Buying Your First Home: What the Process Looks Like
When my husband and I purchased our first home eight years ago, it wasn't a simple process. The paperwork, calculations and unforeseen obstacles seemed pretty overwhelming. By walking you through some of these obstacles I hope you'll be able to avoid them when buying your first home.
Estimate the Price of Home You Can Comfortably Afford
I'm not talking about a preapproval amount from a bank. Don't think of your maximum preapproval amount as your target price. This could leave you with an uncomfortably high monthly payment.
Corey Heredos, a mortgage quality assurance and program manager at KeyBank, kept this conundrum in mind during her recent home search. It's something she's seen many clients struggle with. "There's so much to look at in each price range. I kept my eyes open, and kept low-priced options on the table … It was nice to be able to say if I wanted to look all the way up here, I could. But as a consumer, I didn't want to strap myself to the point where I was only living for my house."
To figure out what a comfortable payment is, you can use this calculator to figure out a monthly payment that makes sense for you — and, based on that, what price ranges you should look for.
My husband and I, for example, were preapproved for a $300,000 loan. This would have equaled a $2,044.56 monthly mortgage payment over 15 years. Instead, we purchased a home for $165,000 at an $835.65/month mortgage. Taking on that higher loan amount would have meant I couldn't be a work-at-home-mom raising our son, who came along six years later.
Calculate the Down Payment You'll Need
How do you estimate how much you'll need for a down payment? It's a mixture of what type of loan you'll be getting, your credit score and your comfort level. Make sure to check out the different types of loans, as well as their down payment requirements (as a percentage of your home's cost).
Because my husband served in the Navy, he was approved for a VA loan, which had some nice benefits, including no required down payment and smaller closing costs. We ended up making a nine percent down payment, anyway.
Heredos stated that down payments aren't as important as they used to be. In fact, she bought her first house without one. "The fact that I could purchase a home with no money down was huge for me. And yes, maybe you'll have to have mortgage insurance or something else specific to the product, but it can allow you to purchase."
She noted that KeyBank offers Key Community Mortgage, an ideal option for first-time homebuyers. They require zero money down, no private mortgage insurance, and flexible options for paying closing costs. "When you think about a loan product like that, where the seller can contribute as well, you have people walking into homes for a minimum contribution of $500. That's incredible."
Save Up a Down Payment ... Plus a Buffer
My PSA about plunking your entire savings into your down payment just to get into your home faster? Don't do it!
You have no idea what issues you'll face in your new home or in your life right after signing those closing documents, so it's important to leave funds in your savings account for these emergencies and extra expenses.
To illustrate the point: One month after our closing day, my car died. And we didn't realize that there was no refrigerator in the home, which meant that we had to purchase a $750 refrigerator. But these things happen. So instead of draining your savings, wait a few more months to buy your home and build up that buffer.
Get Your Documents and Money in Order
There are lots of nitty-gritty details involved between you and your bank, which is why it's so helpful to have a mortgage team working alongside you. Here's a big list of the specific documents you'll need. And on top of the down payment and closing costs, you'll need to pay what's called earnest money — anywhere between one and three percent of the total asking price — to save your spot as a buyer. The earnest money we paid was one percent of the total purchase price. So for us, this meant getting a cashier's check for $1,650.
As you can see, it helps to put in the legwork so you fully understand what's required of you when buying your first home. Working closely with your mortgage team — especially as a first-time homebuyer — can help reduce the chance of unpleasant surprises. Remember that they're a resource to help you navigate your way through the house-buying process in the most efficient way possible so you can instead focus on setting up your new life.