For many potential home buyers, especially those of you who fall into the millennial demographic, entering the world of home ownership might seem like an unobtainable dream. With many of you being strapped with enormous college loan payments and credit card debt, it might even be difficult to think about ending your relationship with your landlord! But with proper planning, diligent research, and informed decision-making, you just might be able to close the deal on that condo, town home, or single-family house in the neighborhood you’ve always loved.
Whether you plan to purchase your new home alone or with a partner or spouse, here are some practical tips to consider even before you hit the paved road or the Internet highway to look at properties.
Sit down with your partner, parents or trusted friend and review your assets and liabilities. Many people find this to be a daunting task, especially if your debt is unwieldy and your income is not yet at the level you had hoped. This process can bring up feelings of shame and inadequacy, but it is imperative that you be honest with yourself. Staring fiscal reality in the face is your first step in preparing for home ownership. A financial professional can then help you with a strategy.
Even before meeting with your real estate agent or broker, it’s a good idea to know your credit score. It’s easy enough to do. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year. Just contact one of the major credit bureaus directly, view your score, and enter the next stage of your home purchasing journey armed with more facts about your situation. Recent research shows that the average score for millennials is 625—this is lower than the 695 national average. Tips for boosting that number would include: paying bills on time, keeping regular tabs on your credit score, minimizing your number of credit cards, and paying your balances in full. FYI, a score of 720 is considered good, while 750-850 is excellent!
Most real estate professionals suggest that you have at least 20% of the property’s purchase price as a down payment. You can buy a home with less than that amount, but with a 20% down payment you can avoid paying PMI (private mortgage insurance)—that is usually 1-2% of the value of the loan and is split into monthly payments.
While preparing your finances for your upcoming home purchase, evaluate your current expenditures. Ask yourself do l need this item or do I want it? Can I do without it for now? Can I modify it? Be honest about your spending habits. For example, if you spend $5 a day at Starbucks for that Venti skinny vanilla latte, that amounts to $150 a month. Or how about that gym membership with those automatic monthly payments on your credit card? Do you still use it? Have you ever even gotten on a treadmill there? If you evaluate the expensive habits and change them, you just might be able to reach our home ownership goal a lot faster.
If the numbers need a boost, meet with a financial planner who can help you strategize. Don’t let pride get in the way and see if a parent or other family member might be able to give you a loan towards the down payment. And be sure that you call it a loan—do pay it back over time. That will help your self-esteem and no strings can be attached.
The good news is that if you are one of those college graduates now hampered with student loan debt, happily (whether you realize it or not), you are the one most likely to acquire a great job with excellent benefits. In fact, the higher your college loan debt, the better your income potential. Stay upbeat and remind yourself of this very important fact. Remember, beating yourself up and focusing on the negative will get in the way of your success.
Once you know that you can afford a home and have the means to acquire a down payment, start looking for a real estate professional with whom you click. Get referrals from friends you trust. Since you will be sharing lots of details about your life with the agent or broker, choose someone who gets your situation, who treats you respectfully and who validates your needs. If at any point you feel pressured and/or unheard, look elsewhere. After all, purchasing your first home is one of THE most important milestones in your life, and you want it to go well! Once you choose your real estate pro, they will refer you to a loan officer who will evaluate your financial situation and help you get pre-approved. In most hot real estate markets, you will need this letter to jump on that house quickly so that you don’t lose the deal.
Once you know your price range from your loan officer, you can begin your search (if you haven’t already). Whether buying solo or with a partner, come up with your “must have” list. This will include the type of property for which you’re looking, as well as the neighborhood essentials (schools, restaurants, transportation options, etc.). If you and your partner are purchasing together, you will need to be on the same page before embarking upon your search with your real estate professional. Do you want a town home or single-family home? Should it have a garage or is off-street parking sufficient? Should it be turnkey or a fixer-upper? Will it be in the city or in the suburbs? While exploring, don’t be shy. Talk to neighbors and ask questions!
Finally, buying your first home is an important, yet a stressful experience. Similar to a roller coaster, it’s exhilarating and scary! But it can also be fun, exciting and a time that you’ll never forget. So enjoy the ride and happy house hunting.