The first thing to do before buying a home is to make sure it’s the right time to do so. Generally speaking, owning a home pays off financially if you will live in it for at least five years. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with renting. Your actual numbers may vary, but you can play with scenarios using our rent vs buy calculator. Although it may not always be feasible if you live in an expensive real estate market, try to keep your total housing payment under 30 percent of your gross monthly income. When you spend much more than that on your mortgage, you risk becoming “house poor” — you might live in a beautiful home but find it difficult to save or even cover other monthly expenses.
The last thing you want to do is find your dream home only to discover you’re not financially qualified to buy it. To guarantee you’re financially ready to buy your first home, you’ll need good credit, cash to close, and a verifiable income.
It’s a good time to check your credit reports for errors and possibly invest in a few months of a daily credit score monitoring service. A fast way to improve your score by a few points is to pay down credit card balances and stop using them for two months before you apply for a mortgage. Also, you’ll want to avoid applying for credit (for example, a new credit card or car loan) until after you’ve closed on your new home.
Begin to collect documents that you need to verify finances on the mortgage application. Documents such as pay-stubs, W-2’s, bank statements and copies of your last two tax returns.
If you put less than 20 percent down, your lender will likely charge you a monthly premium for what’s called private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Private mortgage insurance protects the bank in the event you default on your loan and the value of your home declines significantly.