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No-Nonsense Guide to Home Buying - 12 Steps to Success

by Brandon Cornett

In the last few years, the process of buying a home has been altered by the so-called mortgage crisis and the continued evolution of online real estate tools. So in this article, we will take a fresh and modern look at the process of buying a house. More specifically, I will outline the general process in twelve clear steps.

1. Check Your Credit

Credit scores have always been important for home buyers, but they are more in the wake of the mortgage meltdown of 2007 - 2008. According to industry experts, home buyers in 2006 needed a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for the best interest rates on a loan. Two years later, borrowers needed a score of 760 or higher to get the best rates. That's a much stricter requirement!

So your first step should be to review your financial situation. Order your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and check them for errors. Order your credit score (different from your reports) to see how you stack up against the national average. If necessary, focus on improving your score by paying down credit card balances, making all future payments on time, etc.

2. Determine Your Budget

Don't make the mistake of letting a mortgage lender tell you what you can and cannot afford, in terms of a monthly mortgage payment. In reality, the only thing a lender can tell you is the amount you qualify for -- not the amount you can realistically afford. In other words, you should determine your home buying budget for yourself. There are a lot of free mortgage calculators online that can make this process easier for you.

3. Research and Choose a Type of Mortgage

Do you know the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage and an ARM? This is just one of the things you need to understand before applying for a mortgage loan. Because of increased competition in the lending industry, there are more types of home loans today than ten years ago. The key to success when choosing a mortgage is to consider your long-term plans and find a loan that matches those plans. To do this, you must learn the pros and cons of the primary loan types.

4. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Pre-approval is a process in which the mortgage lender reviews your financial and credit history to determine your "creditworthiness" ... an industry term that means: "How much of a risk is this person, and how much are we comfortable lending?" When you get pre-approved for a certain loan amount, there's a good chance that you'll receive final approval for that amount as well, when the time comes.

Having a pre-approval letter in hand also shows sellers that you are serious about (and capable of) purchasing their home. This can make a big difference in hotter real estate markets, where the seller may receive multiple offers from competing buyers.

5. Find a Real Estate Agent

If you are buying a home for the first time, or in a new city you're not familiar with, it's wise to hire a professional real estate agent. When you compare the amount of money you'll pay for a new home with the size of the agent's commission, you'll see that it's worthwhile to hire an agent. Choose an agent who specializes in helping buyers, as opposed to sellers.

6. Narrow Your Search

The neighborhood you choose is nearly as important as the house itself, because both have a direct bearing on your quality of life -- not to mention the future resale value. For these reasons and more, it's always best to live in a city for a while before buying a home, even if it means renting an apartment for a while. That way, you can discover which areas you like best before committing to an area.

7. Begin House Hunting

This is where you and your agent visit properties in order to find one that matches your needs. Here are some helpful tips. Take a digital camera with you to get pictures of each home. This will help you recall the details later on. Bring a notepad as well, and for the same reason. While you're at it, you might want to bring a friend along for an unbiased opinion of each property -- you know, that outspoken friend who calls it like it is.

8. Evaluate the Asking Price

It's referred to as the "asking price" for a good reason. Just because a property is listed at $250,000 doesn't necessarily mean it's worth that amount. This is another area where it helps to have a real estate agent. Most agents are expert at validating sale prices against recent sales in the area, and that's the best way to find out if the price is realistic or inflated.

9. Make an Offer

Once you've determined that the price is fair and reasonable, you are ready to make an offer on the property. Always make the offer contingent upon the home inspection (see next item). That way, if the inspector uncovers an issue that you consider a deal breaker, you have a way out of the contract. Ask your agent about contingencies.

10. Get a Home Inspection

Most inspections only cost a few hundred dollars. That's a small price to pay for the peace of mind you get in return. A home inspector will review the structural and mechanical aspects of the house, including (but not limited to) the roof, foundation, electrical, and heating / cooling system.

11. Attend the Closing / Settlement Process

So, you've made it through all of the inspections and the process is still on track. Great! The next step will be the closing / settlement process (it goes by different names in different parts of the country). Actually, you can prepare for this process early on by putting extra money aside. This is when the title to the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer. You'll also be signing a lot of paperwork and paying any other fees that are due.

12. Tie Up Loose Ends

After your move, you'll have a few more things on your task list. Transfer your utilities if you haven't done so already. Complete a change-of-address form with the post office. Get a safe deposit box for your home insurance policy and other important documents. Set up a mortgage payment schedule or an online auto-pay system. And give yourself a pat on the back ... you're now a homeowner!

About the Author: Brandon Cornett is the publisher of Home Buying Institute, a website for first-time home buyers with advice on credit scores, home loans, mortgage quotes and more. Learn more by visiting the Institute at