Are there tax benefits to owning a home?
Answer. All of the property taxes and interest you pay in a given year can be deducted from your gross income to reduce your taxable income.
How much money will I have to come up with to buy a home?
Answer. Well, that depends on a number of factors, including the cost of the house and the type of mortgage you get. In general, you need to come up with enough money to cover three costs: earnest money - the deposit you make on the home when you submit your offer, to prove to the seller that you are serious about wanting to buy the house; the down payment, a percentage of the cost of the home that you must pay when you go to settlement; and closing costs, the costs associated with processing the paperwork to buy a house.
What do I need to take with me when I apply for a mortgage?
Good question! If you have everything with you when you visit your lender, you'll save a good deal of time. You should have: 1) social security numbers for both your and your spouse, if both of you are applying for the loan; 2) copies of your checking and savings account statements for the past 6 months; 3) evidence of any other assets like bonds or stocks; 4) a recent paycheck stub detailing your earnings; 5) a list of all credit card accounts and the approximate monthly amounts owed on each; 6) a list of account numbers and balances due on outstanding loans, such as car loans; 7) copies of your last 2 years' income tax statements; and 8) the name and address of someone who can verify your employment. Depending on your lender, you may be asked for other information.
I know there are many types of mortgages - how do I know which one is best for me?
You're right - there are many types of mortgages, and the more you know about them before you start, the better. Most people use a fixed-rate mortgage. In a fixed rate mortgage, your interest rate stays the same for the term of the mortgage, which normally is 30 years. The advantage of a fixed-rate mortgage is that you always know exactly how much your mortgage payment will be, and you can plan for it. Another kind of mortgage is an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). With this kind of mortgage, your interest rate and monthly payments usually start lower than a fixed rate mortgage. But your rate and payment can change either up or down, as often as once or twice a year. The adjustment is tied to a financial index, such as the U.S. Treasury Securities index. The advantage of an ARM is that you may be able to afford a more expensive home because your initial interest rate will be lower. There are several government mortgage programs that might interest you, too. Most people have heard of FHA mortgages. FHA doesn't actually make loans. Instead, it insures loans so that if buyers default for some reason, the lenders will get their money. This encourages lenders to give mortgages to people who might not otherwise qualify for a loan. Talk to your real estate broker about the various kinds of loans, before you begin shopping for a mortgage.
What are the respective advantages of 15-year and 30-year terms?
Answer. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage remains the standard mortgage, with an array of valuable benefits designed especially for buyers who expect to stay in their homes for a long time. Because the borrower pays more interest than principal for the first 23 years, the tax deduction is substantial. And as inflation causes income and living expenses to increase, your unchanging monthly mortgage payments account for a relatively smaller portion of income as the years go by.
As you'd expect, a 15-year monthly mortgage means higher monthly payments than an equivalent 30-year loan... but not as much higher as you may think. At the same rate of interest, payments on the 15-year mortgage are roughly 20-25 % higher than a loan that takes twice as long to pay off. And one of the benefits of choosing a 15-year mortgage is that you can generally get a lower interest rate for an otherwise similar loan. Another advantage is faster equity build-up because a larger portion of your early payments are going to pay off principal. This makes the 15-year mortgage an ideal alternative for couples approaching retirement or anyone else interested in owning their home free and clear as quickly as possible.
Do adjustable rate mortgages offer any protection against rising rates?
Answer. Yes. ARMs and other variable rate or payment plans offer lower-than-market interest rates initially, but because they are tied to the interest rates of U.S. Treasury Bills or other indexes, interest rates later in the loan term may rise. However, many such loans offer built-in limits or safeguards designed to minimize the effect of any rapid escalation in interest rates.
One such safeguard is the rate cap. Many ARMs include provisions for the maximum amount your rate can rise, both annually and over the life of the loan. For example, if your initial rate is 8%, the FHA adjustable loan may include 1% annual and 5% lifetime caps... which means even if rates rise dramatically, you'll pay no more than 9% next year, 10% the following year, and so on until a maximum rate of 13% is reached.
ARMs may also allow your rate to decrease when the index it is tied to goes down. As you might expect, decreases are usually capped as well.
A second protective device included in some ARMs is the payment cap. Under this provision, your monthly payments may rise by only a set dollar amount. The potential disadvantage of this type of cap is that it can slow or even reverse your equity build-up. If rates rise dramatically, you could actually wind up owing more principal at the end of the year than you did at the beginning.
Of course, ARM holders can also consider refinancing to a fixed rate loan after a few years. Some ARMs even include a provision for converting to a fixed rate after a set period of time for a set fee.
What's the point in paying Points?
Answer. In real estate, the term "point" refers to 1% of the total mortgage loan amount. Buyers often pay lenders this supplemental fee, calculated in points, to get a better interest rate on a particular mortgage.
For instance, a lender may offer you a choice of two 30-year mortgages: the first at 10% with no points, and the second at 9-1/2% with an additional three points. If the loan is for $100,000, those three points will cost you an extra $3,000 up front - but you'll get a payback of significantly lower monthly payments ($840.85 vs. $877.57) for the lifetime of the loan.
Depending on the market, lenders may advise you to pay the points for the better rate if you can afford it, especially if you plan on keeping the home for more the long term. Like interest, the money you pay for points may be tax-deductible, and the investment may pay for itself through savings generated by lower monthly payments. We suggest you check with your tax professional.
When I find the home I want, how much should I offer?
Again, your real estate broker can help you here. But there are several things you should consider: 1) is the asking price in line with prices of similar homes in the area? 2) Is the home in good condition or will you have to spend a substantial amount of money making it the way you want it? You probably want to get a professional home inspection before you make your offer. Your real estate broker can help you arrange one. 3) How long has the home been on the market? If it's been for sale for awhile, the seller may be more eager to accept a lower offer. 4) How much mortgage will be required? Make sure you really can afford whatever offer you make. 5) How much do you really want the home? The closer you are to the asking price, the more likely your offer will be accepted. In some cases, you may even want to offer more than the asking price, if you know you are competing with others for the house.
What if my offer is rejected?
They often are! But don't let that stop you. Now you begin negotiating. Your broker will help you. You may have to offer more money, but you may ask the seller to cover some or all of your closing costs or to make repairs that wouldn't normally be expected. Often, negotiations on a price go back and forth several times before a deal is made. Just remember - don't get so caught up in negotiations that you lose sight of what you really want and can afford!
What will happen at closing?
Answer. Basically, you'll sit at a table with your broker, the broker for the seller, probably the seller, and a closing agent. The closing agent will have a stack of papers for you and the seller to sign. While he or she will give you a basic explanation of each paper, you may want to take the time to read each one and/or consult with your agent to make sure you know exactly what you're signing. After all, this is a large amount of money you're committing to pay for a lot of years! Before you go to closing, your lender is required to give you a booklet explaining the closing costs, a "good faith estimate" of how much cash you'll have to supply at closing, and a list of documents you'll need at closing. If you don't get those items, be sure to call your lender BEFORE you go to closing. Be sure to read our booklet on settlement costs. It will help you understand your rights in the process. Don't hesitate to ask questions.
Is an older home as good a value as a new home?
Answer. It's a matter of personal preference. Both new and older homes offer distinct advantages, depending upon your unique taste and lifestyle. New homes generally have more space in the rooms where today's families do their living, like a family room or activity area. They're usually easier to maintain, too. However, many homes built years ago offer more total space for the money, as well as larger yards. Taxes on some older homes may also be lower. Some people are charmed by the elegance of an older home but shy away because they're concerned about potential maintenance costs. Consider a home warranty to get the peace of mind you deserve. A good Home Warranty plan protects you against unexpected repairs on many home systems and appliances for a full year or more after you move in.
Do I need to bring anything along when when searching for homes?
Answer. Bring your own notebook and pen for note taking and a flashlight for seeing enclosed areas. Be prepared to "snoop around" a little. After all, you want to know as much as possible about the home you buy. Sellers understand that because their home is on the market, it will be looked over pretty thoroughly. Don't forget to bring along this Home Buyer's Workbook as a reference guide when you are looking at homes.
What should I tell you about the homes I look at?
Answer. Tell us what you liked and didn't like about each home you saw. It is important for us to really get a feel for what you're looking for in a home in order to find your dream home. Don't be shy about talking about a home's shortcomings. Was the home perfect except for the carpeting? Let us know that, too!
How can I find out what homes are selling for in a given neighborhood?
Answer. Home sales are a matter of public record. The Auditor's Office, a local residential appraiser, the planning department for the locality or the local Multiple Listing Service are all resources the buyer can call on. All can be searched for recent sale histories, sale prices (or average sales prices), time on the market and other listing information for sales in any given area.
However, a better and easier way for you to get this information is to ask us! If you're interested in a particular home, we may be able to provide you with a list of comparables - sale prices of homes in your area that are roughly the same size and age as the home you're considering.
Should a professional look at the home before I buy it? What do they do?
Answer. For your own safety, and to make sure you're getting your money's worth in the home you choose, using a professional home inspector is highly recommended. A home inspector will check a home's plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical systems, and look for structural problems, like a damp or leaky basement.
Should I be present during the inspection?
Answer. Yes. It's not required, but it is very much to your advantage. You'll be able to clearly understand the inspection report, and know exactly which areas need attention. Plus, you can get answers to many questions, tips for maintenance, and a lot of general information that will help you when you move into your new home. Most important, you'll see the home through the eyes of an objective third party.
Do I need to talk to my insurance agent?
Answer. Yes, and the sooner, the better. Most insurance professionals have a lot of experience in working with homeowners and can offer useful tips about home ownership, particularly regarding home safety and keeping your premiums low.
Is there any way I can protect myself against emergency repair bills in my new home?
Answer. Yes. Home warranties offer you protection against many potentially costly problems not covered by your homeowner's insurance. They've become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason: the coverage can save you thousands in the event of a major mechanical breakdown, at a time when your cash reserves may have been depleted by your down payment and moving expenses. Ask us whether a Home Warranty is offered when looking at homes. But remember, if it is not offered, feel free to ask for it when writing the offer to purchase. The Home Warranty will give you the peace of mind necessary to feel comfortable in your new home. In most cases, the warranty plan will cover appliances, hot water heater, air conditioning units, electrical systems, garage door openers, plumbing systems, heating systems, faucets, ceiling fans and water softeners. Check with us regarding the specifics of the Home Warranty plan!