The ABC’s of Preparing to Buy Your First Home

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Borrowers getting ready to buy their first home are often surprised…for different reasons. I find that some are surprised to learn that they do qualify for a home in their price range and some are disappointed to learn that they have a little work to do before they can buy a home. Getting preapproved with a mortgage professional helps take some of the “surprise” out of the process.

Here are some of the bare minimum “basics” that we look for qualifying a home buyer.

Assets: If you have a 401k, retirement or stock accounts that you’re not planning on using for down payment, often times these accounts are great to have on your application to show that you have “reserves” after savings. Additional assets add financial strength to your application.

Bank statements: Be prepared to provide all pages of your bank statements (even if the last page is blank) and to document any large deposits that are on your statements. Lenders want to know where your funds came from.

Credit history: It’s ideal to have three to four lines of credit in good standing for two years or more. Your credit lines should be used once a month with less than 30% of the credit line in use for revolving debt. New credit lowers scores and old established credit that is paid on time raises credit scores.

Credit scores: Most lenders that we work with currently have a minimum credit score requirement of 640. Lenders use the lowest “middle score” of all borrowers applying for the loan.

Debt-to-income ratios: Lenders like to see your back end ratio no higher than 45%. This is calculated by dividing all of your monthly debts plus the proposed total mortgage insurance payment by your gross monthly income.

Down payment: Currently (as of the publishing of this post) FHA allows a 3.5% minimum down payment; Fannie Mae Homepath allows for 3% down; VA and USDA are still zero down payment. Conforming loans will allow for a minimum down payment of 3% with private mortgage insurance. Some programs will allow gifts from family for your down payment and/or closing cost. These funds do need to be documented and “paper-trailed” with the donor providing a written letter stating no repayment is expected.

Employment: Lenders need to see a two year job history in the same line of work. Good news if you went to school for your field, this may factor into your job history with supporting documentation (transcripts, diploma, etc.).  Gaps in employment over the past 24 months will need to be explained and second jobs are often not be factored if they have not been held for 24 months or more. 

Income: How you are paid (your pay structure) will impact what lenders can use for qualifying. Those paid an annual salary are the easiest to calculate. Borrowers who are paid hourly with hours varying will probably find their income averaged over the last two years. Self employed or commissioned borrowers will also find their net income averaged over the last two years. If a borrower receives annual bonuses, they will probably need to be received by that employer over the last two years and will be averaged.

You may have strong employment or assets and your credit is “shallow” causing you to have a lower credit score. Or perhaps you need to work on saving up for a down payment and delay buying that new car. This is why it’s important to meet with a mortgage professional as soon as possible. I often help clients who aren’t planning to buy a home for six months or even longer – they want to be prepared to put their best foot forward.

If you’re considering buying your first home, I’m happy to help you! I have been helping first time home buyers at Mortgage Master Service Corporation since April 2000 buy homes in Renton, West Seattle, Redmond, Bainbridge Island and all over Washington state, where I’m licensed to originate mortgages. If you would like me to provide you with a rate quote, click here.

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  1. […] Yesterday I met for coffee with one of my clients who is hoping to buy a home in a Seattle area neighborhood for around $600,000. They have already taken one of the most important steps in the home buying process by getting preapproved for a mortgage. […]

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