You’ve done it: you’ve make that big decision and you’re looking for a new home. But now what? Now that you’re officially in the market, what’s the next step?
Well lucky you, you’re far from the first person who’s asked. There are plenty of things every homebuyer can do to improve their chances of finding their dream house—and making sure they can afford it once it comes along. To give you an idea, here are eight things you should definitely do if you’re on the hunt for a house:
1. Decide now what you really want
When you’re first starting out, now is the time to sit down and decide what you’re really looking for in a house. What characteristics are non-negotiable for you? A big garage? A backyard? A kitchen with incredible wood floors and granite countertops? Every house has its flaws, but now is the time to think about what you can and can’t live without—and how much work you’re willing to put into a house. No matter what traits make it onto your list, remember that the one thing you can never change about a house is its location.
2. Figure out what you can afford
Before you set foot in a single open house or start searching online, you need to know exactly how expensive of a house you can afford. And preferably before you fall in love with that gorgeous specimen that’s way out of your budget. The easiest way to do the math is with a home affordability calculator, which will help you know what kind of monthly payment your income and your debt can support.
3. Plan to buy LESS house than you can afford
Once you’ve discovered that perfect dollar amount you can afford, plan to stay well below that max. As tempting as it is to buy the biggest house you can, realize that bigger homes come with bigger mortgages, bigger utility bills, and a lot of extra costs, many of which you can’t foresee right now. So always go smaller to make sure you have extra cash for upkeep, decorating, and your retirement.
4. Check in on your credit score
Credit reports are a major factor in what kind of loan you can get and what kind of payment you can afford. Typically you’ll need a 620 credit score to get any kind of loan, so be sure to check your free annual credit report a few months before you start house hunting. It’s never too late to improve that credit score.
5. Shop your mortgage options
There are a lot of lenders out there, and every kind of home loan comes with different benefits and challenges. Shop around in your area for the best rates and services, and if you’re an active service member or a veteran, definitely use your VA home loan benefit. Now is the time to do your research so you can have everything in order by the time you find that dream house. You’ll save thousands in the long run.
6. Get pre-approved for a home loan
Once you’ve settled on a loan type and have shopped a handful of lenders, get pre-approved for a home loan now. This means a lender will hand you a pre-approval letter vouching for your credit and your loan information. Plenty of real estate agents won’t even accept an offer from homebuyers who aren’t already pre-approved for a loan, so if you can have that paperwork in hand while you’re hunting, it will only speed up the process.
7. Don’t do anything crazy
If you really are looking for a home, now is not the time for impulsive decisions. Quitting your job, buying a new car, and closing credit accounts are all a bad idea right now while lenders are scrutinizing every transaction on your record. You should be avoiding anything that doesn’t make your finances look reliable, so try as much as possible to hold off on big purchases. And always, always make your credit card payments on time. Trust me, it will pay off when you take out that loan.
8. Don’t rush
Purchasing a home is a huge commitment and will probably be the biggest financial investment of your life. Even if you do stumble across what appears to be the perfect home at the perfect price, don’t rush into an offer. Inspect, inspect, inspect, and no matter what, always be sure you know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign the paperwork. It will only make your new home that much sweeter if you feel completely sure about your decision to buy.