Buying a home is a complex process and, as the recent housing crisis demonstrated, requires a thorough education on the part of the buyer. First, fully understand your financial position — credit score, available savings, monthly income and expenditures. Subtracting your expenditures from your income, for instance, will yield the amount you can afford for housing.
Be sure to account for all insurance costs associated with owning a home, possible homeowner association fees and property taxes in your monthly expenditures. Overall, loan rules changed in 2015, but according to www.ginniemae.gov (Government National Mortgage Association) and www.homebuyinginstitute.com (the Home Buying Institute) loan programs continue to vary on the percentage of your income that can be used for housing-related expenses. Lenders balance debt against income to decide if an applicant will be able to repay a loan. Most conventional loans require borrowers to have no more than 43 percent total monthly debt versus their total monthly income, though there are exceptions, such as for those with significant savings. The Federal Housing Administration has a two-tier qualifying system: FHA sets its top thresholds at 31 percent front-end debt (housing expenses as a percentage of income) and 43 percent back-end debt (all debt as a percentage of income) for a 31/43 qualifying ratio. Like commercial lenders, Veterans Affairs combines front-end and back-end debt for a 41 percent limit against income.
Next, research the different types of home loans to determine the right fit for your financial situation and discuss your options with a lending professional. Lenders are diverse today, and not all homebuyers obtain their mortgage loans through their banks and credit unions. For example, you may choose to work with an internet lender, a mortgage broker, a homebuilder or a real estate agency lender. To determine which lender is best for you, get recommendations from friends and family members and check credentials as well as Better Business Bureau ratings.
A preapproved loan before starting your search for a home can determine your spending limits and signal any potential issues in the way of receiving a loan. For any home loan application, the mortgage company will order a credit report, so it would be good to get a free report in advance to determine your credit status and make sure the report contains no erroneous information.
To order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies: Visit www.annualcreditreport.com and complete and submit the request form online.
Home Loan Application
To complete a home loan application you’ll need: photo IDs (such as a driver’s license); Social Security numbers; residence addresses for the past two years with landlord contact information if you rented; names and addresses of your employers for the past two years; your current gross monthly income; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers and balances on all checking, savings, CDs, money market, bonds and mutual funds accounts; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers, balances and monthly payments on all open loans (including student loans) and credit cards; addresses and loan information of all other real estate owned; estimated value of furniture and personal property; W2s for the past two years and current paycheck stubs; copies of all divorce decrees, child support documents or any other court proceedings that affect your financial status; verification of any child support payments; and evidence of any retirement or pension benefits. VA or military forms include: DD 214 (veteran), Form 22 (National Guard), DD 1747, Off-base Housing Authority (active duty) and Certificate of Eligibility (active duty).
For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans.
Knowing your monthly budget and the amount of your loan is invaluable during the next phase, especially finding the answers to questions before the hunt for a home begins.
First, determine your home preferences. Does a single-family house, condo, town house or duplex best fit your needs and budget? Do you prefer a new home, an existing home or to build one? Though new homes generally cost more, existing homes may come with maintenance issues and renovation costs. How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want an attached garage? Will you live in the city, a suburb or the country? How close to work, school, shopping or public transportation do you want to be? Answers to these questions will greatly assist your search and the next stage — hiring a real estate agent.
The ideal agent will help find your ideal home and guide you through the purchase process. First, interview potential candidates to ensure they understand your needs, know your homebuying and neighborhood preferences, and are readily accessible.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Georgia provides housing programs and incentives to help residents with home ownership. For more information, visit www.hud.gov/states and select “Georgia” from the list.
In addition, HomeSafe Georgia (www.homesafegeorgia.com) can provide temporary mortgage assistance for homeowners who are unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs is another good place to check out what’s available in housing help (www.dca.ga.gov).
Savannah’s Housing & Neighborhood Services Department has information on programs that assist homebuyers and homeowners. Programs offer affordable loans for down payment assistance, closing costs, gap financing and other related expenses. There are also programs for assistance with minor home repairs and rental property repairs. For more information, visit www.savannahga.gov/484/Housing-Neighborhood-Services.
Hinesville offers housing assistance for residents as well. Qualifying homeowners who need to make repairs can seek out the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program. Single-family homes and town homes in the Azalea Street Redevelopment Project also are available for purchase to those who qualify. For more information, visit www.cityofhinesville.org/117/Affordable-Housing-Programs.