While buying your first home is a big decision, there are also lots of small decisions to make along the way to homeownership. To help you navigate the process, we’ve gathered suggestions for avoiding some of the most common mistakes.
Know your budget
Set a budget. Calculate a monthly home payment that takes into account how much home you can afford, then discuss this amount with your lender. Making sure you can meet your projected future home payment is probably the most important part of successful homeownership.
Include PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) in your budget. Mortgage calculators will show you how much you'll pay toward principal and interest every month. Remember that you'll also have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance. Some financial institutions will require you to contribute these funds monthly along with your principal and interest payment. Be sure to talk to your lender to understand what will be included in your monthly payment.
Know how much cash you'll need at closing. When you buy your home, you’ll need cash for a down payment (see how much you should put down) and closing costs (estimate your closing costs). The down payment typically varies from 5% to 20% or more. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance (keep reading for more on that). Closing costs could be about 3-7% of the total loan amount and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.
Budget for private mortgage insurance. For conventional financing, PMI is typically necessary if you don't make at least a 20% down payment when you buy your home. Make sure you know how much this cost will be and factor it into your monthly home payment budget.
Research your utilities. If you're moving into a larger home than you're used to, a home that is newer or older than you're used to or located in a climate that's hotter or colder than you're used to, ask your real estate professional to find out what the home's energy bills have typically been. This can help prevent being surprised by a higher utility bill than you're expecting. If you're moving into a new community, find out about water costs, too.
Don't forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses and additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you're considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association (HOA), remember to include HOA dues in your budget. Keep in mind that you should have an emergency fund on hand to prepare for any unexpected changes in your income (like reduction in your wages) or unexpected expenses (like medical bills).
Manage your debt carefully after your home purchase. Sometimes your home will need new appliances, landscaping or maybe even a new roof. Planning for these expenses carefully can help you avoid one of the most common causes of missed mortgage payments: carrying too much debt. It's important not to overextend your credit card and other debts so you stay current on your payments.
A smart start
Research your mortgage options. As a first-time homebuyer, you’re undoubtedly anxious and excited about moving into your new home, but take the time to step back, do the research and learn the differences between the various types of mortgages so you’ll know which one is best for you.
Know your credit score. As soon as you decide to start looking for a home, check your credit report and credit score with any of the 3 major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you find any mistakes that need to be corrected, addressing these issues early will put you in a better position when it’s time to buy a house. (Bank of American credit card customers can get a free FICO® score in Online and Mobile Banking.)
Find a responsible lender. When you choose a lender, pick someone you feel good about working with. They should listen to you and put your needs first, and they should be able to explain your home loan options in plain terms. It’s a good idea to interview potential lenders to find the one that’s best for you.
Get prequalified for a mortgage before you start shopping. Knowing how much you can borrow will let you keep your search focused on the homes that are right for you. Getting prequalified (you can prequalify for a Bank of America mortgage online) will provide you with an estimate of how much you can borrow before you start looking at homes.
Calculate your monthly mortgage payment. You can use our Affordability Snapshot to help calculate a monthly mortgage payment that fits into your budget.