Have you seen the show MythBusters? The truth is buying a home for the first time can be confusing and intimidating full of myths that need to be busted. This guide will clear up those misconceptions so you’ll have the right mindset and strategies on your path towards homeownership.
1. “I need a 20 percent down payment.”
Saving for a down payment isn't only a challenge for many renters and non-owners alike; it’s a roadblock that hinders them from entering the housing market. And many first-time home buyers believe they still need a 20% down payment before they can get approved for a mortgage. That may be true a few decades ago, but that’s no longer the case these days. In fact, the median down payment for first-time buyers remains steady at 6 percent in the past several years. Times are changing, and through various government programs available, buyers are now allowed to put as little as 3.5% to achieve their American dream of homeownership.
Nowadays, you only need to be comfortable and confident in deciding how much you will give as a down payment. Sure, you must pay more for your mortgage each month (including Private Mortgage Insurance or PMI) if you put less than 20% of the home's purchase price, but it'll help you save more money on other financial goals and have a cushion for emergencies.
2. “I can't get a mortgage if I don’t have a perfect credit score!”
Similar to the 20% down payment, many Americans are also misinformed about the FICO score needed to qualify for a mortgage. They think that they need to have a “good” credit score of 780 or higher. But the truth is your credit score doesn't have to be perfect. The median credit score range for many approved mortgages in the past years is 670 to 739. There are other factors that lenders take into consideration when deciding whether you'll be approved for a mortgage, including your employment history, debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, and the amount you can give as a down payment. Also, the required credit score also depends on the type of loan you’re getting.
Conventional loans have the strictest standards and require a score of at least 620. Meanwhile, FHA loans need a minimum credit score of 580. So if you have a lower credit score, don’t think that you’re already out of the game. There are measures you can take to improve it before applying for a mortgage.
3. “I'll skip hiring a real estate agent to save money.”
There are many costs associated with buying a home, but there's no good reason for you to skip working with a realtor thinking that you can save money. In reality, you can get all the advantages of having a buyer’s agent working for your best interest for free. Yes, they do get a commission, but it is usually paid by the seller and is built into the home’s selling price. Even if you show up without an agent thinking that you can get a discount on the price, the consequence of that could be stress, and wasted time and money.
Using their expertise, negotiation skills, and comparables, realtors can help you get the lowest purchase price for your dream home. They can also help you understand the complicated real estate contracts and guide you through things like home appraisals, inspections, contingency clauses, among others.
4. “I'll wait until spring to start my home search.”
Traditionally, the housing inventory is greater in spring. Buyers are flooding the housing market and most sellers are putting their single-family homes or condominiums for sale.
This heightened activity usually translates to escalating prices and multiple offers on properties. However, it's wrong to think that spring is the only “best” time for buying a home. All real estate markets are different, and you should base your decision on your personal circumstances and the local market conditions.
Sure, many people are looking to sell or buy in spring when the weather is nice and everyone is motivated, but there are ways to make a home attractive even in fall or winter. In some markets, it is better to start your search before or after the spring. There may be fewer homes available, especially during winter, but you might even find better bargains since sellers may want to relocate quickly or may be desperate to sell.