromising.
The next step is to prioritize. Once you narrow down your list, write down in order the features you ‘have to have’ and those that are negotiable. This way when you shop for a home, you have the features that you can’t live without and those that are a ‘bonus’ if you are able to get them.
Check on Your Finances
Chances are that you are going to need a mortgage to buy your home. If this is the case, you need your finances in order. If you are unsure of the status of your credit or that of your spouse, pull a copy of your free credit report from each of the three bureaus. This way you can see where you stand. Do you have bad credit that needs some fixing? Do you have too many debts outstanding? Are there errors on your credit report?
This is the time to work on these issues. You want your credit score as high as possible when you apply for a mortgage. Remember, lenders use the lowest middle credit score between the two of you. Even if your credit is great, but your spouse has some credit issues, the lender will likely use your spouse’s credit, which could mean trouble.
Working on your credit ahead of time can help offset any of these issues.
Save for a Down Payment
Unless you move into a rural area and qualify for a USDA loan, which is for low to middle-income families, you’ll need a down payment. The FHA requires at least 3.5% down and Fannie Mae requires 5% down. Of course, the more you put down, the lower your payment and the more equity you have in the home. Lenders often give lower interest rates to those that invest in their own home too.
You’ll also need money for closing costs. Estimate approximately 5% of your loan amount for closing costs. This could mean several thousand dollars, so don’t overlook the need to save for the closing costs. You may be able to negotiate some of the costs, but you will inevitably still pay quite a bit in fees.
Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
Now it’s time to get pre-approved for a mortgage. This could be the tricky part. Hopefully by this point you and your partner have straightened out your credit. You should also make sure you both, or at least one of you, has stable employment and income. If you don’t need incomes from both spouses to qualify for the loan, you can use just one. This helps if one spouse has bad credit and no income – there’s no reason to put that spouse on the loan. You can always have him/her to the title later on down the road. For now, though, your focus is on getting the mortgage.
It’s a good idea to check with several lenders. This way you have offers from different banks and you can compare them. Some lenders offer lower interest rates and fees than others. Make sure you read the fine print and know the terms of the loan, though.
Do Your Research
Once you know the type of home you want, the features it should have, and the amount you can afford, it’s time to start shopping. We recommend that you start on the internet. Do your research on various areas. Where do you plan to live? Do you plan on having children? Do you need to be close to the highway? You can look for neighborhoods with the features you need and probably even read reviews on each area. This way you go into the actual home search knowledgeable and ready.
Finally, it’s time to shop. We recommend that you work with a licensed real estate agent so you can get the best chance at the hottest listings. If you are buying in a seller’s market, it means there are a lot of buyers and possible bidding wars. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the emotions of the process. Take a step back and truly think if this home fits your needs. If it doesn’t or you lose the bid, there are other homes out there.
The most important thing to do while searching for a home is to have patience. The right home will come along. Remember, this is one of the largest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. It’s not something you can return at the store if you don’t like it. Make sure you are happy with the home and feel comfortable with the mortgage before you sign on the dotted line.