Jump in, the Water is Fine: How to Get Back into the Home Buying Game
Many Americans are admittedly gun-shy when it comes to purchasing a home. After being burned a few years ago by exorbitant prices and creative mortgage products, people aren't as anxious to plunk down their cash for a home—until now.
According to Kiplinger Magazine, home buying opportunities abound now that prices have returned to pre-boom levels. Factor in historically low rates to arrive at one of the ripest times to purchase a home in years.
Even with the home buyer's tax credit deadline approaching at warped speed, home buyers are still in the driver's seat this spring.
Although home prices are more attractive than ever, some people continue to wait for the market to "bottom out" before swooping in for the deal of the century. Home buyers have become accustomed to the wait and see approach, however now may be the best time to make your move.
Should You Buy Now?
Financial research company, FiServ Lending Solutions forecasts that prices may fall another 6.4% this year. However, this price decrease may not occur in all areas of the country. The best way to assess whether your area's market has bottomed out is to examine the joblessness rates and distressed property sales. If you see this trend leveling off or decreasing, your market may have already hit its bottom.
You should also consider when rates will begin to climb. As the country slowly makes it way out of the ashes from the Great Recession, rates are likely to begin to creep back up. In fact Freddie Mac predicts rates could possibly be hitting 5.7% by the end of 2010, compared to current rates of 4.7% on a conventional 30 year fixed loan.
Home Buying in 2010
Mortgage lending practices must have jumped into the "Hot Tub Time Machine" and gone back to the stringent standards of 1980's lending. Gone are the days when you could simply flash a driver's license to get a mortgage. First time home buyer and attorney, Sowmya Bharathi says that when she and her husband purchased their Miami home in 2008, getting a mortgage wasn't an overly painful process. "We produced the obvious paperwork needed to obtain a mortgage. I don't remember the process being arduous or difficult. We were first time homebuyers with good credit. Our only real debts were student loans."
Today Bharathi would have still passed lender's standards, but in 2010 it's not as easy to obtain a traditional mortgage. During the last quarter of 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that although banks stopped tightening consumer lending standards, financial institutions still haven't released their choke hold thanks to economic turmoil over the past few years.
Check Your Credit Report
What's the best approach to purchasing a home this year? First, buyers should examine their credit report before going house hunting. Unless you've reviewed your credit report within the last six months to a year, you never know which inaccuracies or improperly reported debt or judgments could be impairing your credit score. To access a free copy of your credit report visit the (FTC) regulated credit report website www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Correct any inaccuracies in writing and work with creditors if you are having trouble meeting bill payment deadlines.
Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
The second step you should take is to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan. Visit your financial institution to obtain rate information and a pre-approval application. Being pre-approved allows you to know exactly how much house you can afford and provides an incentive for sellers. If it comes down to a bidding war, many sellers look favorably upon buyers who have been pre-approved for a loan.
Before being pre-approved, compare rates and terms with other lenders. Don't forget to ask your lender about special programs or relationship pricing opportunities. Some financial institutions will offer rate discounts if you have established several accounts and services with the institution.
Prepare Mortgage Loan Documentation
Once you've made an offer on your dream home, work closely with your lender to ensure that the mortgage process runs smoothly. Documents you'll need to furnish include tax return statements, pay stubs, deposit account information, a list of assets and insurance and a list of debt and payment amounts.
Keep in mind that not all financial institutions adhere to the same standards, so ask plenty of questions. If your credit score is a little too low for a traditional, 30 year fixed mortgage, ask the lender what you can do to raise it. Ask about closing costs and points to ensure you understand and know how much money you will need to produce during closing.
Esswein Mertz, Pat. "Now's the Time to Buy a Home." Kiplinger. May 2010.
Di Leo, Luca and Bater, Jeff. "Lending Standards Remain Tight." 1 February 2010. Wall Street Journal
Federal Trade Commission. "Free Annual Credit Reports."