National policy favors homebuyers via the tax code (although less than it previously did). For many families the right home purchase is the best way to build an asset for their retirement nest egg. Also, if you can refrain from cash-out refinancing, the home you buy at age 30 with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage will be fully paid off by the time you reach normal retirement age, giving you a low-cost place to live when your earnings taper off.
To be clear, you don't need a pre-approval to start looking at houses. However, since a pre-approval is essentially the same as a full mortgage approval, just without a specific home in mind, it can be an extremely valuable shopping tool. Specifically, if you submit a pre-approval along with your offer, it tells the seller that you're a serious buyer who is not likely to run into trouble when obtaining financing. One caveat: A pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different things. A pre-qualification is based solely on information you provide and is not a commitment to lend money, therefore it doesn't carry nearly as much weight.
Homeowners are encouraged to explore free HUD foreclosure prevention counseling, which could help you qualify for other programs. Homeowners should also contact their servicer to find out if they qualify for a loan modification or other foreclosure prevention options. Some of these may include transition to other foreclosure alternatives, such as deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or short sale.
Once a Servicer is notified that a borrower is conditionally approved for mortgage assistance from a HFA, they must not refer the mortgage to foreclosure or schedule or conduct the foreclosure sale for 45 days. (Foreclosure actions are suspended unless the HFA notifies the Servicer the borrower has been determined ineligible for assistance.) Servicers must suspend the foreclosure referral or sale for a longer period of time if it is required by state law. Servicers may also postpone a foreclosure referral or sale exceeding 45 days if needed to facilitate the processing of mortgage assistance and receipt of funds, provided the Servicer follows up with the HFA on a regular basis to determine:
Lenders will generally pull your credit at least twice -- when you originally apply and shortly before closing (as happened in my situation). If there are any significant differences between the two, such as a new account or a significantly higher debt balance, it could lead to delays and could even disqualify you for the mortgage. Be safe -- just leave your credit alone until you've signed your closing documents.
The United Way's 2-1-1 hotline connects people with local assistance programs. By dialing 2-1-1, you can receive referrals to organizations that help with food, housing, employment, health care, prescriptions and more. If you are a struggling homeowner, the United Way can help you find a foreclosure prevention counselor and refer you to available mortgage assistance programs. Trained specialists take calls day or night. The United Way may also provide emergency financial assistance to households in danger of losing their homes. Programs vary among locations.
In a competitive real estate market with limited inventory, it’s likely you’ll bid on houses that get multiple offers. When you find a home you love, it’s tempting to make a high-priced offer that’s sure to win. But don’t let your emotions take over. Shopping below your preapproval amount creates some wiggle room for bidding. Stick to your budget to avoid a mortgage payment you can’t afford.
Technology has revolutionized the mortgage selection process, making rate comparisons a quick and easy first step. That said, it’s important to look beyond the initial rates and dig deeper into loan terms (the fine print), such as closing costs, hidden fees and down payment requirements. Some lenders will claim to charge “no origination fee,” but their online quote includes a hefty 2% “discount point” in the fine print. Another great resource when evaluating lenders is to read online reviews on Google, Yelp, Zillow or Facebook.
In today’s competitive market, many buyers skip this important step when they start looking for a home. A pre-approval allows you to confirm how large of a loan you can qualify for based on several factors. It also positions you to make a serious offer when you find the home you want to buy. For a pre-approval, the lender verifies the buyer’s application information through income and asset documents provided by you or retrieved directly by the mortgage company. Many lenders can also provide a “prequalification” online, based on unverified information provided by the buyer. However, most sellers don’t give much value to a letter that doesn’t state the information has been validated. The most important thing is to take the time to provide what is needed for a thorough pre-approval process.
DO THIS: UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR NUMBER IS BEFORE BUYING A HOUSE OR REFINANCING A MORTGAGE. A HIGHER CREDIT SCORE INDICATES BETTER CREDIT AND CAN HELP YOU GET A BETTER MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE. IF YOU’RE IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR CREDIT, ASK YOUR LOAN OFFICER ABOUT MORTGAGE PROGRAMS WITH FLEXIBLE CREDIT REQUIREMENTS, LIKE FHA AND VA LOANS THAT MAY ONLY REQUIRE A FICO OF 580.
The amortization chart below (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) shows how the proportion of your payment that is credited to the principal of your loan increases each year, while the proportion credited to the interest decreases each year. In the later years of your mortgage, more of your payment will be applied to principal, helping you build equity faster.
In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.
Don’t let lenders dictate how much you should spend on a mortgage loan. Lenders determine pre-approval amounts based on your income and credit report, and they don’t factor in how much you spend on daycare, insurance, groceries, or fuel. Rather than purchase a more expensive house because the lender says you can, be smart and keep your housing expense within your means.
The internet is filled with “discount” mortgage financing options with great rates, but often they are not able to quickly close your mortgage or offer you the level of service you need. On the other end of the spectrum you have the large, national mortgage companies that purport to offer both great service and value but in reality are not able to give you a competitive rate, and the service is not on the level you might receive from a local company.
Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.