How Much Does It Cost to Build a House?

Factors that dictate cost

While the average costs to build a house can give you a general idea of how much you’ll pay for a new build, it’s important to note that the costs of building any home can vary dramatically. Where you live, for example, can play a huge role in not only the costs of land but the price of the permits and fees you’ll need to cover.

Of course, there are other factors that will dictate how much you pay, from the type of home you select to what you choose to do inside. Other factors that can dictate the costs of your home include:

  • Your lot: The NAHB reports that the average price for a lot of land worked out to $4.20 per square foot in 2015 (the most recent data available), bringing the total for an average size lot (20,129 square feet) to $84,541.80. However, this cost can vary depending on the lot you buy, the size of the lot and the local real estate market where you buy.
  • Home size: The larger the home, the more construction costs you’ll encounter, says Frank Nieuwkoop, sales and marketing director of new-home builder Valecraft Homes Ltd. Larger homes also require more materials (more flooring, more lighting, more fixtures, etc.), he says, which can lead to higher costs in a hurry.
  • Upgrades: If you opt for fancy upgrades, you’ll pay more for a new home, says Nieuwkoop. Granite or marble, upgraded fixtures, and custom woodwork can make any home considerably more expensive. This is one area where you can also save on the costs of building, however. Where laminate countertops may cost just $10 per square foot installed, you’ll pay more like $60 to $120 per square foot for concrete or recycled glass, according to Consumer Reports. If you multiply those savings across all the rooms that need counters in your home (kitchen and baths), it’s easy to see how you could pay more or less depending on what you choose.
  • Home design: The design of the home can also play a factor in cost, says Nieuwkoop. If you build a home that is standard in design, you may pay less than if you build a custom home with unique design or special features. If you design a truly custom home, you may also need to hire an architect to draft a design. Hiring an architect can add another 15 or even 20 percent of costs to your total project.
  • Siding: What you choose to cover the exterior of your home can play a big role in your total price. If you choose a custom stone exterior, you may pay more than you would if you choose vinyl siding instead.
  • Landscaping: Will you opt for an elaborate outdoor landscaping scheme or some simple greenery? Your landscaping choices will play a role in the costs of your home as well as ongoing outdoor maintenance. You’ll also pay more for a fenced yard.

Building vs. buying

Building a home comes with pros and cons that are entirely different from the factors that lead people to purchase an existing home. Before you choose to build or shop among homes already in your area, make sure to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both scenarios.

Pros of building your own home

  • Less competition: According to the National Association of Realtors, existing homes stayed on the market for an average of 34 days nationwide before being sold in October 2017. In “hot areas” of the country such as San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, and San Jose, however, houses — especially those in an affordable price range — tend to go under contract in less than a week, it notes. By selecting your own lot and building a home, you can avoid stiff competition for existing properties and still get the home you want.
  • Everything is new: “Many people love the idea that everything in their house will be brand new when they build,” says Nieuwkoop. Having new fixtures, a new roof, new appliances and a new HVAC system may also mean you’ll have fewer repair bills during the first few years of homeownership.
  • Choose the location of your home: Building a new home on a lot you choose puts you in the unique position of selecting exactly where you’ll live. This can be advantageous if you hope to live near work or near public transportation, or if you want a lot with a certain type of view. “Do you want to back up to a lake or woods?” asks Nieuwkoop. “When you build, you get to decide.”
  • Select your own floor plan and finishes: Whether you build a custom home or select a floor plan through a builder, you get to choose how your new home is set up — including your floor plan. You may even be able to select your own finishes including your paint color, countertops, flooring and cabinets.

Cons of building your own house

  • Moving delays: Building a home often means longer delays when it comes to moving, says Nieuwkoop. “Building a home can take as little as two months all the way up to a year,” he says. If you want to move quickly, this can be a deal-breaker.
  • Building surprises: Especially if you design a custom home, you may not know exactly how the floor plan flows until your home is already built, notes the expert. “With a custom home especially, you may end up with something different than you envisioned.” Fortunately, this isn’t typically a problem with larger builders and developers since they often have model homes you can walk through, he says.
  • Pricing surprises: With custom homes especially, pricing can easily surge — especially if you make changes as the plan moves along, says Nieuwkoop. Plus, there are added costs that come with building that many people forget. Adding window blinds and treatments can add up, as can new décor, shelving and other interior fixtures that don’t come in the home price. Builders rarely put a fence in the yard, so that’s another expense to consider if you want one.
  • Less negotiation power: You may be able to negotiate the price on an existing home if a buyer is motivated to sell, but there may be less wiggle room on the price of a new home.
  • Construction traffic: If you’re building in a new neighborhood, you may deal with ongoing construction traffic for months or even years.

Pros of buying an existing home

  • Save money with existing features: Existing homes tend to have a lot of additions and upgrades made already, says Nieuwkoop. You may already have mini blinds, a privacy fence and appliances, for example, which can help you save money.
  • Move in quicker: “Although it can take a few months to close on an existing home and be able to move in, the timeline until move day is still faster with an existing home,” says Nieuwkoop. If you need to move quickly, you can typically do so faster if you buy instead of build.
  • Property maturity: Existing homes tend to have more mature trees and landscaping, which could be advantageous if you don’t like the idea of growing new grass on your own.
  • No construction zone: If you’re buying a home in a mature neighborhood, you may not have to deal with ongoing construction issues like you would with a new build in a new neighborhood.

Cons of buying an existing home

  • Lack of customization: You don’t get to pick out the floor plan or fixtures when you buy an existing home. You get exactly what is there already, which may or may not be what you want.
  • Costs to upgrade: If you buy an existing home that is out-of-date, you may need to spend considerable sums of money to make important updates or replace out-of-date fixtures.
  • Hidden problems: Existing homes may have problems you don’t see, says Nieuwkoop, adding that home inspectors don’t always find every issue. “If there was a water leak in the home and the seller replaced the drywall without actually fixing the issue, you may not find out you need costly repairs until after you move in.”

Who it’s best for

According to Nieuwkoop, building is best for individuals and couples who are very detailed and know exactly what they want. Building is also ideal for people who don’t care as much about cost as long as they get a brand-new home and the ability to pick and choose every finish and feature.

“Building is also best for buyers who are patient and willing to endure some bumps along the road,” says the builder. “If you’re high stress and don’t want to deal with any issues, you may be better off buying a newer existing home.”

5 steps to building a house

While the process of building a house can vary slightly depending on whether you design your own custom home or work with a developer, the main steps to completing the process are the same. Fortunately, Nieuwkoop helped us outline the five steps to building a house from beginning to end.

Step 1: Create a budget.

Before you decide to build or buy a home, it’s crucial to know how much you can afford to spend. The best way to come up with a housing budget is to see a mortgage broker or apply for a mortgage online, to see how much you can afford to borrow. You should also get pre-approved for a mortgage, says Nieuwkoop. That way, you’ll be ready to work with a builder when you decide what you want. You can compare mortgage offers online with LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

Step 2: Purchase land or select a lot.

Once you know what you can afford (house and land included), it’s time to find a lot in an existing community or buy land you plan to build on. Keep in mind that the price of the land you buy will need to be included in your mortgage amount unless you plan to buy the land in cash separately. If you’re choosing a piece of land that hasn’t been developed, you should also ask your builder about the costs of adding utilities to the property, cutting down trees, or leveling the land.

If you’re buying from a developer or builder who is overseeing the construction of a new neighborhood, it’s possible the price of your chosen lot will be built into the price of the floor plan and home you select, says Nieuwkoop. Either way, now is the time to talk through land costs with a builder and decide where you want your new home to be.

Step 3: Develop floor plans and designs.

If you’re working with a builder, chances are good they’ll offer a range of floor plans and new home designs you can choose from. If you’re building a custom home, on the other hand, you’ll likely need to hire an architect to create a realistic housing design that encompasses all the features you want.

Either way, you need to nail down your ideal floor plan and design at this stage. Decide how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want, along with the general layout of your home. From there, you can select or design a housing plan that fits your budget and style.

Step 4: Select finishes, features, and appliances.

Once you’ve chosen the layout of your home, you still need to choose what goes inside. Work with your builder to decide on the interior finishes in your home, from the cabinets in your kitchen to your light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, flooring, and paint colors.

Step 5: Watch your home being built.

Once your home is commissioned and ready to be built, you can watch as the process takes place over the weeks and months. Nieuwkoop says that, ideally, your builder will let you walk through the home during various stages of the process. By walking through, you may be able to discover and point out issues that need to be fixed, such as incorrect fixtures or design problems.

How to finance the build

According to mortgage advisor Jeremy Schachter of Pinnacle Capital Mortgage, the process for financing a new build is similar to the process of buying an existing home.

When you build a home, it’s crucial to get pre-qualified with a bank or lender. During this process, the lender will take a look at your credit score, income, assets and debts, then use those factors to determine how much you can borrow.

The biggest difference with a new build, says Schachter, is that you’ll likely need to get pre-approved for a mortgage once and then start a portion of the process over again. “You’ll need to submit financial statements, a credit report, and pay stubs to get approved to build a house, but you’ll likely need to resubmit all this information again if the process takes several months,” he says. Schachter was clear that the final home closing doesn’t take place until the house is completed, and that this is when you’ll start making mortgage payments.

Fortunately, Schachter says, many lenders will let you lock in the interest rate on your home loan for up to a year when you’re building a home. But you should always check and ask about your APR to make sure you’re not stuck with a higher interest rate if your new build takes several months and rates surge during that time, he says.

What type of home loans can you use?

Schachter notes that consumers can use any type of home loan to build a property that they could use to buy a traditional home. For example:

  • VA loans: To qualify for a VA loan, you must have satisfactory credit, sufficient income, and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) based on your level of service. You must also plan to live in the home full-time.
  • FHA loans: You can apply for an FHA construction loan to finance a new build. To qualify for an FHA loan, you’ll need at least 3.5 percent as a down payment, a credit score of 580 or higher, and proof of income. You may qualify for an FHA loan with a credit score lower than 580, but you’ll need to make a larger down payment. Lenders will also look at your debt-to-income ratio — a figure determined by taking all your debt payments and dividing them by your gross monthly income. If you have $3,000 in bills each month and your gross monthly income is $5,000, your debt-to-income ratio is 60 percent. Generally speaking, lenders want you to keep your debt-to-income ratio under 43 percent, including all housing payments.
  • Conventional home loan: Requirements for a conventional mortgage can vary, although you typically need a good credit score (FICO score of about 740 or higher) to qualify for a loan with the best APR. Lenders also look at your employment history, income and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Construction loans: Schachter notes that individuals building a custom home may need to get a special “construction loan from a lender or bank.” These loans cover the initial costs of building a house, including the lot, building materials and architect fees. Schachter notes that construction loans are typically short-term loans with variable interest rates that are good for less than a year. Ultimately, construction loans are converted to permanent home loans once the construction process is complete.

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How to Determine Your House Payment: The Quick Formula

mortgage payment

When you’re shopping for a house and considering a mortgage loan, establishing what you can afford for house payments can be a lengthy process. You have to run calculations, get updated payment scenarios from your mortgage company, and determine whether or not you can qualify.

With all these moving parts, we hope it comes as a relief to hear there’s a simpler way to calculate a home payment. This simple solution will be a huge help in a competitive market that doesn’t allow for extended number crunching.

Terms to Know

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it will be helpful to know these two key terms when using our easy house payment formula.

1. House Payment or PITI

PITI is an initialism used to reference the four factors that influence your monthly house payment:

  • Principle is the amount borrowed, specifically how much of your loan you’re scheduled to pay off each month.
  • Interest is how much it costs to use your loan, and your monthly payment is based on your interest rates.
  • Taxes refer to the property taxes rolled into your monthly house payment and are sometimes called an escrow or impound account.
  • Insurance is the amount of the mortgage payment that goes toward hazard and fire insurance.

2. Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

Important for determining how easily you’ll be able to pay off your debts, the DTI is the percentage of your total monthly debt against your monthly income. In math terms, it looks like this:

(PITI + monthly liabilities) ÷ monthly income = DTI

Most lenders prefer your DTI stays at or under 45%, so it’s important to consider your other monthly liabilities alongside your PITI when getting a mortgage.

The Basic House Payment Calculations Most Lenders Won’t Share

Now that you’re familiar with PITI and DTI, you’re ready for this simple truth: for each $100,000 you borrow, expect a monthly mortgage payment, or PITI, of $725.

It’s true! In most cases, your principal, interest, property taxes, and home insurance for $100,000 will come out to about $725 each month. Here’s a handy table for reference:

Amount Borrowed Approximate PITI
$100,000 $725
$200,000 $1,450
$300,000 $2,175
$400,000 $2,900
$500,000 $3,625

 

You can easily add half of $725 (that’s $362.50) if you’re trying to calculate for an extra $50,000. Or you can divide the loan amount by $100,000 and multiply the result by $725 to get the estimated PITI for your loan.

The Ins and Outs of Calculating PITI

Let’s look at an example. Say you want to buy a $350,000 home. You want to know whether the payment is affordable and whether you’ll meet your lender’s debt ratio thresholds.

Pretend you already have a 20% down payment ready, which is $70,000 for a $350,000 home. So in total, you’ll be borrowing $280,000. Divide that by $100,000 and you get 2.8. Using this information, the basic house payment formula will look like this:

$725 x 2.8 = $2,030

To spell it out, we know that when you borrow $100,000, your PITI will be about $725 per month. When we divide $280,000 by $100,000, we get 2.8. Similarly to how multiplying $100,000 by 2.8 will result in the full loan amount, multiplying $725 by 2.8 will give us the total PITI amount. So the total PITI would be $2,030 per month.

The Ins and Outs of Calculating DTI

Once you’ve calculated the PITI, make sure you’ve got a debt-to-income ratio a lender will approve of. Remember, the highest DTI most lenders will allow is 45%. Continuing with our example and using an income of $4,750, here’s how to find the DTI for a $2,030 PITI if you have no other monthly liabilities:

$2,030 ÷ $4,750 = 42.74%

As you can see, you simply divide the PITI by your income. In this case, the result is 42.74%, which is low enough to possibly qualify for a loan.

The Application of Monthly Liabilities

Remember to include any other monthly liabilities you have when you calculate your DTI. Let’s see if you can still reasonably afford the house with hypothetical monthly liabilities.

Pretend you have a car lease payment of $300 a month and credit card payments of $80 a month. This changes our previous DTI formula like so:

($2,030 + $300 + $80) ÷ $4,750 = 50.74%

With those debts, you would have a 50.74% DTI, which means you likely wouldn’t qualify for that large of a loan. That’s a rather different situation, so don’t forget to include your monthly liabilities when calculating DTI.

Personalizing Your DTI

Your monthly income and expenses may be very different from our hypothetical scenario. Try plugging in your PITI with the formula below to get your personal DTI, and make sure it’s below 45%:

(PITI + monthly liabilities) ÷ monthly income = DTI

Remember, even if your DTI is below 45%, you need to consider your lifestyle and other living costs when deciding on a home. Are you willing to be house poor for a large mortgage, or will you be just as happy with less home and more spending money each month? The choice is up to you!

Factors Beyond the Formula

Our formulas for PITI and DTI are best for a solid estimation, but they’re not exact for every unique situation. Here are some other factors that will affect your monthly house payments:

  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI) comes into play when you have a down payment under 20%. PMI helps lenders offset the risk of you defaulting on the mortgage.
  • Large down payments, on the other hand, will positively influence your borrowing power.
  • Assets and reserves need to be disclosed to most lenders, and you’ll need two months or more of PITI in the bank to meet their requirements.
  • Credit scores can influence interest rates, and if your score is below 620, you may not qualify for a home loan. Every month, check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.

If you’re thinking of buying a home or are currently preparing to purchase one, check out some of our other mortgage tips and tricks.
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The post How to Determine Your House Payment: The Quick Formula appeared first on Credit.com.

Millennial Homebuyers Still Value a Personal Touch

Many millennials surprisingly opt for local, face-to-face interaction over online tools when buying homes.

All the hullabaloo about millennials coveting their social media accounts over face-to-face interactions holds untrue — at least when it comes to real estate, according to a recent survey conducted by the financial wellness community, CentSai. (Full Disclosure: I am the co-founder and president of CentSai.)

In fact, the 2,050 millennials surveyed are more traditional than previously believed when faced with buying a home. Three-quarters of respondents – age 18 to 34 – prefer to use a local real estate agent instead of an online one.

And 71% said they would choose a local lender instead of applying online.

This is in stark contrast to a 2015 Fannie Mae survey, which found 70% of homebuyers would like to obtain a mortgage online and 69% would like to complete a mortgage application online. (Your credit plays a key role in the terms and conditions of your mortgage. You can view two of your credit scores free on Credit.com to see where yours currently stands.)

Millennials Want Someone They Can Trust

Online mortgage lending and brokerage services are expected to transform home buying, but millennials surveyed said that – contrary to popular belief – they prefer local providers due to existing relationships and local knowledge.

“While sites like Zillow are perfect for looking online to size up the market, when it came to using a lender or actually buying a home, personal touch was essential,” said Keenan Spiegel, who bought his first home with his fiancée in Norwalk, Connecticut, last year.

Spiegel, a wealth management associate at Morgan Stanley and director of data visualization for CentSai, said he used a local real estate agent recommended by his family because he wanted to be sure he worked with someone he trusted.

And while getting approved for a mortgage online could have taken minutes, the couple preferred the experience of using a local, brick-and-mortar who was more hands-on and available when they called with an “endless” list of questions.

“We felt local lenders also know much more about the area they service and can provide a lot of information about the community where you’re about to buy a home,” Spiegel said. “We wanted to know about the quality of schools and the crime rates.”

Online Isn’t Everything Yet

Despite the purported savings and the ease of use, online providers may not yet be as big of a disruptor in the sector as one would expect.

That said, the vast majority of millennials surveyed (91%) said they would use an online site or mobile app to research neighborhoods and home prices and help identify the home that they may buy. But they cited various reasons for “going local” when it came to choosing their agent or lender – including personal touch and handholding, longstanding relationships and local knowledge.

A little more than half (56%) of the millennials surveyed plan to buy a home in the next two years, and for this group, online lenders likely need to provide an even more personalized experience to garner business.

The fear of missing out on valuable information that comes out of an in-person conversation still weighs on the millennial mind.

After all, buying a home is a major purchase, and despite all the bots and burgeoning artificial intelligence, the internet still has a way to go before it can mimic sitting across the table from a real estate agent.

Image: Steve Debenport

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This Simple Trick Can Keep Mortgage Paperwork From Becoming a Huge Hassle

Securing a mortgage requires a laundry list of paperwork. But there’s a way to simplify it.

Every year for your tax returns, you gather together paperwork such as receipts, explanations, paystubs and W-2s. Seventy percent of this information contains the same things you’ll need for getting a mortgage loan. If you do your taxes on time in April and save your documents in a secure, easily accessible location, you can use it to to support your application for a home loan later in the year.

In an encrypted thumb drive, round up all your “mortgage documentation.” (Just remember the password for the thumb drive and, of course, where you ultimately choose to store it.) Within the drive, make subfolders that have the following titles:

  • Tax returns: You can include all pages and schedules of personal returns and corporate returns. Mortgage tip: Make a PDF of this information for future use and store safely.
  • W-2s: same concept, but you’ll need the most recent two years.
  • Pay stubs: every time you get paid, download the pay-stub in PDF format onto the thumb drive and drag and drop it into the folder. It shouldn’t take too long and can save you a ton of time in the future.
  • Bank statements: every month when you pay bills simply download your bank statements in PDF format and similarly add them into the appropriately titled folder.

Be sure to delete any sensitive information that is not properly protected on your computer to minimize your risk should you accidentally download malware onto your computer or otherwise get hacked.

Doing the above things does create a bit more work on an ongoing basis, but it insures you are prepared. These documents can also help your applications for other types of credit in the future, including:

  • car loans
  • student loans
  • personal loans
  • home equity lines of credit
  • credit cards
  • any credit offers

Documentation planning will make the process of obtaining credit less of a scramble, keeping supporting documentation literally at your thumb tips. Save yourself from the need to go “digging.” If applicable, also have this information handy:

  • Your divorce decree: have the divorce decree including all pages, all schedules and the schedule of creditors in a saved folder.
  • Prior foreclosure documents: have the trustee’s sale date deed.
  • Short sale documents: have the final settlement statement from that transaction.
  • Alimony or child support paperwork: have the agreement paperwork.
  • Information on tax debt: have state and/or federal payment plan on file.

Requests for the documentation referenced in this article are consistent with today’s mortgage lending world. Be smart, be prepared and make sure you have the documentation ready before the lender asks for it to minimize hitting any snags.

Remember, too, your credit score will also play into your ability to qualify for an affordable mortgage. You can keep track of how your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, along with two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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10 States Plagued By Foreclosure

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Image: Courtney Keating

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Have Mortgage Rules Made It Tougher to Buy a House?

mortgage rules

The “Know Before You Owe” mortgage rules that went into effect last October have slowed the homebuying process a bit, but overall it hasn’t made it more difficult — for buyers and sellers, anyway — according to mortgage adviser Casey Fleming.

“I have seen homeowners frustrated because the process took longer than they thought,” Fleming, author of loanguide.com, said. But buyers and sellers have extended their contracts “in every single deal that I’ve ever been involved in.”

Those delays stem from the new rules, which require additional paperwork and disclosures for lenders. The new, standardized forms spell out exactly how much a borrower must pay for closing costs and how much each monthly payment will be as the loan ages and potentially adjusts, right up until its term ends.

They’re great changes for buyers because they make the total cost of the mortgage very clear before they finalize the purchase. Lenders, however, have been “in a tizzy” over the changes, Fleming said.

“The problem is that there are very severe penalties (for lenders) for not getting it right,” Fleming said, offering an example of a lender who, because of a math error in determining the lifetime costs of an adjustable-rate mortgage — part of the new paperwork and disclosure rules — had to eat about $15,000 because of the error, even though it would have had no financial impact on the borrower.

In a nutshell, borrowers must now get the new standardized forms at least three days before closing on their loan. Before, changes could be made right up to and even during the closing.

Before the change, homebuyers received the “HUD-1 Settlement Statement” — short for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — at closing, when they were already busy signing dozens of forms. (Note: It was always possible to ask for a preliminary HUD-1 several days before closing and some mortgage lenders did provide advance copies.) The HUD-1 looks a bit like an accountant’s ledger or an IRS tax form. Borrowers were also presented with a separate Truth in Lending Act (TILA) disclosure.

Both the HUD-1 and the TILA disclosure have now been replaced by a single “Closing Disclosure” form. This form is still several pages long, but designed to be easier to read. The cover page includes clear representations of monthly payments, total payments, closing costs, prepayment penalties, balloon payments and potential interest rate changes during the life of the loan. Everything on page one of the document is a direct response to complaints about many practices that tripped up consumers during the housing bubble.

The rest of the document bears similarity to the old HUD-1, with borrowers’ details on one side and sellers’ details on the other. Late fees and other terms follow. There’s an easy-to-use interactive guide to the paperwork on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

While lenders are still adjusting to the changes, Fleming said the processes should be smoothed out over the next several months. Overall, Fleming thinks the clarity of the new rules combined with the easing of mortgage underwriting through lower down-payment requirements and mortgages becoming available for people with lower credit scores make it a very good time for buying a new home. (You can check your own credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

“I see homebuying becoming far easier and far more possible than it was before,” Fleming said. “And from a consumer perspective, these new rules — they’re not perfect, but I see them giving the consumers more confidence in terms of their decision-making process because they’re going to see what they’re really spending and not just looking into some murky pond.”

If you want to get an idea of how much home you can buy, you can check out this home affordability calculator.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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4 Credit Tips for Buying a Home

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This may come as a surprise, but you don’t need a perfect credit score to buy a home or get a mortgage.

In some cases, your credit just needs to be sufficient. Good, bad, ugly or indifferent, as long as your credit score matches the criteria of the mortgage size and property type you are looking for, you may be able to get financing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet of the top three most commons mortgages and their basic credit score requirements.

  • Conventional loans. You generally need a credit score of 620. However, anyone with a 620-679 credit score should expect to pay higher interest rates and fees.
  • FHA loans. You’ll generally need a credit score of at least 600. There are lenders that do FHA Loans with credit scores as low as 580, but it’s going to come at a cost. Expect the lender to go through your file with a much finer-toothed comb if your score is at 620 or below. Conversely, if your credit score is 620 or higher, not only will you get better rates and fees, but you’ll also have an easier loan process.
  • Jumbo Loans. You’ll generally need a credit score of at least 680. You will also generally need at least 30% equity when buying or refinancing a home. A 700 or better score yields better rates and terms and requires less down (possibly as little as 20%).

Of course, a good credit score generally helps you net better terms and conditions. You can check two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to see where you stand. If you have some credit challenges preventing you from getting a mortgage with competitive rates and fees, here are some strategies straight from a mortgage pro that could improve your situation.

1. Pay Down Debt/Rapid Re-Scoring

Some mortgage lenders have a credit doctor service, known as rapid re-scoring, available through their credit reporting company. This service allows them to run statistical credit modeling: the lender plugs in a certain credit score needed, an algorithm analyzes your complete credit portfolio and outlines what can be done to get you to that aforementioned threshold.

Oftentimes, high credit utilization (the amount of debt you are carrying versus your total available credit) is the culprit for a low score. In those instances, paying down certain credit accounts could make you more creditworthy — and mortgage eligible — within short period of time.

2. Time

If buying a house is a longer-term goal, time can be your friend. Credit history is a large component of a healthy credit score. Make your payments on time, keep the amount of debt you are carrying low and avoid late payments of any kind. These smart spending habits show that you are responsible with your obligations and will bolster your credit score eventually.

3. Quit or Resolve Disputes

In order to get a mortgage, you generally cannot have any accounts in dispute on your credit reports. At the same time, simply removing a dispute from your credit report can make your credit score drop. The reason? Credit scoring models generally ignore information being disputed, like an account with a late payment, which would otherwise hurt your credit score.

In order to circumvent these problems, work to resolve any disputes. (You can find more about getting errors off of your credit reports here.) You can also consider handling any issue you may have with a lender directly in lieu of filing a formal dispute with the credit bureaus. Here are some tips for negotiating with creditors.

4. Put More Money Down

Putting more money down to buy a home could put you in an entirely different mortgage category and help you bypass certain credit scoring problems.

Remember, if you have been told “no” by a bank or lender, you owe it to yourself to get a second or third opinion. What’s more, your credit score could improve from month to month, depending on what’s holding you back, so keep an eye on it in the meantime.

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Do You Understand Your Mortgage’s Fine Print?

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When shopping for a mortgage, it’s critical to have a general understanding of how points affect your mortgage rate and payments, and ultimately connect to your bottom line. Below are some guides to help you identify your net tangible benefit on a home loan.

Points

When you pay points, you are paying a premium to buy the interest-rate down, thus lowering your monthly mortgage payment. In most mortgage scenarios, you have the choice to pay this point based on the interest rate, and other times you might not due to factors like loan-to-value, loan size, loan program, loan purpose, property occupancy or credit score.

A point is essentially1% of the loan amount. Also referred to as mortgage pricing, points can change daily until you lock in your loan rate. Some lenders allow you to lock your rate up front while others require your loan to be underwritten or have the home appraisal ordered prior.

No Points

This is the most common scenario for buyers, but your financial goals should dictate your decision. If lower interest rates over the life of the loan are better for your situation, paying points might be worth considering.

Basis Point Credits

When a particular interest rate generates an overage, a premium is paid back to you and applied toward closing costs. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you’re looking at that 30 year fixed rate at 3.75%, but you want no points. The next day mortgage pricing deteriorates by 25 basis points making the rate 3.75%  at .25% charge. If the 3.75% rate improves by .25% then that would be a credit as a function of your loan amount to pay the closing costs .

Mortgage Tip: Anytime you’re seeing a mortgage rate with any form of credit, it is based on the rate chosen for specific day in real time. Always review APR as the benchmark cost measure.

Determine Rates and Fees Consistent With Your Financial Goals

Ask yourself:

  • How long will you keep the loan or property for?
  • Do you plan to buy another property?
  • Is retirement around the corner?
  • Do you intend to pay the mortgage off in full?
  • Do you want to pay dollars today to line up the future?
  • Are the figures available based on your financial pictures consistent with any other goals you may have?

If you are uncertain about your short- and long-term financials goals, taking a conservative, low-cost, low-payment loan is usually a sound bet. An experienced mortgage professional can help you weigh costs versus benefits to determine which rate and pricing scenario best suits you.

Looking to get a sound mortgage loan? Get a free rate and cost offer online now!

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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