7 Ways to Make Homebuying Easier
Without the right support and preparation, buying a home can feel a lot like putting together a puzzle with only half of the pieces: time-consuming and frustrating. From house-hunting to closing, the homebuying process takes 4 to 6 months on average and involves multiple moving parts, so it’s no surprise that many homebuyers find it overwhelming.
If you want to simplify and streamline your experience, you can take steps to better prepare and set yourself up for a smooth road to homeownership.
1. Do Some Digging
Research the steps involved in buying a home to avoid being caught off guard by the intricacies and potential costs you may encounter. For instance, first-time homebuyers may be unaware of lesser-discussed expectations, such as paying an earnest deposit—a sum of money typically up to 3% of the purchase price—when making an offer on a house.
Being unprepared can slow or even derail your home purchase. Having at least surface-level knowledge of the typical proceedings can help you better navigate the experience, minimizing or avoiding complications and delays.
2. Prepare with Pre-approval
A pre-approval is a formal determination of the maximum amount of financing a lender can extend to a borrower, based on verified personal and financial information. It’s essentially a guarantee that you have the financing you need to purchase a home. Pre-approval lets you:
- Have a clearer understanding of your homebuying budget
- Make an offer as soon as you find the home you want, a massive advantage when properties are going fast
- Show sellers that you’re serious, qualified, and prepared to buy
- Streamline the closing process, since some steps have already been completed
With some lenders, getting an official pre-approval also presents the opportunity to lock in the interest rate at the time of pre-approval, protecting you from potential rate increases while you search for a home.
3. List Your Likes
Create a detailed list or spreadsheet of the features that you need (like the number of bedrooms), want (like a specific house style), and do not want (like being in a busy urban location) in a new home. This organized and flexible approach helps you define your priorities and deal-breakers, narrowing your home search. It also helps your real estate agent find homes that meet your needs—including some homes that may surprise you.
4. Find Financial Assistance
Research homebuying assistance offered by your state, county, or city that you may qualify for, such as loans to help cover your down payment and closing costs. This assistance may be offered based on factors like your income, profession, or desired home location, and many are designed for first-time homebuyers.
Some programs may give grants that don’t need to be repaid, while others offer loans with deferred payments, forgivable balances, or reduced interest rates. An example is Philadelphia’s Philly First Home program, which offers qualifying homebuyers a grant for up to $10,000 or 6% of the home’s purchase price, whichever is lower.
5. Choose a Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents are licensed professionals who specialize in property transactions and can help guide you through the homebuying process, handling most of the heavy lifting along the way. Though the experience can vary between agents, they generally:
- Find listings that meet your needs
- Act as your advocate and liaison with sellers and agents
- Answer your questions
- Share insights into current market conditions and trends
- Coordinate property viewings, inspections, and appraisals
- Ensure all paperwork is complete and correct
- Help manage any roadblocks that occur
With their expertise and resources, real estate agents can help ensure that you get a fair deal and that the process goes smoothly. To find a reliable agent, search for one with years of experience and largely positive reviews online.
6. Gather Needed Documents
Once you have an offer accepted by a seller, your mortgage underwriter must confirm and verify all information available about your financial standing and history, as well as obtain documentation for any discrepancies or abnormalities. Even if you’re preapproved, this can take weeks.
To speed things along, ask your lender in advance what documentation they’ll need, and begin gathering it immediately so you don’t lose time searching for it later on. Typically, you’ll need to provide personal information like your name, Social Security number, and contact information, plus employment and income documents for the past 2 years, including pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, and employer contact information. Any other documentation that affects or involves your finances should be provided, too.
7. Rely on a Local Lender
Choosing a local lender for your mortgage comes with a host of benefits, particularly in terms of convenience and service. A local lender is easily accessible for face-to-face interactions, like signing or delivering documents, and their deep knowledge of the area’s market, financing options, and assistance programs positions them to offer solid guidance and connect you with options that truly fit your needs. Plus, you get to enjoy more attentive and personalized service and the knowledge that you’re supporting an organization that, in turn, uplifts your community.
When it comes to buying your first home, it’s essential to remain prepared, patient, positive, and level-headed. Finding the right home usually takes months, and keeping a cool head can help protect your finances by preventing you from making poor decisions based on emotion, like waiving a home inspection in order to beat out other buyers.
American Heritage Credit Union’s new Home Connection program can streamline your homebuying experience. When you enroll, you’ll gain access to exclusive tools that power your journey and let you search listings, research neighborhoods, estimate home values, and find the perfect real estate agent. Click here to learn more about the benefits and features of My CU Home Connection.